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Woman tried to fight off attacker
Defense says client not guilty of 'clearly very violent' crime

Barbara Hefner aggressively fought her attacker off before she was sexually assaulted and strangled, according to testimony in the trial of Dannie Lee Samuels, who is accused of those crimes.

The bench trial of Mr. Samuels began Monday in McDuffie County Superior Court in Thomson with testimony continuing Tuesday. The trial is expected to conclude this week with courthouse security extremely tight. A number of deputies and bailiffs are offering security.

Toombs Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Roger W. Dunaway, Jr. is presiding over the case because Mr. Samuels decided earlier this year to waive a jury trial. A 12-person jury could have heard and decided his fate, but he opted instead to have a bench trial. In exchange for his waiving a jury trial, District Attorney Dennis C. Sanders dropped the death penalty that he had been seeking in the more-than-5-year-old case.

Mr. Samuels is now looking at life imprisonment with or without parole if found guilty. He is represented by Joseph Vigneri and Joseph Romond, attorneys with the Office of the Georgia Capital Defender.

The prosecution team led by Mr. Sanders with assistance from Chief Assistant District Attorney Durwood Davis called five witnesses to the stand Monday.

Dr. Mark A. Koponen, former deputy chief medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, was one of them. He performed the autopsy on the 53-year-old Ms. Hefner, who had worked as Mr. Samuels' supervisor at Augusta Coating and Manufacturing, Inc. in Thomson before her slaying March 6, 2004.

Ms. Hefner, who was brutally attacked by an intruder at her home on White Oak Road near Thomson, had offensive and defensive wounds when examined by Dr. Koponen, now an associate professor at the North Dakota School of Medicine.

He said he performed the autopsy March 7, 2004. Her body had been taken to the crime lab in Atlanta after someone found it floating in Folly Lake off Stagecoach Road in McDuffie County hours earlier.

Dr. Koponen said the cause of Ms. Hefner's death was strangulation. Specifically, he said it appeared to him that it was manual strangulation. "Substantial force" was applied.

Other injuries inflicted on Ms. Hefner included six broken ribs, associated with compression force, Dr. Koponen said. All of her injuries were consistent with force described as violent.

"There was a constellation of injuries," Dr. Koponen told the court during first-day trial testimony.

Mr. Samuels, who formerly lived on Shank Street in Thomson, is accused of the following crimes: malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated battery, concealing a death and statutory aggravated circumstances, court records show.

In opening remarks, Mr. Sanders said evidence will show that Mr. Samuels was the person responsible for the crimes against Ms. Hefner and that the two had argued at work the day before.

Some of the evidence expected to be revealed this week includes DNA.

The evidence, Mr. Sanders said, will reveal that acts committed against her were "very violent." Additionally, evidence also will show that the sexual attack against her was not consensual; however, the defense argued that the suspect and victim had had sex days before.

After being raped and killed in her home, she was then dragged from the back door of her home to a car that was parked on Ballard Road nearby. Her killer then drove from there before dumping her body and other evidence into the lake some distance away.

Divers from the McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Services later recovered the body, which launched a four-hour probe of the area by deputies and GBI Crime Scene Specialist Steven Foster looking for evidence.

Mr. Samuels was arrested a short time afterward and has remained jailed since being charged as a suspect.

One of his defense attorneys, Mr. Romond, told Judge Dunaway on Monday that his client is not guilty of the crimes.

He agreed with Mr. Sanders that the crimes against Ms. Hefner were "clearly very violent," but that Mr. Samuels was not the person responsible.

The defense attorney said that his client's car was broken and that the night before these crimes occurred Mr. Samuels went out with friends and got drunk.

"He was heavily intoxicated" and passed out on the couch when they drove him home, Mr. Romond said.

"Dannie Samuels is absolutely not guilty in this case," he added.

Web posted on Thursday, August 20, 2009

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