Tom Lynch spoke quietly and quickly on the witness stand Tuesday, and traced the decline and end of his ill-fated marriage with Susie Newsom Lynch and his struggle to keep close ties with his two young sons.
The testimony of the Albuquerque dentist marked the beginning of his long-awaited civil hearing in Guilford Superior Court, in which he claims he is entitled to his late ex-wife's estate - because she helped bring about the bloodbath that took the lives of his sons, his mother and sister, and Susie Lynch's parents and grandmother.Robert Newsom III, Susie Lynch's brother and administrator of her estate, is contesting Tom Lynch's claims.
Newsom said he was prepared to get on with the hearing, so he and his family can close the door to the killings that rendered him the only living heir to the estate of his sister. But he said there is new information to be heard.
``The whole story's not out yet,' said Newsom, an assistant public defender in Guilford County.
In his opening statement, Arthur Donaldson, one of Tom Lynch's lawyers, said Susie Lynch must have fired the bullets that killed her sons June 3, 1985. She and her cousin, Fritz Klenner, also died that day, when a Blazer they were riding in with her sons exploded.
``Evidence will show that the shootings had to be done from the right front seat,' Donaldson said. ``The only person in the right front seat of the Blazer was Susie Lynch.'
But Perry Henson, Newsom's lawyer, said the evidence would show something else.
``Fritz Klenner was the one shooting guns as the car moved along the highway,' Henson said. ``Your honor, you will hear evidence that at that point, Susie Newsom Lynch was slumped forward against the right front door, and she remained there until the explosion. She was never seen to move. And as it proceeded north, no one ever saw those boys move in that van.'
Susie Lynch and Fritz Klenner died when one of them blew up the Blazer as they fled a caravan of police on N.C. 150 near Summerfield. Police wanted Klenner in the deaths of Susie Lynch's parents and grandmother and Delores and Janie Lynch, Tom Lynch's mother and sister.
In the back seat of the Blazer were Tom and Susie Lynch's sons, 10-year-old John and 9-year-old Jim: Each boy had been poisoned with cyanide and shot in the head.
On the witness stand, Tom Lynch depicted his brittle relations with Susie Lynch in the last years of her life, as she allied herself more and more with her cousin and lover.
After the funerals of his murdered mother and sister in Kentucky, a grieving Tom Lynch asked Susie Lynch to let him keep the boys, John and Jim, a little longer than was planned, he testified Tuesday.
``Absolutely not,' she told him. ``We're going on a camping trip.'
What was slated as a jury trial became a hearing after Tom Lynch's lawyers waived their right to a jury trial, in order to guarantee that the hearing begin this week.
Tuesday morning, Newsom, a member of the Guilford County Board of Elections, asked Judge Rick Greeson to postpone the trial, because he must hear challenges to the problem-ridden Nov. 6 election.
Instead, Greeson fashioned a compromise: The hearing will continue through Friday, then break until Dec. 3 to let Newsom meet with the elections board. Tom Lynch's lawyers offered to forego a jury trial, if it meant the hearing could begin immediately. Greeson is hearing the evidence in the lawsuits, and will issue a decision.
The three lawsuits being heard were filed in 1987 by Tom Lynch against Newsom and the estates of Susie Lynch, Susie Lynch's parents, Robert Newsom Jr. and Florence Sharp Newsom, and Susie Lynch's grandmother Hattie Carter Newsom.
To win his cases, Tom Lynch must prove one of two things: that Susie Lynch conspired or helped carry out the murders of her family, or that one of her two sons outlived her - even if for a moment. If he proves either contention, he, as administrator of his sons' estates, would be eligible to receive the benefits of his ex-wife's estate.