Khari Sanford trial: Witnesses testify about stress, disrespect in family’s home over relationship

MADISON, Wis. — In opening statements Tuesday morning in Khari Sanford’s murder trial, state prosecutors laid out a motive against Sanford built on family tensions, alleging Sanford “hated” his girlfriend’s parents before planning their death on March 30, 2020.

“The evidence in this case, as you’ll hear, is overwhelming,” Dane County Deputy District Attorney William Brown said in his 35-minute opening statement. “Mr. Sanford hated Beth Potter and Robin Carre. The evidence will conclusively prove that.”

“He was just a kid,” Sanford’s defense attorney Tracey Lencioni pushed back in a statement lasting under ten minutes, saying there was no direct evidence Sanford killed the victims. “It was typical teenage angst in a very atypical time.”

The trial got underway around 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Sanford has been charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide with use of a dangerous weapon and party-to-a-crime modifiers in the deaths of UW Health’s Dr. Beth Potter and her husband, Robin Carre. Prosecutors allege Sanford and another man, Ali’jah Larrue, kidnapped the couple from their home before driving them to the Arboretum and shooting them. Their bodies were later found in a ditch by joggers the next morning.

RELATED: ‘It’s terrifying’: Neighborhood residents react to Arboretum double homicide as UW-Madison Police seek suspect

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Deputy District Attorney William Brown delivers his opening statement in the Khari Sanford homicide trial on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

Prosecution: Dr. Potter could have survived

Brown said in his statement that Larrue is expected to testify against Sanford during the trial, providing key parts of the evidence in the prosecution’s case. Larrue accepted a plea deal last year in his part of the case.

In his opening statements, Brown said that Mr. Carre died instantly, but his wife Dr. Beth Potter remained alive until the following morning.

“She died the next morning in the hospital, after remaining alive in the ditch throughout the night next to her dead husband,” he noted.

Despite being shot in the back of her head, he said medical experts are expected to testify that she might have survived with a damaged quality of life if she had received help right away.

Brown cited family tensions at length as contributing to a motive in the crime. The victims’ daughter, who was dating Sanford at the time but is not implicated in her parents’ death, was adopted as a baby from Guatemala and was experiencing “problems” at home and at school, Brown said.

“Those problems got worse and worse and worse,” Brown noted in his statement.

The victims didn’t approve of their daughter’s relationship with Sanford, but first had him stay in their home before paying for a short-term Airbnb rental for the two teenagers — anticipating it to be a short term arrangement after the two teenagers didn’t heed Covid precautions despite Dr. Potter needing to remain Covid-free for her job. Dr. Potter was the medical director for UW Health’s Employee Services for Wellbeing department, and was heavily involved in planning Covid protections for employees.

“We disagree with the characterization by the state of the weeks, days, months leading up to March 30, 2020 as far as the relationship between (the daughter) and her parents and Mr. Sanford,” defense attorney Lencioni said of the family tensions cited by the prosecution.

Key evidence: Cell phone data, blood found

Key points of evidence that Brown expects to present to jurors include cell phone evidence from Sanford’s phone, such as when it connected to the victim’s home wifi when he’s alleged to have driven around the home the night he’s accused of kidnapping and killing them.

The defense warned, however, that they believe the state has not proven the case.

“There will be no GPS points or data extracted from Mr. Sanford’s phone that places him in the Arboretum at the estimated time of when Dr. Potter and Mr. Carre were shot,” defense attorney Lencioni said in her statement. “Lack of evidence is also evidence.”

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Khari Sanford defense attorney Tracey Lencioni delivers her opening statement in his homicide trial on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

Other key evidence that Brown referenced in his statement was that the state crime lab found Dr. Potter’s blood on pants where Sanford’s DNA was also found.

Lencioni noted in her statements that the evidence will not include the murder weapon, and that Sanford’s DNA was not found on shell casings at the scene.

“We believe the state cannot meet their burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Khari Sanford who murdered these two individuals,” she said.

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Khari Sanford sits at the defendants’ table during opening statements of his homicide trial on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

Witness testimony: Stress, disrespect from teenagers at home

Multiple friends and colleagues of Dr. Potter and her husband, as well as Dr. Potter’s therapist, testified Monday to conversations they’d had with Dr. Potter in the months leading up to her death about teenager troubles at home.

Dr. Potter’s brother also testified, saying he’d last texted with his sister the night she died. He said she wasn’t afraid and she didn’t mention having any threats, something multiple other witnesses testified to as well. She was uncomfortable but not afraid of what witnesses called both teenagers’ disrespect, lack of communication, or not following house rules before the parents moved them to the Airbnb.

“It was just a mess in the house,” her brother said. He agreed on cross-examination that many of the issues were typical teenager issues, at least until they were asked to move. Others noted that while Dr. Potter had talked about disrespect from her daughter, it was not generally disrespect so much as a lack of communication from Sanford that worried her about the relationship.

A close friend and coworker of Dr. Potter also testified to the doctor’s stress about the couple’s disregard of house rules and Covid precautions. Potter was also high-risk, and feared what might happen if she caught the virus.

She was just really concerned about that, and that her daughter and daughter’s boyfriend weren’t necessarily taking it seriously and leaving the house for hours at a time, meeting up with people, and coming back,” the coworker said. Dr. Potter had been working long hours and 7-day weeks that March as the coronavirus spread in the U.S., as she was responsible for the department tasked with monitoring employee symptoms and making sure they were being properly screened before working.

The day she died, the coworker said she’d told Dr. Potter to go home early; they were just starting to get caught up.

“That was the last time I saw Beth.”

Trial timeline

State prosecutors said they expected they would wrap up their presentation of evidence early next week. The trial is scheduled to run nine days, and will also include testimony from the victims’ daughter on Wednesday, who was dating Sanford at the time.

Prosecutors expect to show surveillance footage from a neighbor’s home across from the Airbnb where Sanford and the daughter were living at the time, paid for by the victims. They also said they will limit but show some graphic photos of Dr. Potter and Mr. Carre’s bodies.