The 33-year-old son of a Howard County man on trial for allegedly killing his wife and burying her beneath a backyard shed two decades ago testified through tears on Thursday about waking up on the morning of her disappearance and wandering around the home looking for her.
Robert Jarrett III was 10 years old at the time, and it was a morning ritual for his mother, Christine, to wake him and his younger brother. On Jan. 4, 1991, he got up on his own and saw no sign of her. He checked her bed and the garage, and then called his aunt.
"She was a stay-at-home mom, and she was very loving," he said. "We were with her all the time."
Jarrett's father, Robert Jarrett Jr., 58, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Christine Jarrett after a body was found in April 2012 on the Elkridge property they shared.
The discovery came after Jarrett left his second wife; she allowed police to search the shed.
Prosecutors allege that Jarrett killed his wife and disposed of her remains. He continued to raise their children in the home after her disappearance.
Testimony on the second day of the trial in Howard County Circuit Court came from Robert Jarrett III — the elder of Jarrett's two sons — and a nephew. Both said they had witnessed Robert Jarrett Jr. abusing Christine.
Though the body was found under a slab of concrete in the shed, Jarrett's attorneys say prosecutors have no evidence to link him to the killing, and they question whether the remains were hers. They say the decision by their sons to cremate the body after an autopsy prevented defense attorneys from conducting independent tests.
Also found with the body were personal items belonging to Christine Jarrett, including a ring, her purse and family photographs. Prosecutors say her identity was confirmed through dental records.
But the defense objected. Circuit Judge Richard S. Bernhardt instructed Robert Jarrett III not to describe the remains found as those of his mother.
Robert Jarrett Jr. told police in 1991 that he and his wife had agreed to separate weeks before her disappearance. He said they had had an argument, and that when he woke up she had left.
Two close friends of Christine's testified Wednesday that she had made comments about "walking out and never coming back."
Robert Jarrett III, who is now a licensed counselor, testified that the only conversation he had with his father about the matter after Christine's disappearance involved the father handing the boy a newspaper article about the case.
"He told me to read it, and if I had any questions to ask him," Robert Jarrett III testified.
He declined to be interviewed after testifying.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that the Jarretts' marriage was strained, but the defense said Robert Jarrett had no reason to kill his wife and actively looked for her after she vanished. Prosecutors say he was feigning concern.
Robert Jarrett III described his parents' marriage as "tumultuous" and marked by frequent verbal disputes. He testified that he twice watched from the kitchen as his father knocked his mother to the ground in the living room.
Christine Jarrett's nephew, David Mueller, testified that Christine once called him from a drugstore, where she said she had taken refuge after a beating that he said left welts and a gash on her face and neck.
"'I need you to pick me up," Mueller recalled her saying. "The son of a bitch just beat the [expletive] out of me.'"
Robert Jarrett III and a childhood friend both testified that they had access to the shed where the body was found. The family kept dirt bikes, tools and other items in it.
Not long after Christine's disappearance, Robert Jarrett Jr. rebuilt the shed, witnesses testified, with help from his brother and a next-door neighbor.
Another neighbor testified that she saw empty bags of concrete outside the shed.
"I wondered why anyone would be doing concrete work at that time of year," the neighbor, Cindy Fryer, testified.