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Target slaying suspect to stay jailed

Joanna Hayes

Joanna Hayes

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Heather Strube's high-profile killing in the parking lot of a Snellville Target happened because her mother-in-law disagreed with her parenting methods, a detective testified Friday.

Murder suspect Joanna Hayes, Strube's mother-in-law, appeared before a judge Friday for the first time since her October arrest. Police believe Hayes, 45, disguised herself as a mustachioed man on the afternoon of April 26 and fired a single, fatal shot to Strube's head, with her infant son, Carson, only a couple of feet away.

"Members of the Hayes family, especially Joanna, did not particularly like the way Heather was raising Carson," testified Snellville police Detective Harvey Downs.

Downs said Hayes had worked in construction, rented residential property and split her time between Lilburn and Luthersville, a west Georgia town in Meriwether County, prior to her Oct. 21 arrest. Deputies in that county are investigating Hayes in a burglary last summer at one of her rental properties, Downs said.

After a defense attorney reviewed Downs' notes for the hearing, the detective made mention that Hayes had discussed "the perfect murder" with an acquaintance. Downs declined to elaborate outside the courtroom.

A multi-agency investigation led to Hayes' arrest nearly six months after the killing. She'd long been considered a person of interest.

Strube, a Conyers floral designer, and her husband, Steven, were in the final stages of a divorce, following their marriage in May 2004.

On April 26, the couple met to swap custody of their son at the Ga. Highway 124 Target. Moments after Steven Strube drove away, police said, someone approached Heather outside her Cadillac Escalade. A struggle ensued, and the shot was fired.

A sketch released by authorities suggested the killer was a man wearing a wig and fake mustache. Surveillance video and further investigations hinted the killer could've been a woman. Steven Strube is not being investigated.

Investigators have recorded jail conversations between Hayes and her son, as well as phone recordings before her incarceration, Downs said. Video from April 26 shows Hayes in the Target parking lot and at a Pilot gas station in Newnan, he said.

On Friday, Chief Magistrate Judge George Hutchinson denied a request by Hayes' attorney to set a bond amount at $50,000.

Defense attorney Bruce Morriss called his client a church-going "homebody" with no criminal record. Behind Hayes in the gallery sat a row of supporters, including her ex-husband, mother, pastor and two nieces.

If granted bond, Morriss assured the judge his client would live with her ex-husband, would stay put in Meriwether County and not influence potential witnesses. He called the case against Hayes "highly circumstantial."

Dan Mayfield, deputy chief assistant district attorney, said Hayes faces life in prison, and therefore could become desperate if released from custody.

Hayes has "little to lose," Mayfield said, and could commit more felonies against Strube's parents, who've been granted custody of Carson, now 2.

"The child has already been the possible motive for murder in this case," Mayfield said.

Hayes wasn't entitled to a bond hearing prior to Friday because her case had been indicted by a grand jury upon her arrest.

The victim's mother, Mary Allen, told reporters outside the courtroom the bond denial lent her peace of mind, in that anyone caring for Carson would be in danger with Hayes set free, she said.

"I feel like I can sleep in my own home tonight," Allen said. "We do not feel our lives are in danger."

A team of Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department deputies escorted Allen and her family to the parking lot.