By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The next day, after a shopping trip to Dallas with Robby and Bobby, Bettie began putting flowers in the planter, which she had filled with peat moss. Then she put her cover story into place. Bettie told Robby to take Jimmy Don's boat out into the lake and set it adrift, after making it look as if Beets had drowned.
Robby drove the boat out, removed the propeller, and scattered the heart pills Bettie had given him. Then he swam back to Big Chief landing, where his mother picked him up on the bridge and drove him home.
Robby testified that he had liked Jimmy Don, but didn't go to the authorities because he cared about his mother and had to protect her.
On cross-examination, Andrews charged that Robby, not Bettie, had killed Jimmy Don, in an argument over his use of the boat--and that Bettie covered it up out of love for her son, who was on six years' probation.
"She always been good to you?" Andrews asked.
"Up until now," Robby said.
"What has she done to you now?"
"She's lying now, saying that I killed him when she killed him."
Shirley took the witness stand next. She testified that Bettie had called her to talk one evening about midnight in August 1983. Sounding upset, Bettie told Shirley she planned to kill her husband. Shirley says she was shocked. "I cared very much for Jimmy Don Beets," she testified. "He was the best stepfather that I'd ever had."
Shirley and her husband arrived at Bettie's house that night at 2 a.m. Her mother said she had "everything taken care of," that Shirley could go home.
Several weeks later, Shirley went down to the lake to see her mother. Flowers were growing in the new wishing well. Bettie explained that she and Robby had buried Jimmy Don in the planter.
Why hadn't she called the police--or warned Jimmy Don? Andrews demanded.
"I was afraid of my mother," Shirley said.
Though Andrews fought to bar any mention of Barker's death, for which Bettie was not on trial, the jury heard that she had offered her daughter a similar revelation two years before Jimmy Don's murder. In October 1981, Shirley, then 22, was sitting at a campfire outside her mother's home when Bettie explained that she was fed up with Barker. But there was a problem with them splitting up: the mobile home was in his name; if they divorced, she would have no place to live.
"She told me that she was going to kill him [Barker] because he had beat her so many times, and she couldn't stand it anymore and that she didn't want him around," Shirley testified. As mother and daughter drank White Russians around the campfire, Bettie confided that she was going to shoot Barker after he fell asleep.
A few days later, Bettie brought Bobby to Shirley's house to spend the night. The next morning, Shirley testified, "she told me that it was all over with, that she'd done what she intended to do...that after he had gone to sleep, that she took the gun and covered it with a pillow and put it to his head and fired the gun and the pillow interfered with the trigger on the gun...She thought the noise would awaken Wayne, so she hesitated for a minute and then recocked the gun and fired again."
Bettie took her daughter to the back bedroom of her mobile home. There, lying on the floor of the closet, was a large shape wrapped in plastic and covered with a blue sleeping bag.
Afraid of what would happen to her mother, Shirley volunteered to help her dispose of the body. After dark, the two women dragged Barker's body to the back yard. "I helped her bury him in the back of the trailer where the shed is," Shirley testified.
Earlier that week, Bettie had asked an acquaintance in the development to dig a hole for a barbecue pit in the rear of the lot. The two women filled the hole with dirt, and the next day, they bought some red cinder blocks and built a patio over the top of the grave. Jimmy Don Beets later moved the cinder blocks and built a storage shed on the site.
Bettie Beets took the stand in her own defense on the tenth day of the trial.
Dressed in a feminine blouse and skirt, Bettie softly explained that she had heard Jimmy Don one night, after drinking all day, argue loudly with Robby over his decision to quit a job. "They were fighting in the bedroom...yelling at each other," Bettie testified. "I had started to the bedroom and I heard a shot." She said she found Jimmy Don lying on the floor, with blood on his head and oozing out of his mouth.
"I was sitting beside Jimmy Don and Robby told me, he said, 'Mom,' he said, 'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to.'"
Bettie said she knew she had to help Robby--she had been separated from him for years when Robby lived with his father and couldn't abandon him again.