Testimony about a defendant's prior conduct and threats he reportedly made can be used in an upcoming murder trial, Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman ruled Friday.
Jeremy Scott Bettes, 42, of Norman, is charged with beating and strangling his girlfriend Sharon Elizabeth Judd on Dec. 24, 2017. Jury selection for the trial is scheduled to start Tuesday.
Prosecutors requested the judge allow statements from seven witnesses about Judd's fear of Bettes and threats he reportedly made about killing her. In addition, prosecutors asked the judge to allow testimony from two witnesses that the defendant abused them.
The prior bad acts are not alleged in the murder charge and must be declared admissible by the judge prior to the start of the trial. Legally, the prior bad acts must have a direct connection to the alleged crime.
In making his ruling, Balkman said, "The state has met its burden to show there is a visible connection between this crime and previous acts that caused Ms. Judd to express fear to various witnesses."
Balkman told prosecutors and defense attorneys the evidence presented during the hearing "clearly shows" the victim was in fear of Bettes.
During a two-day hearing that concluded Friday, several witnesses, including two from the Women's Resource Center in Norman, told the judge about the victim's fear of her boyfriend. The victim's son, Cameron Judd, testified Bettes controlled all aspects of her life, including her finances and cell phone. The son also testified she told him the defendant threatened to take her to a rural area and then torture and mutilate her body.
One of Bettes' friends called 911 on Dec. 24, 2017, about Judd's death. At the time, Bettes told investigators he and Judd were alone the previous night and that he found her in the bathtub that morning and notified a friend about the death later in the afternoon, according to a probable cause affidavit prepared by Norman police Detective Corey Lambrecht.
Bettes reportedly told police he thought the victim died from an overdose and that her injuries were from falling or "tripping on something," the affidavit shows.
An autopsy revealed evidence of severe, internal injuries that are consistent with physical abuse and possible strangulation. During their Dec. 24 response, police found blood in the bathtub and throughout the house on floors, walls and furniture. The couple lived together at 716 Highway Parkway in Norman.
Prosecutors wrote in a court filing that the victim's statements are required to prove the allegations against Bettes.
"In this case, statements made and actions taken by the decedent in the months leading up to her murder go directly toward both motive and intent, and as such are necessary to support the State's case," Assistant District Attorney Patrick Crowe wrote in a court filing.
Crowe also wrote in the court document that the evidence in the case will show Bettes is "violent and abusive towards women with which he has an intimate relationship." Prosecutors have alleged Bettes abused Xanax and became "even more violent towards his victims."
Defense attorney Kevin Finlay argued the testimony from others about Judd's fears should not be heard by jurors because they are more prejudicial than probative.
Tim Farley can be reached at email@example.com or 405-366-3539.