Trial begins in death of pregnant Macon woman

When Tanisha Hardman left work at the Macon Wal-Mart on Gray Highway on Dec. 7, 2008, she’d had an eventful day.

The 24-year-old college student had gone to an urgent care clinic and confirmed that she was pregnant with her on-again, off-again boyfriend’s child. There had been a flurry of text messages and phone calls with her friends and family about the happy news, prosecutor Elizabeth Bobbitt said.

But the next morning, a man foraging through trash in a Dumpster found Hardman shot to death behind a building at Cherry Tree Hill Apartments at 2050 Old Clinton Road, Bobbitt said.

Monday, the trial of 28-year-old Melvin Washington Jr. — the father of Hardman’s baby and the man authorities have charged with her murder — began in Bibb County Superior Court.

Bobbitt told the jury during her opening statement that Washington and Hardman worked together at Wal-Mart and ultimately started dating. Hardman, who lived in Shadowood West Apartments on West Highland Drive, was aware Washington was married, prosecutors said.

In the hours before her death, Hardman and Washington talked on the phone twice. Phone records show Washington is the last person who spoke with Hardman by phone aside from two short calls to a movie rental company, Bobbitt said.

Bobbitt said Washington had the motive to get rid of “a big problem” in his life created by Hardman’s pregnancy.

“Melvin Washington was leading a very complicated life,” she told the jury.

Mark Beberman, Washington’s lawyer, said the prosecution’s case is circumstantial and said there’s no direct evidence linking Washington to the killing.

“We expect the evidence to show Melvin Washington is an innocent man who has been wrongfully accused,” he said.

Washington, a department manager, was at work at Wal-Mart when he found out Hardman had been killed, Beberman said.

When police examined Hardman, they found she’d been shot once in the back of the head. She was still wearing her work uniform shirt. Her hands were in her pockets. Her purse was still on her arm, Bobbitt said.

There was no sign of a struggle, and it didn’t appear to be a robbery, she said.

The only thing missing was Hardman’s cell phone.

Bobbitt said police recovered a 9mm shell casing from the scene that later was matched to the brand of ammunition found in Washington’s brother-in-law’s car glove box.

Washington had access to his brother-in-law’s gun, Bobbitt said.

Beberman said while the ammunition was the same brand, that particular brand of ammunition is popular.

No fingerprints were found on the shell casing, and the time of Hardman’s death is unknown, he said.

Beberman said phone records don’t show who Hardman spoke to face-to-face before her death.

“Just because there was a phone conversation doesn’t mean someone had anything to do with a death,” he said.

Washington, who lived with his wife at Overlook Garden Apartments on Gray Highway, cooperated with police and never denied having an affair with Hardman, Beberman said.

He’s said if the baby was his, he’d “man up” and take care of the child, Beberman said.

“Melvin Washington is guilty of cheating on his wife. He’s guilty of breaking his marriage vows. He’s not guilty of killing Tanisha Hardman,” Beberman said.

Washington’s brother-in-law, 28-year-old Horace Sanford III of Macon, also is charged with murder in connection with Hardman’s death.

His case is still pending, according to court records.

Testimony in Washington’s case is scheduled to begin Tuesday.