The evidence and testimony stage of the trial lasted two weeks. The jury had been in deliberations for six hours already as of press time late Tuesday afternoon.
Anita Vestal, 36, admits to masterminding the jailbreak of Jeffrey Miles four years ago, which couldn’t have been the reason for the jury’s delay.
The jury apparently was torn over a suite of “accessory after the fact” charges pinned on Vestal for the crimes that Miles committed.
Miles, from Atlanta, was the ringleader of a violent home invasion on a rural back road in Swain County that ended in two execution-style murders, a third attempted murder and a ransacked home back in 2008.
The question for jurors: Did Vestal know Miles was guilty at the time she helped him escape? If so, that would make her an accessory.
“She broke everyone’s trust and formed a relationship with this nightmare,” prosecutor Ashley Welch said. “She knew good and well what Jeffrey Miles had done. But all she cared about was being together forever with him and she did everything she could to make sure that dream of hers was going to happen.”
Miles was one of six people charged in the murders. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
But at the time Vestal helped him escape, he hadn’t gone to trial and Vestal probably thought he was innocent, according to her attorney, Chris Siewers.
“Does it make any sense that he would tell the person he was trying to sweet talk to let him out of jail that he did those murders? Do you really think he would confess to a jailer at the Swain jail, ‘Oh yeah I did these murders. I went in there, I took a gun in there with six other people, I did everything.’ It doesn’t make any sense,” Siewers said.
Prosecutor Jim Moore implored the jury to believe that Vestal must have known, however.
“Reason and common sense tells you she knew Mr. Miles was guilty of all those horrible crimes and she was never going to be able to see him again and he was going to prison for the rest of his life and the only thing she could do was to break him out,” Moore said.
When Vestal fled to California with Miles, she left behind a large extended family in both Bryson City and Cherokee, including a husband and four children under the age of 10.
She and Miles were caught four weeks later, holed up in a California motel room.
“I don’t know. I just went crazy,” Vestal said in a phone call to her dad that she placed from jail in California after being caught.
See next week’s issue of The Smoky Mountain News to read about the verdict, and an article exploring how and why Vestal fell for Miles.