Park manager says he was not responsible for woman's fatal ride
By Emanuella Grinberg
(Court TV) -- A former amusement park manager took the stand in his second-degree murder trial Saturday and told jurors that he did not jerry-rig the ride from which June Alexander fell 60 feet to her death in 2004.
"Did you kill Mrs. Alexander?" defense attorney Andrew Roskind asked his client.
"Absolutely not," Charles Stan Martin testified Saturday in Sevier County Circuit Court.
"I am deeply sorry for the Alexander family and I am in no way guilty of the crimes I'm being accused of," he said. "It is the cruelest slap in the face life has ever dealt me."
With measured composure, the defendant testified he did not place jumper cables in the ride's electrical cabinet and never knew they were there. The cables were later determined to have bypassed the safety system, allowing the ride to begin to move although Alexander's safety harness was not locked.
Alexander fell from the Hawk, a pendulum-like ride that turns 360 degrees, as her son sat next to her and other family members watched from below.
"Did you place the black jumper in the cabinet?" Roskind asked.
"Absolutely not," he replied.
Martin testified that assistant managers and ride operators were in the electrical panel daily to turn the ride on or address problems when he was not on the grounds.
Sevier County prosecutors claim Martin was the only person with the access and wherewithal to alter the system.
Martin became general manager in 1989 of the Rockin' Raceway amusement park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, which his brother-in-law co-owned. He retired early from his post as a quality assurance evaluator for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the state's hydroelectric utility district, to take the position.
Martin's lawyers have painted him as an honest, meticulous manager who was the victim of misrepresentations from the ride's Italian manufacturers.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Martin, 57, faces 25 years in prison.
Martin described the numerous problems he experienced with the Hawk, from a moving platform that gnashed at riders' feet before take-off to motor problems to constant broken lights.
On cross-examination, District Attorney General Al Schmutzer accused Martin of installing the jumper cables as a cheap means of keeping the Hawk running in spite of a history of problems that began as soon as it arrived at Rockin' Raceway in 1998.
Jurors appeared sympathetic to the defendant, scowling at times as Schmutzer combatively engaged Martin in questioning.
Schmutzer asked Martin why he did not call Zamperla, the ride's manufacturers, for assistance after a similar accident in 2003 in which a rider clung to the ride for his life after his harness came loose.
The defendant would not concede that he did not call Zamperla because the warranty ran out in 1999.
"It was a serious issue but I did not call them," the defendant testified. "Our own tests did not indicate any malfunctioning devices on the ride. It convinced me the ride was perfectly safe."
"You didn't feel like it was necessary to call Zamperla until somebody fell to their death," Schmutzer posited.
Martin and others have testified the defendant was attending his father's funeral in West Tennessee when the first incident occurred.
After he returned, Martin testified, he and his stepson, who was an assistant manager at Rockin' Raceway, checked all the safety devices and determined an anomaly had occurred as a result of the man's large build. Alexander also had a large frame.
Earlier in the afternoon, the victim in that incident took the stand for prosecutors.
"I was at the highest point off the ground when my harness released forward," testified Ken Mace, a juvenile probation officer from Muncie, Indiana, who rode the Hawk during a family vacation in July 2003.
"I tried to pull the harness back down but it was stuck, so I just tried to keep myself as steady as possible in the seat," Mace said.
A parade of Rockin' Raceway employees took the stand before the prosecution rested its case Saturday and testified that the defendant was responsible for the park's maintenance.
All stopped short of testifying they saw the defendant place the jumper cables in the Hawk's electrical panel and hastened to characterize Martin as a generous, conscientious boss known for helping repair and even finance employees' cars.