Mom of victim in 2015 massacre called for help multiple times before family was found dead

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The capital murder trial for the man accused of a family massacre started Tuesday in downtown Houston.

Prosecutors accuse 54-year-old David Conley of killing eight people on Aug. 8, 2015. Six of the victims murdered were children, including his own son. Investigators said they found the victims in handcuffs, but one child's hands were duct-taped.

Disturbing details and a heartbreaking timeline of the day emerged in open court more than six years after the atrocious crime. In a pre-trial hearing, prosecutor Alycia Harvey hinted at a possible motive.

"If he couldn't have his family, then no one could," said Harvey.

Conley's defense wanted Judge Chuck Silverman to prevent prosecutors from talking about the children's killings to the jury or showing them any photos of the deceased children. Silverman didn't agree to that demand. Conley is standing trial only for the murders of Dwayne Clifford Jackson Sr. and Valerie Yanske Jackson. The death penalty is off the table in this case, because Conley has been determined to be intellectually disabled.

Conley's defense also took issue with ABC13's reporting of the high-profile case. His attorneys argued the pre-trial publicity might jeopardize their client's right to impartial jurors. Judge Silverman declined a motion to specifically ask the jury about their media exposure to the case.

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On Tuesday, Conley entered the courtroom at about 10:15 a.m., wearing a gray suit. Shortly before entering a not guilty plea, he held up a yellow piece of paper and told those in the room "Black Lives Matter" and to "quit leading us into temptation."

He remained silent and seemingly emotionless for the testimony that spanned into the afternoon. We witnessed three law enforcement officers take the stand. They talked about the multiple welfare checks performed that day at the home. They said nothing indicated something was out of the ordinary and didn't have a legal reason to enter the residence. There was no apparent evidence of hostages being held.

According to the state's evidence, the first call from Valerie Jackson's mother to 911 came in at 10:41 a.m. She called again at 12:12 p.m. Finally, she called at about 5:30 p.m. still asking for help in safeguarding her daughter's well-being. Prosecutors played the calls in open court.

Deputy William Reed said everything changed soon after nightfall. He shined his flashlight through a window.

"I could see through the curtain. I saw a comforter wrapped on a bed," recalled Reed. "I saw a child's head with a gunshot wound, blood pooled on the bed. I could see a child's head ... now, we have life in danger. We have to go in the house."

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The law enforcement officers testified they kicked in a side door and immediately heard gunfire. They retreated and called SWAT. Reed said hours later, he saw Conley emerge from the house in a black Batman T-shirt.

Barbara Yankse flew in from La Crescent, Minnesota to testify in the case. She's Valerie's mom and the grandmother of all the children who died in the ambush. She testified her daughter sent her Facebook messages for help at about 10:23 a.m. on Aug. 8, 2015. Valerie wrote "911" repeatedly.

"I understood it as she's in possible danger," said Yanske. "I need to call 911."

Another message read "DVD has a gun." Yankse said she later interpreted DVD to mean David Conley. She never again heard from her daughter after the brief exchange. She said she became distressed and desperate to find help.

"I called the police in Crescent, Minnesota and then the police in Houston," said Yankse. "I had reason to believe from these limited messages someone had to check and see what was going on. They were in danger."

Conley's trial is expected to be short, perhaps concluding by the end of the week. He's not expected to take the stand in his defense.

For more updates on David Conley's trial, follow Steve Campion on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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