Trial begins in workplace shooting

Prosecution: Byrd shot wife because she was leaving him


August 10, 2005

ASHEVILLE — Billy Ray Bryd shot his wife in the head because he realized she was going to leave him after years of beatings and abuse, a prosecutor told jurors as Byrd’s trial got under way Tuesday.

Byrd on March 23, 2004, calmly walked into Olsten Staffing Services in Arden, where Carrie Byrd worked as a receptionist, and said, “This is what you want, this is what you want,” Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson said.

Then he fired several shots from a .22-caliber rifle, one of which pierced his wife’s skull, the prosecutor said on the first day of testimony in Byrd’s trial on assault charges.

“On that date he realized she was going to leave him,” Jackson said. “On that day he made a choice and decided to take the life of Carrie Byrd.

“Carrie Byrd had put up with the defendant’s domestic violence for too long. In too many cases, she had to suffer beatings at the hands of this defendant. He wasn’t going to change, so she decided to leave him.”

Defense attorney Sean Devereux told jurors his client’s thinking was affected by head injuries he suffered from years as a professional bull rider on the rodeo circuit. Billy Ray Byrd went to his wife’s workplace intending only to talk with her before turning the gun on himself, Devereux said.

“Our case will focus on how injuries affected his ability to make decisions,” he said. “He had a very simple, almost cartoon-like view of the world.”

The Pisgah Forest man is standing trial in Buncombe County Superior Court, charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, one for causing serious injury. He also was charged with violating a domestic violence restraining order and assault by pointing a gun.

Byrd has remained in police custody since the shooting. Jury selection began Monday.

One of Carrie Byrd’s co-workers, Gerald Cotton, testified he was sitting near the woman the day of the shooting when her husband walked in. Cotton said the man fired two shots, hitting no one, as Carrie Byrd screamed.

Billy Ray Byrd then turned toward Cotton, pointed the gun at his chest and pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed, Cotton said. As Byrd cleared the jam, Cotton ran for his life. Byrd then shot at him twice as he ran, but missed, the prosecution witness said.

“He was methodical,” Cotton said. “He was focused.”

Co-worker Beth Vockley told jurors she saw Byrd threatening his wife in a hallway of the building. He appeared to be shooting at her feet, Vockley said.

“She was dancing and screaming,” she said. “She was very scared.”

Vockley yelled at Billy Ray Byrd to stop. As the attacker turned, Carrie Byrd ran. Vockley said she then saw the man fire two shots at her.

“On the second shot, she closed her eyes and fell to the floor,” she said.

Byrd then dropped the rifle and walked out, she said.

“It’s a miracle he’s not charged with two counts of murder in the first degree,” Jackson said. “But it’s not because he didn’t try.”

Carrie Byrd had won a temporary restraining order against her husband after she alleged in court paperwork that he assaulted and verbally abused her, forcing her to leave their Pisgah Forest home weeks before the shooting. Under the order, the woman also was awarded temporary custody of their 3- and 4-year-old sons and use of their home.

The couple were scheduled to appear in a Transylvania County courtroom for a hearing on the restraining order the day after the shootings.