Grant Ruffin Hayes, 33, and Amanda Perry Hayes, 40, are both charged with first-degree murder in the July 2011 death of Grant Hayes' ex-girlfriend and the mother of two of his children, Laura Jean Ackerson.
Ackerson's remains were found July 24, 2011, in a creek in Richmond, Texas – about 60 miles south of Houston – where Amanda Hayes' sister lives.
"Grant Hayes wanted to remove Laura Ackerson from his life," Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger told Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens Monday during a hearing to decide whether the couple should be prosecuted together when the case goes to trial May 20.
Stephens continued the hearing for 30 days to give attorneys for the Hayeses time to discuss their defense strategies and to decide whether trying the couple together would be detrimental to their clients.
Zellinger's characterization of the case as being domestic violence is the first time authorities have publicly spoken about a motive for the killing. Family members, however, have said Grant Hayes and Ackerson, 27, had been involved in a contentious child custody battle.
Zellinger told Stephens that there was a "tremendous amount" of evidence against Grant Hayes and that Amanda Hayes confided in her sister in Texas that she helped kill Ackerson and was covering for him.
"She said she had hurt Laura and Laura was dead." Zellinger said, relating a conversation between the two women.
How Ackerson died is unclear. Medical examiners found injuries that suggested a sharp force injury to her neck, but there were also signs that someone tried to strangle her.
Texas authorities who found Ackerson's body and later turned the case over to Raleigh police, say they believe the Hayeses killed Ackerson, cut up her body and carried it in coolers to Texas, where they disposed of her remains in the creek.