Guard testifies at Pa. food plant killings trial
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A security guard at a Kraft Foods plant testified Monday that a suspended employee had returned to the facility with a gun and demanded to be let inside before a shooting that left two people dead.
Guard Mark Bentley testified at Yvonne Hiller's double-murder trial about the night she was suspended from the northeast Philadelphia plant in September 2010.
According to Bentley, Hiller was escorted out but soon returned to the guardhouse, pointed a gun at him and demanded he open the gate.
Bentley wasn't armed and complied.
Hiller had been suspended after arguing with co-workers that day. She had long complained that colleagues were spraying her with chemicals, and she accused them of being intolerant of her Muslim religion.
Hiller, 45, faces life in prison if convicted during the one-day nonjury trial of first-degree murder.
Prosecutors have agreed not to seek the death penalty. In return, Hiller waived her right to a jury trial and won't rely on an insanity defense.
Bryant Dalton, who grew up with Hiller, still has a bullet lodged in his shoulder from the plant shooting. He was the first witness to testify Monday.
Hiller had argued with him and another co-worker that evening, telling them in a profanity-laced tirade that she was sick of their games, he said. Dalton tried to calm her down.
"It was just getting crazy," Dalton said. "I had no idea what she was talking about."
Hiller was soon suspended and escorted out to her car but within minutes returned and forced her way back into the building with a .357 Magnum, authorities said. She found Dalton and two female co-workers in a break room. Dalton was shot first, in the neck, he testified. Hiller then let one woman go before targeting two other victims, Latonya Brown, 36, and Tanya Wilson, 47, Dalton said. Neither woman survived.
Other plant workers who testified Monday described the chaos at the busy plant, where 120 workers make cookies and crackers round-the-clock, often wearing ear plugs because of the loud machinery.
"Everybody was scattering. We didn't know what was going on," said Fred Capps, who described the scene in the third-floor mixing area where the shooting broke out.
On cross-examination, Capps, a longtime union steward, said he was aware that Hiller had complained about being sprayed with chemicals and had been suspended several times before. He was present earlier that night when employees gave statements about the argument and Hiller was again suspended.
"She was rambling about the chemicals," Capps said. "We work up on the third floor with a lot of chemicals. It's in the air."
In brief opening statements, defense lawyers suggested that Hiller felt that she had been harassed at work for several years.
The trial is expected to conclude later in the day.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)