Hayes - aka Grant Haze - is charged - along with his current wife Amanda - with killing the 27-year-old at their Raleigh apartment in July, 2011 during a long-running custody dispute. Prosecutors say they chopped up Ackerson's body, put it in coolers, and then drove them in a rented U-Haul to Amanda Hayes' sister's house in Richmond, Texas, where the body parts were dumped in a nearby creek.
But Hayes' lawyers say he didn't kill Ackerson. They're blaming the murder on his wife and say he only participated in trying to hide the killing.
The jury will get the chance to consider both first and second-degree murder when it begins deliberating Monday morning.
In his closing argument Friday, attorney William Durham explained to jurors that a first-degree murder conviction requires proof of premeditation and planning. He said the state has not proven that.
He pointed to evidence that a reciprocating power saw and cleaning supplies used to try to cover up the killing were purchased after Ackerson died. Durham also said it was ludicrous that anyone planning to kill a person would lure them to their own home to do it.
Durham asked jurors to consider a document police found in Ackerson's and Grant Hayes handwriting that appears to be an agreement for Ackerson to give up custody of their two children in exchange for $25,000.
"If you're going to pay someone to get custody, you're not going to kill them to get custody," said Durham.
Hayes' lead attorney Jeff Cutler also disputed the prosecution theory that Grant and Amanda lured Ackerson to their apartment to kill her.
"She came there frequently," said Cutler - disputing testimony that Ackerson only met Hayes in public places in the weeks before her death.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors said a charge of first-degree murder is appropriate. Wake County Assistant District Attorney Becky Holt charged Hayes plotted Ackerson's death because he was furious his fight for custody was not going well.
Holt pointed to testimony from a psychiatrist who had examined Hayes and Ackerson in their legal battle against each other and had recommended Hayes needed to go see a psychiatrist because of his illogical disturbed thinking. Holt said Hayes had grown desperate because he wanted total control of children with Ackerson only getting supervised visits, but was likely to only get split custody at best.
"He was losing control of the situation," said Holt. "The defendant wanted Laura to just go away."
Holt also threw cold water on the defense assertion that the fact that Grant and Amanda hadn't prepared to get rid of the body shows there wasn't a premeditated plan to kill Ackerson.
"The plan was to kill her. Just because there wasn't a plan to get rid of her body doesn't mean there wasn't a plan to kill her," Holt charged.
Hayes and his wife are being tried separately. A jury of eight women and four men is hearing the case. Attorneys have also chosen four alternates. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. Hayes faces life in prison if convicted. Amanda Hayes is expected to go on trial next year.