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Torture Trial Underway In Weatherford

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Updated 1:15 p.m. 2/14

WEATHERFORD (CBSDFW/AP) - Nearly a year after authorities rescued a missing North Texas woman from a home described by one sheriff as a “house of horrors” where a deer-skinning rack allegedly had been used as a torture device, her former neighbor is going on trial.

Jeffrey Allan Maxwell, 59, is charged with aggravated kidnapping and two counts of aggravated sexual assault. Opening statements started Tuesday morning, a day after a jury was selected.

As the trial began, Maxwell pleaded Not Guilty to the charges.

Maxwell is accused of abducting the woman at gunpoint from her rural Parker County home March 1 of last year and driving to his house about 100 miles away in Corsicana, then later setting her house on fire in an attempt to destroy evidence.

Parker County authorities were baffled about her disappearance after the blaze and began a desperate search for her. Tips led to Maxwell, whose romantic interest in the woman had been spurned years earlier. She previously complained to friends that he harassed her, authorities said.

Maxwell was arrested March 12 at his house, and the woman was rescued. Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler described it as a “house of horrors.”

Maxwell will not use an insanity defense and is competent to stand trial, his defense attorneys said at a court hearing last month.

State District Judge Trey Loftin also previously denied a defense motion to suppress Maxwell’s statements to law enforcement authorities.

Defense attorneys have said Maxwell had asked for a lawyer while being questioned shortly after his arrest. But Loftin said Maxwell gave his statements voluntarily and requested an attorney only when authorities asked if anyone else had helped him.

In opening statements, prosecutors said the 62-year old victim was extremely reclusive, hauling water from a well to home for 20 years rather than have a plumber in her home to fix pipes.

Prosecutors say the woman was also religiously devout and still a virgin at the time of her abduction. Even so, prosecutors said the woman yelled out she had AIDS as Jeffrey Maxwell abducted her, hoping to avoid sexual assault.

In court Tuesday, prosecutors played audio recorded on a Parker County deputy’s pocket recorder the day he, a Texas Ranger and other Parker and Navarro County deputies visited Maxwell’s home with a search warrant. The audio captured the moment the victim ran from Maxwell’s house as police interviewed the suspected kidnapper.  “I’m here!” she yelled as a commotion grew on the porch. “Its her!” one of the officers yelled.

The tape also contained an interview with the victim in which she described how Maxwell  abducted her and beat her.  She seemed defensive of Maxwell at first saying he told her he’d been hired by her half-brother to “get rid of her” and if she got Maxwell in trouble they’d hire someone else to kill her.  She goes on to describe how, on her first day of abduction, he hoisted her up by her wrists and beat her with some type of whip. “It scared me to death,” the victim said on the recording.

Evidence showed Maxwell cashed one of the victim’s checks for $500.  An investigator said he used the name on the check to find Maxwell’s address and track him to his Corsicana home. Maxwell said during his conversation with the deputies the money was partial repayment for a loan he’d given the victim “because he felt sorry for her” when he lived near her in Parker County in 2004.  During her interview with an investigator, the victim asked, “Did you find the check I wrote him?”

According to documents, Maxwell told an investigator that after he took the woman back to his house, he “strung her up” in his garage on a homemade rack used for skinning deer.

Prosecutors described in detail how Maxwell used chains, duct tape and electrical cords to bind the victim to the rack and a bed over the course of two weeks.

They also described how Maxwell locked her in a box when he needed to leave the house for any amount of time.

Maxwell, who has remained jailed in Parker County in lieu of $500,000 bail, faces up to life in prison if convicted.

(© Copyright 2011 CBS Local.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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