Wife of Ark. medical board chairman says husband was ‘absolutely charred’ after blast

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ark. bomb victim’s wife testifies in doctor trial

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — On the morning a bomb exploded outside his West Memphis home, Dr. Trent Pierce asked his wife whether his outfit — a red V-neck sweater, Arkansas flag tie and shirt — made him look too much look a cheerleader. Moments later, his wife rushed to a window after hearing a loud blast and saw that red sweater lying in the bushes.

“I pulled him to me and he said in a very quiet voice, ‘Get my wife. She’s inside,’” Melissa Pierce testified tearfully Tuesday. “I said, ‘Trent, it’s Melissa. I’m here.’”

Melissa Pierce was the first witness to testify in the trial of Dr. Randeep Mann, a Pope County physician charged in the February 2009 bombing. Prosecutors claim Mann plotted the attack to retaliate against Pierce, who is chairman of the Arkansas State Medical Board. Mann had been repeatedly disciplined by the board and was under investigation for illegally prescribing drugs at the time of the blast.

Melissa Pierce told jurors that it was a typical morning before the bomb went off. Her husband was planning to see some patients at his West Memphis clinic, then head to Little Rock for medical board meetings. Before saying goodbye, she joked that Pierce looked like a Leachville Lion — a nod to their high school.

She heard her husband pull his rolling bag down the hallway of their home, and seconds later she heard what she thought was a utility transformer exploding.

“It shook the bottles on the dressing table. It was an incredibly loud sound,” she said. “I took off running because I was sure the house was on fire.”

Outside the home, she saw her husband dazed, sitting upright with his legs crossed.

“He smelled like singed hair. He had bags of blood hanging from his eyes. I wasn’t sure Trent had a nose,” Melissa Pierce testified. “He was absolutely charred.”

Prosecutors said they have no forensic evidence or witnesses that prove Mann planted the bomb — made from a spare tire and a hand grenade — outside Pierce’s West Memphis home. But they said they have ample evidence to prove he had a motive to plan the bombing and access to the type of weapons used to make the bomb. Mann, a licensed firearms dealer, lost his right to prescribe narcotics after complaints that several of his patients overdosed.

Pierce recovered from the blast but suffered serious injuries to his face, neck, arms and legs. He lost his left eye.

Pierce is a well-known physician in West Memphis, and most witnesses who testified Tuesday knew the doctor personally. But a witness to the bombing and an ER doctor testified that Pierce was burned so badly that he was unrecognizable.

“I wouldn’t have recognized him if he were my dad,” said Lyne Courtney, who drove past the Pierces’ home shortly after the blast and stopped to help. “My thought was that he didn’t have a face.”

Prosecutors didn’t ask Melissa Pierce about Mann, and defense attorney Erin Cassinelli Couch asked whether her husband had received phone calls or threatening letters before the blast. Melissa Pierce said she didn’t recall any, though Couch suggested that she’d told investigators about “strange calls” shortly after the blast.

Later Tuesday, the Pierces’ longtime maid told jurors that she saw a strange man outside the Pierces’ home the night before the bombing. Velma Gales said the man “wasn’t black and wasn’t white” and that he had a ponytail. Prosecutors haven’t identified who actually put the bomb in the driveway and no one else has been charged.

Mann is also accused of illegally possessing two unregistered guns and 98 grenades. His wife, Sangeeta “Sue” Mann, faces perjury and obstruction charges related to the investigation. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The Manns emigrated to the United States from India. One of Mann’s attorneys, Jack Lassiter, told jurors Monday that the doctor is a hardworking, naturalized U.S. citizen who was unfairly targeted because he stood out after moving to rural Pope County.

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