EATONTON, Ga. — A man who said he watched his wife shoot herself following an argument in the bedroom of their lakehouse in Putnam County earlier this month now finds himself charged with murder in her death.
The suspect, Michael Seth Perrault, was a police officer at the time with the Eatonton Police Department. He was off-duty when the fatal shooting happened. After his arrest for the murder of his wife two days later, he was terminated from the police force.
Perrault, who claimed 44-year-old Amanda Pardue Perrault shot herself in the head while they laid in bed together and argued on Monday, Feb. 3, appeared in Putnam County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon.
The argument carried over from an argument the couple had at their home six days earlier. That particular argument reportedly grew physical and led to Amanda Perrault calling the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office for help. It also led to Seth Perrault’s arrest on misdemeanor charges of simple battery under the Georgia Family Violence Act and cruelty to children in the third degree.
Perrault’s biological daughter, 8, witnessed the domestic argument between her father and stepmother, authorities said. The girl was in school on the day of the shooting, however.
Perrault was arrested by Putnam County Sheriff Howard R. Sills, who was accompanied by Chief Deputy Russell Blenk and Deputy Sgt. Bob Rodgers. Earlier, on Feb. 5, Sills obtained a murder warrant from Putnam County Chief Magistrate Dorothy Adams. Less than three hours later, Perrault was taken into custody without incident at his sister’s residence in Newton County.
In his third court appearance since his first arrest, Perrault was brought into the courtroom clad in orange jail clothing. His legs were shackled and he was confined to handcuffs during the duration of the hearing.
The suspect showed no emotion as he sat at the defense table with his attorneys.
The court appearance was for a preliminary hearing, which is similar to what some might call a mini-trial since witnesses are called to testify as to the facts related to the case. The hearing had been sought by Perrault’s attorneys, Bethany and William Lavigno, of Lavigno & Kenney law firm in Conyers.
The father-daughter defense team had wanted to discover what evidence the state had against their client for him to be charged with murder.
Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Amanda S. Petty presided over the hearing.
After listening to testimony and hearing closing comments from the district attorney and one of the defense attorneys, Petty ruled she had heard enough testimony and evidence to send the case to a Putnam County grand jury for consideration of indictment.
Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stephen A. Bradley said he anticipates that the case will be presented to a grand jury next month. Bradley was assisted in the preliminary hearing by Assistant District Attorney T. Wright Barksdale, who questioned Sills for about a half-hour during the hearing.
“It’s a sad tragedy in every way,” Bradley said in his closing statements. “It’s going to be a terrible story that had been written for some time prior to her death."
Bradley said everything about the crime scene showed that the defendant manipulated his wife’s body after her death.
“The very fact that she is in a posture the sheriff called casket-like in a set format with her head in a way that clearly had to have been moved, and the gun past her left foot and the magazine past her right hand, indicates all of those things took place after her death,” Bradley said.
The district attorney told the judge this was either homicide or suicide.
“This is not a who-done-it,” Bradley said. “All of the evidence indicates that it is a homicide.”
Bradley said Amanda Perrault had told people she wasn’t going to kill herself.
“The scene has been quite indicative, and there is more than probable cause that she didn’t kill herself,” Bradley said.
Seth Perrault’s attorney, William Lavigno, said he agreed that the case was a tragedy.
“What you have in front of you, the evidence is from the sheriff — literally the only evidence there is — is that he looked at her (Amanda’s body) and he saw that she had been manipulated after the crime,” Lavigno said. “There is no evidence that she didn’t shoot herself. None.”
The couple fought, he conceded.
But there is no evidence of any scratches, Lavigno said.
“There’s no evidence to bound somebody over on a murder charge other than what the sheriff said he thinks she looked like after she was dead,” Lavigno said. “That’s it.”
The defense attorney said he understood the couple fought often, but that it didn’t have anything to do with Amanda Perrault’s death.
“The evidence before this court is really simple,” Lavigno said. “When you take it off, look at it, break it down, it’s just Sheriff Sills thinking she didn’t look right in the posture she was in. That’s it.”
Three witnesses testified during the hearing — Sills, Thomas Resha and Brian Hargrove, both special agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Region 6 Office in Milledgeville.
The two agents, crime scene specialists, became involved in the case after Sills called the GBI for assistance in processing the crime scene at the Perrault’s home, located on Long Island Drive, off Long Shoals Road near Lake Oconee.
Sills testified he knew right away things didn’t point to a suicide.
He explained in detail what he saw inside the couple’s bedroom.
The sheriff first told Judge Petty what led up to law enforcement officers going to the residence.
Sills said he received a phone call from Eatonton Police Chief Kent Lawrence who informed him that he was on another phone at the time with Seth Perrault and that Perrault told him that his wife had killed herself.
That telephone call was made to the sheriff about 1:40 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 3.
The sheriff said and he, road patrol deputies, and detectives responded to the Perrault residence.
“Once you pulled into the driveway of that home, what did you see on the outside,” Barksdale asked Sills.
Sills said he saw Deputy Terrell Abernathy, who had been working the patrol zone that day.
Eatonton Police Investigator Howell Cardwell had also arrived on the scene. Deputy Sgt. Jeffrey Duncan arrived a short time later.
