Choking back tears, Joy Battle described for a jury the last moments in her husband’s life, recalling how she watched in terror as Andres “Andy” Avalos Jr. walked up to the Rev. James “Tripp” Battle, shooting him multiple times, and the cries of pain that followed.
The widow’s short but vivid recollection took the jurors to the grounds of the Bayshore Baptist Church where Avalos shot his final victim. She was the last witness before the prosecution rested its case against Avalos, charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his wife Amber Avalos, 33; neighbor Denise Potter, 46; and Battle, 31.
If Avalos is convicted, the prosecution plans to seek the death penalty.
On Dec. 4, 2014, the day of the slayings, Joy Battle was working in the church office at about 12:45 p.m. when Avalos came in, she testified Wednesday. She sat with him as he began to share his suspicions that their spouses were having an affair with one another. During that time, her husband called and asked if everything was OK after learning Avalos was there. She said she didn’t know.
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Avalos had made the accusations months before that her husband was having an affair with Amber Avalos, Joy Battle testified. But she had told him she had no reason to believe it and offered to pray with him.
Her husband arrived at the church within minutes of their phone call, and Joy Battle recalled saying, “Andy, Tripp is here so you can talk to him now.”
Avalos got up, walked out and closed the door behind him, she testified. Her husband was on the sidewalk as Avalos approached him.
“He pulled a gun from behind his back and he shot him three times and he fell to the floor,” Battle’s widow said, her voice trembling. She began to cry.
Joy Battle recalled her husband crying out in pain and her own screams, and she said she took a split second to decide whether to run to him or call 911.
“I thought the best chance he had at living was if I called 911, so I went to my phone and called 911,” she said. “I was on the phone with 911, and Andy came back and shot him again.”
Relying on an insanity defense, Avalos’ attorneys hope to prove to the jury that he was not only insane at the time of the murders, but that he also did not understand his actions were criminal or morally wrong at the time of the murders.
Earlier in the day, a forensic psychologist who examined Avalos and reviewed records in the case testified that Avalos was not mentally ill when he committed the murders. Instead, his paranoia and other delusions were fueled by prior use of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, Dr. Michael Gamache told the jury.
The evidence does not support the defense’s claims that Avalos was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia or delusional disorder, Gamache said.
“My opinion is that he knew and understood at the time as it was happening that he had engaged in a lethal act, that he had ultimately killed three people. There was no confusion about what he had done,” Gamache said. “There is no indication specifically or generally that he is unable to distinguish right from wrong.”
Dr. Lawrence Holder, a nuclear medicine and radiology specialist, told the jury that based on images from CT and PET scans, Avalos’ brain appears normal. Holder said a PET scan cannot be used to diagnose emotional or psychological problems.
“The brain is very complex, and there have been no standards done,” Holder said.
The defense has claimed that Avalos’ brain was found to be abnormal using the PET scan.
Holder had the jury engaged as he stood in front of images from the PET scan.
“So this is a PET scan, it’s kinda cute,” Holder said, as the jury laughed.
The defense began presenting its case Wednesday afternoon, calling witnesses to detail Avalos’ behavior leading up to the murders — behavior that the defense says was due to his worsening mental illness.
Andres Avalos Sr. told the jury how he had taken his son to Blake Medical Center in mid-August 2014 because he had concerns that Avalos Jr. had mental issues. But doctors at Blake evaluated his son and said they were releasing him because they found nothing wrong.
“He’s not fine. He’s going to kill somebody,” Avalos Sr. said he told the doctor.
The doctor suggested he take his son to Centerstone of Florida, at the time Manatee Glens. Again after being evaluated, his son was going to be released after doctor found him to be fine.
Avalos Sr. said he told that doctor, “He’s not fine. He’s dangerous.”
Despite attempts at evading the question, Avalos Sr. admitted that he has said his son’s drug abuse was continuous throughout 2014.
Nora Avalos, the defendant’s mother, became hostile when she took the stand.
“Amber didn’t have time to cheat. All she did was work, take care of those babies,” she snapped.
Assistant State Attorney Art Brown asked her about the statement she gave homicide detective John Kenney that the methamphetamine had made her son think Amber was cheating with everyone.
“It all started in August,” she said, blaming it on a bad dose of methamphetamine that Denise Potter gave her son.