More than three years after Elizabeth City businessman Milton H. Sawyer Jr. was found dead in the bathroom of his home, his wife’s trial for first-degree murder got underway Tuesday.
Angel Marie Sawyer is accused of conspiring with co-defendant Isaac D. Melcher to murder her husband at their home on Aug. 2, 2018.
Opening arguments in Sawyer’s trial began in Courtroom A of Pasquotank County Superior Court, with Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons presiding. Assistant District Attorney Kim Pellini, and Sawyer’s attorney, Jack Warmack, gave their opening statements before cross-examining at least three witnesses.
Throughout the afternoon, Sawyer remained seated beside Warmack. She was wearing a black dress jacket with white pin stripes and her hair was in a bun.
At the time of his death, Milton Sawyer was owner of the Treasure Hunter antiques store on N. Road Street. Investigators initially treated his death as a possible home invasion, based on information they were told by Angel Sawyer in the opening hours of the case. Sawyer and Melcher were later each charged with first-degree murder in her husband’s death.
Pellini concluded her opening comments by telling the jury that the prosecution’s case will show that Sawyer is guilty not only of first-degree murder, but also of conspiring to commit murder. The evidence will show that Sawyer and Melcher, who Pellini referred to as Sawyer’s lover, “plotted and planned” to murder Milton Sawyer.
Warmack’s opening defense hinged on whether Sawyer conspired with Melcher to murder Milton Sawyer. There is no competent evidence that his client conspired with Melcher, he told the jury. If there was no conspiracy, the jury must find that Sawyer did not act in concert with Melcher, Warmack said.
According to Pellini’s account of how Milton Sawyer’s death unfolded in the early hours of Aug. 2, 2018, Angel Sawyer and her husband were in bed watching TV at their house on Darian Drive. Angel Sawyer got out of bed to go get a snack in the kitchen, but when she opened the bedroom door there was a masked man standing in the doorway. Sawyer did not get a good description because the only light in the room was from the television, but she told police she and her husband were beaten and tied up.
The next day, Aug. 3, Sawyer contacted the sheriff’s office to report that her physical therapist, Melcher, was obsessed with her. While detectives were taking her statement and continued to work the home invasion angle, they started hearing of an affair between Sawyer and Melcher.
Police first learned of the alleged affair while speaking to members of Milton Sawyer’s family. But during questioning on Aug. 6 at the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office, Angel Sawyer “point blank denied” the affair, Pellini said.
Investigators believe Sawyer and Melcher were using an app that encrypts messages to communicate after Milton Sawyer’s death. Pellini said that while an investigator was speaking to Angel Sawyer, he saw a message on her phone from “Isaac Dustin.” Dustin is Melcher’s middle name. When the investigator asked about the message, Sawyer deleted it in front of him.
Melcher was arrested on Aug. 21 after a man in Oregon called the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office to report that Melcher had just confessed to murdering Milton Sawyer. Deputies worked with the man, who helped to gather evidence against Melcher.
“He engaged in three recorded conversations with Melcher,” Pellini said.
Police next met with Sawyer and told her they had arrested Melcher.
“She says, ‘Good, did he do it?’” Pellini said was Sawyer’s response.
Under more questioning, Sawyer admitted to having an affair with Melcher, a man she had earlier told police was obsessed with her, Pellini said.
Pellini noted aloud how Sawyer had never divulged the affair.
“She never tells anyone about this obsessed man,” she said.
Pellini said Melcher is prepared to testify about his affair with Angel Sawyer and the plot to kill Milton Sawyer.
Warmack said that his client had been a physical therapy patient of Melcher’s when the affair began.
“Yes, Angel Sawyer was seeing Melcher as a patient,” Warmack said.
However, Melcher became much more invested in the affair than Sawyer was, Warmak said. Melcher believed it was his job to protect Sawyer from her husband, who he believed was abusive to her, Warmack said.
The defense attorney argued that Melcher did not turn himself in to confess because he wanted to leave open the possibility of testifying against Angel Sawyer in order to reduce the charge against him, possibly to 2nd degree murder.
Testimony in Angel Sawyer’s trial continues today.