RICHMOND, Va. – On day two of the murder trial for missing Chesterfield woman Leyla Namiranian, a dozen witnesses took the stand, including her former boss, and a best friend.
The trial, expected to last a week, is the first murder trial held in Chesterfield County without any evidence of the victim’s body. Former boyfriend Michael Anthony Edwards, who has pleaded not guilty, is charged with Namiranian’s murder.
Namiranian, an executive at Altria, was last seen leaving work on the evening of April 4, 2012.
Though Edwards was not charged for her murder until over three years since she was last seen, police announced early in the investigation that Edwards' phone records placed him on Robious Road, near Namiranian’s home, the night before she was reported missing.
The jury, composed of seven men and seven women, heard from several witness Tuesday morning.
Woman who called for welfare check testifies
Celes Glover, an executive assistant to the senior vice president of marketing, who worked with Namiranian, testified.
Glover, employed by Altria for 18 years, described Namiranian as a hard worker, who had pleasant interactions but mostly kept to herself.
She said she was always in early and stayed late.
When Namiranian didn't show up for an important meeting on April 5, 2012, Glover called her work cell, personal cell, and home phone. She testified that it would ring a few times and other times ring, and then disconnect.
Glover called the Chesterfield County Police Department for a welfare check.
The responding sergeant said they had a look inside her home, and could see that her car was in the driveway, the car keys were inside, along with a work bag, and things appeared untouched overall.
The only things apparently missing were her pocketbook and two cell phones.
During cross examination, the defense asked if Glover was unaware that Namiranian was unhappy at her job and had gone to human resources about their boss.
Former boss testifies, acknowledges personal relationship
Peter Paoli testified that he had a personal relationship with Namiranian and that the two had been out socially on several occasions.
He testified that he had dinner at Namiranian's home the night she went missing, and had been to her home in the past. On the night of her disappearance, Paoli said the two talked about his battle with cancer, and that they shared a common bond because Leyla had recently lost her mom to cancer.
He said during dinner, Leyla appeared to be nervous, getting up from the table, checking the front door and looking at her phone periodically.
Paoli said the two were intimate that night. He left, and traveled to a funeral the next morning, and returned that evening.
He said it wasn't until two days later that he learned from his assistant that Leyla was reportedly missing.
Paoli testified that he called Leyla twice, and left her voicemails, but he never heard back from her. He contacted police and told them about that night the two were together.
Detectives wanted to question Paoli. He said he wanted to cooperate. After he hired his attorney Steven Benjamin, Paoli was granted immunity. He was questioned by detectives two years after Leyla's disappearance.
Best friend testifies of Edwards jealous nature
Namiranian's close friend and colleague, Kimberly Pugh, told the jury she met her in 2005. She described Leyla as a workaholic, dedicated to her job at Altria.
Pugh said the two went shopping, to the movies, dined at local restaurants, and took occasional weekend trips together.
Pugh testified she learned of the relationship with Edwards in 2009, and said Namiranian seemed fond of him. And Pugh said she found Edwards to be a nice, caring person who would do anything around the house. That's how the two met.
But Pugh said things changed in 2011, when Edwards became very possessive, accusing Namiranian of being untruthful and seeing someone else.
Pugh recalled Namiranian saying how Edwards threatened her, saying, "I'm gonna get you, when you least expect it."
She became emotional on the stand, telling the jury that in February of 2012, Namiranian came over her house crying after she said Edwards had choked her and then, pushed her to the ground.
Pugh said Namiranian showed her a red bruise on her neck and arm, but she refused to go to the police when Pugh begged her. Namiranian broke it off with Edwards, but she still kept in touch with him.
Several of Leyla's neighbors testified that they spotted Edwards' silver car parked away from her home and that they thought it was odd but didn't contact police.
Edwards had a "laundry list" of items against him, police said, including journal
Investigators considered Edwards a prime suspect immediately, based on a previously sealed search warrant, and feared the worst for Namiranian; they have said there was a “laundry list” of items against him.
The warrant referenced a journal found inside Namiranian’s house which contained an entry chronicling her fear of Edwards. She had written that he had become very jealous and upset of their breakup and at one point had choked her.
Attorneys debated on the interpretation of her journal entries.
A forensic investigator testified that they had discovered a bag with a blanket and duct tape, along with cleaning supplies in Edwards’ car. Search warrants also showed that investigators took gloves, towels, clothes, boots, a lottery ticket, four white pills and some change from Edwards’ Chamberlayne apartment. They also searched his estranged wife's nearby apartment since he reportedly spent the night with her the night that detectives believe the murder occurred.
They also searched his estranged wife's nearby apartment since he reportedly spent the night with her the night that detectives believe the murder occurred.
Cell phone records place Edwards at Namiranian’s house the night of April 4, and the morning of April 5. Those records also placed him in the area along Interstate 95 North in Hanover, where Namiranian’s cell phone was later found. Her other phone found in a ditch about a mile north.
Suspect admits lying; has previous conviction
During questioning early in the investigation, Edwards eventually admitted being at Leyla's house that night and morning. He also admitted to lying to investigators.
Edwards was previously convicted in 1990 of stabbing a woman and assaulting her daughter.
There have been at least two other cases in Virginia recently, where prosecutors were successful in obtaining a conviction in murder cases without a body.
In August 2015, James “Todd” Kessler was convicted for second-degree murder in the death of Claudine Jaquier Gifford. In July 2014, Randy Allen Taylor was convicted for first-degree murder and abduction with intent to defile in connection with the disappearance of missing Nelson County teenager Alexis Murphy.