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Murder Trial Begins for Boyfriend of North Carolina Woman Found Unresponsive in Bathtub
John “Jay” Tolson is charged with second-degree murder in the 2020 death of Amanda "LeeAnn Fletcher" Hartleben, who died three days after he called 911 to report he "can’t wake her up."
Three years after the mysterious 2020 death of a North Carolina mom of two, the trial has kicked off for her then-boyfriend, who's charged with second-degree murder in the case.
After a 911 call came in on the morning of July 22, 2020, paramedics found Amanda "LeeAnn Fletcher" Hartleben, 38, unresponsive in the bathtub of her cottage in the beach town of Kitty Hawk in the Outer Banks. Her then 29-year-old boyfriend, John “Jay” Tolson, had placed the call, saying she had slipped and fallen.
Tolson told the 911 dispatcher she had been drinking the night before and fell in the kitchen, according to audio of the call. “I think she fell last night, I’m not sure,” he said. “There’s blood coming out of her nose, so I can’t wake her up.”
Fletcher was airlifted from the Outer Banks area to a Virginia hospital and pronounced dead three days later. The cause of death was “blunt-force trauma to the head with hepatic cirrhosis and clinical hepatic failure contributing,” the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Norfolk, Virginia, told People. The manner of death was undetermined. Tolson was arrested three months later and pleaded not guilty.
This week, Tolson appeared in court with long hair and a thick beard. After opening comments, the trial began Tuesday in Dare County Superior Court with jurors hearing testimony from emergency responders, according to The Coastland Times. Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bland said she plans to call in 19 prosecution witnesses.
According to testimony of those who provided medical assistance to Fletcher, she was found in a dry tub, with no signs of showering or bathing. She appeared to have jaundiced skin “with some yellowish in the whites of the eyes,” which can indicate organ failure or liver problems, according to The Virginian Pilot. A public defender said that paramedics did not notice any blood in the home when they were there. But several witnesses testified they saw bruising on her body.
The Coastland Times reported that the 911 call was treated as an accident scene and some EMS witnesses testified that Fletcher was breathing lightly when they arrived, while others said she was not breathing well. The Times also reported that testimony from EMS workers indicated that while they didn't see open wounds, her head was swollen and her jaw was clenched, which are signs of trauma.
Fletcher's family suspected foul play when they reportedly found blood stains in several rooms after her death, and they hired a private investigator in September of 2020, believing that the police were moving too slowly in the case. The family posted their findings, including audio of the 911 call, on a YouTube channel.