COVINGTON, La. – A Ku Klux Klan recruit agrily cursed a white supremacist leader and yelled "I want out" before he shot her to death the day after she was initiated in 2008, a former group member testified Tuesday.
Frankie Stafford gave a chilling account of Cynthia Lynch's death, describing how he helped cut down and burn blood-stained bushes at the scene but balked at helping dig a bullet out of her body. Stafford was the first witness called after two days of jury selection in the second-degree murder trial of Raymond Foster of Bogalusa.
Stafford told the jury that he saw Foster and Lynch, 43, of Tulsa, Okla., argue at the remote campsite where Lynch had been sworn in as a Klan member in November 2008. He said he turned away when Foster shoved the woman to the ground. Then he heard a gunshot. He turned to see Lynch grab her neck and fall onto a nearby tent.
"She yelled, 'Oh God! I'm sorry. Please help me,'" he said.
Stafford, 22, is serving a four-year obstruction of justice sentence after pleading guilty to helping try to cover up the crime. He wore shackles and prison coveralls with broad, horizontal black and white stripes.
Under questioning from Assistant St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Joseph Oubre, Stafford said he did nothing to help Lynch after she was shot. And he readily started taking instructions from Foster to help hide evidence.
"What would be the consequence if you said no?" asked Oubre.
"I'd of probably got shot," Stafford replied.
Stafford said he drew the line, however, at helping dig Foster the bullet out. "I got a weak stomach as it is," he said, adding that he vomited at one point at the sight of the blood and the body.
Stafford said the shooting happened the day after Lynch was sworn in as a Klan member in a Saturday night ceremony. Authorities said Lynch had been recruited to the group over the Internet.
Stafford described Lynch's behavior as "weird" from the time she had arrived in Louisiana from Oklahoma days earlier. He said she was alternately happy, sad or angry. She had cried, what Stafford described as tears of joy, at the swearing in — where robed Klan members lit torches and yelled "White Power." But she was shot after repeatedly yelling and cursing at Foster, saying "I want out" and demanding to be taken to a bus so she could go back home to Oklahoma, he said.
Oubre repeatedly asked whether Lynch had physically threatened Foster. Stafford said she had not.
In his opening statement to the jury, Oubre said there was some question whether Lynch knew what the Klan stood for. He noted that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, characterized by severe mood swings.
Defense attorneys asked potential jurors to set aside whatever ill feelings they might have for the Klan and judge the case strictly on facts.
They said Foster might have felt physically threatened by Lynch and shot in self defense, that he might not have intended to kill her, or that he killed her in a sudden flash of anger after her repeated cursing and screaming at him.
Second-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence. Other possible verdicts in the case include the lesser charge of manslaughter.