BLOUNTVILLE — Jurors in the trial of Robert Seth Denton, charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of his mother, grandmother and stepfather, began seeing and hearing the nitty-gritty details Tuesday — including crime scene photos showing the two women’s bodies in the family kitchen and two 911 calls placed in the moments after the killings (one from Denton, the other from his grandfather, Curtis Rose).
They also heard from neighbors and a paramedic who said the six children in the home were covered in blood, brain matter and body tissue after the shootings. Pictures of two girls treated for puncture wounds and abrasions showed, among other things, a clump of brain matter matted in one child’s hair. The neighbor whose house the children fled to said authorities told her not to clean the girls up in any way even though they were covered in blood, bone fragments, brain matter, body tissue, “glass and teeth.”
One paramedic said the little girl with the brain matter clump in her hair also had a glob of body tissue stuck to her face above her upper lip.
The grandmother of five of the children had “part of her face blown off,” according to one of the first officers on the scene, while the victim’s husband said she no longer had a face.
Denton’s defense attorney, Ricky Curtis, objected three times to potential testimony about what the children said to others in the minutes after the slayings. Jurors were removed from the courtroom each time for a run-through of the testimony and the judge’s ruling.
A neighbor who harbored the girls until paramedics and police arrived testified one of the children “just blurted out, ‘It was my brother. It was my brother because I recognized his voice.’ ” Asked to repeat it a bit later, however, she added the little girl had said he was wearing a mask, but she recognized his voice. The judge ruled the court couldn’t be certain the child’s exact words were being recalled and the jury didn’t hear it.
A paramedic testified as she was treating James Milhorn he said, “Seth shot me.” The judge allowed the jury to hear the testimony. On cross-examination, Curtis asked the witness if Milhorn said he saw Denton. She said no.
Curtis said Milhorn had been shot in the back.
The paramedic who treated the two girls testified one of them said, “Her brother came in the back door with a big gun and shot her mother, then he shot her grandmother, then he shot her father.” The judge allowed the jury to hear it.
A Sullivan County 911 employee testified the first call reporting the shootings came from a cell phone number Denton’s aunt testified was his. The male caller said, “There’s been a murder” at 618 Henson Road and “Just send a police officer” when asked for more details.
Rose testified that he was working on a trailer on the property, using a saw to cut metal that evening, and he thought his wife, daughter, son-in-law and six children (five of Denton’s siblings and a friend) returned from a trip to a Bristol waterslide event at about 5 p.m. While he was in the trailer, Rose said, Denton “came up and got my attention. He said to call 911.”
Rose said he went into the house, found his daughter dead, his son-in-law (Milhorn) shot in the back but still alive, and eventually his wife, also dead. The last discovery, he said, sent him to his gun cabinet where he retrieved a gun, went outside and drove his van down the driveway where he said Denton had quickly walked away.
“I was going to kill him,” Rose said, “because he shot my wife.”
A neighbor testified she and her husband heard a flurry of rapid shots, saw Denton come running down the driveway, and then Rose driving down in his van.
During opening statements Monday, and again throughout Tuesday’s testimony, Curtis cast a shadow on Rose as a potential suspect whom police did not consider instead of Denton.
On Tuesday, Curtis asked Rose, “Did you shoot Mr. Denton in an attempt to keep him from testifying to your actions?”
“No,” he answered.
As the tape of Rose’s call to 911 was played, jurors heard him say, “I can’t find my wife.”
Rose could be heard telling the six children to stay in the bathroom. Finally finding his wife curled in a fetal-like position on the kitchen floor behind the table, Rose said, “Oh my God! I found my wife.”
Sobbing followed, then “You better find him before I do.” Moments later on the tape Rose could be heard saying, “I want that boy dead. I raised that kid. We raised that kid. My wife don’t even have a face no more.”