“As I approached the residence, the defendant was seated on the front steps, sitting on the steps themselves,” Sills said, noting that law enforcement officers were around him at the time.
Barksdale asked the sheriff to recall the type of clothing that Seth Perrault was wearing.
“Yes, he had on a gray T-shirt with some sort of Atlanta Falcons nomenclature on the front of it, and a pair of dark-colored knit shorts, gray or black,” Sills said. “And at some juncture, I noticed that he had on flip-flops.”
The sheriff said he asked Seth Perrault if he could search the house.
“He consented to that orally in front of all parties there,” Sills said, noting he talked with Perrault on two separate occasions while at the residence.
The sheriff said he didn’t see blood on Perrault, his hands or his clothing.
“And I wasn’t looking for that,” Sills pointed out.
Deputy Abernathy and Investigator Cardwell, who had already been inside the home, later directed the sheriff into the couple’s master bedroom.
He said the first thing he saw as he entered the bedroom was a pistol shell casing laying on the floor at the doorway.
Sills said he then saw Amanda Perrault’s body lying across the bed, “somewhat diagonally.”
Using a folder, the sheriff illustrated from the witness stand how Amanda Perrault’s body was positioned when he first saw it.
“Her head was tilted to the side this way,” Sills said. “Her body was laying out straight, almost in a casket-like position, with both of her feet together in a straight way and both of her arms directly by her side.”
Sills said he also noticed an apparent gunshot wound to her head and blood around her left ear.
“I was pretty sure the bullet had not exited,” Sills said. “By her right hand, three or four inches from her hand, was the magazine, the clip, the magazine to what we later determined was a Smith & Wesson bodyguard model .380 semi-automatic pistol.”
He said the gun was found about four to six inches from her left foot.
“And way over here was the pistol, itself,” Sills said, some distance away.
When the gun was checked, it was determined there was a live-round in the chamber, Sills said.
“And later on during the processing of the scene, we found two .380-caliber cartridges in the bed linen, again, to the left of where the pistol was — almost to the corner of the bed,” Sills said.
The cartridges had not been spent.
The sheriff also said he saw some empty bottles of liquor on the two nightstands in the bedroom.
“On the floor by the bed rail was at that time was a pool of blood,” Sills said. “And then behind where her head was where the bed frame goes down vertically, there was another pool of blood around that post.”
Some blood was also present on the bed linens.
Sills said he later saw a green towel on the floor in the bathroom and it appeared to be damp.
The sheriff said he walked through other parts of the house and went back outside and talked with Perrault briefly for a second time.
Sills said he told Perrault he would like to talk with him in more detail at the sheriff’s office.
“I told him he was not in custody, was not under arrest, and that I would like for him to voluntarily accompany us back to the office where we could talk with him further,” Sills said.
“Deputy Abernathy transported him to the sheriff’s office,” Sills said.
The sheriff said he then placed a call to agent in-charge of the GBI Region 6 Office in Milledgeville, Mary Chandler, and asked for their assistance in processing the crime scene.
Sills said he again reiterated to Perrault in the presence of his chief deputy that he was not in custody and that he didn’t have to talk with him. He was told he was free to get up and leave any time that he wanted, but that he would like to talk with him about what had happened that day.
Perrault agreed to talk about the incident.
“He said that they were laying in bed together,” Sills said. “They had been arguing, and that she just suddenly produced the handgun, looked him in the eye, and said, ‘I can’t take this anymore’ or something to that effect, and shot herself. He was adamant that he didn’t touch the body, remove the body or touch the pistol.”
Perrault reportedly told authorities he never moved the body or touched the gun.
“Based on what you had seen or observed at the scene, what was going on through your mind that he didn’t touch the body,” Barksdale asked.
“It was clearly a lie,” Sills said.
Barksdale asked the sheriff what was going through his mind when Perrault said he didn’t touch the pistol.
“He was clearly lying again,” Sills said.
“What [were] your thoughts when you saw the scene that day,” Barksdale asked the sheriff.
“It was absolutely obvious to me that Amanda Perrault could not have shot herself,” Sills said. “The way her body was positioned, where the magazine was, where the pistol was — none of that could have happened with the blood that I mentioned on the floor. That was impossible. Somebody had to have taken the magazine from that pistol, move that pistol to the location it was and had to have moved that body.”
Two days after Seth Perrault was questioned at the sheriff’s office about his wife’s death, Sills arrested him at his sister’s house in Newton County. It marked the second time in less than a week that Perrault had been arrested.
The first time came was on Jan. 28 when he and his late wife got into an argument that turned physical.
Perrault was later released from jail after posting $1,500 bail.
Authorities attempted to persuade Amanda Perrault not to allow her husband back into the residence, but she opted to let him come back home. She contended he had nowhere else to go.
Testimony during the hearing also revealed that the couple often argued and on at least one occasion, Amanda Perrault sought refuge at a neighbor’s home.
More than a dozen family members of the victim and the defendant attended the hearing. Some of the victim’s family burst out in sobs in the courtroom as the sheriff testified describing the position of Amanda’s Perrault’s body in the master bedroom.