For your convenience, we have installed the link below to make donations to this website easier. Now you can utilize your PayPal account or your credit card.
Click on the logo above to visit the website for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schuyler County
Trappler denies any role
Day 10: Fazzary goes on the attack in cross-examination
WATKINS GLEN, May 4 -- "It was a crazy time," Alice Trappler summed up as her testimony across two days in Schuyler County Court came to an end Friday afternoon.
She was referring to the period a little more than a year ago during which Daniel Bennett was shotgunned to death in his Town of Dix home, a killing that resulted in the death of the alleged shooter while eluding police in Pennsylvania, the arrest of that man's stepbrother as an accomplice, and the arrest of Trappler for allegedly conspiring with those two men in the murder.
The trial, which has now consumed 10 days, is heading toward a conclusion early next week -- with the possibility of two more witnesses to clear up points raised in previous testimony. After that, defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir and District Attorney Joe Fazzary will present their closing arguments to the jury, Judge Dennis Morris will charge the jurors with a reading of the law, and then deliberations will begin.
How long those take is anybody's guess.
Trappler, a resident of Steuben County, is charged with 2nd Degree Murder, 1st and 2nd Degree Burglary and 2nd Degree Conspiracy in connection with the April 19, 2012 death of Bennett -- a former boyfriend with whom she had a child, Lily, in early November 2011. She is alleged to have conspired with her ex-husband, Thomas Wesley "Wes" Borden, and Borden's stepbrother, Nathan Hand, both of Corning, to have Bennett killed at his residence on Pearl Street in the Schuyler County Town of Dix.
Borden, who allegedly shot Bennett, subsequently died when struck by a commuter train while fleeing police in Jenkintown, Pa. Hand pleaded guilty to a charge of 1st Degree Manslaughter, reduced from 2nd Degree Murder in exchange for his testimony at the Trappler trial. Hand, still awaiting sentencing and housed in the Schuyler County Jail, testified Tuesday.
Trappler, under questioning by BetzJitomir Friday, denied she had anything to do with Bennett's death.
"Did you murder Daniel Bennett?" she was asked.
"Absolutely not," Trappler responded.
"Did you send someone to kill him?"
"You said you wished he would disappear," said BetzJitomir.
"I did wish he would disappear, not die," said Trappler. "He talked about moving to Arkansas or Brazil. It would have been great if he had disappeared to Arkansas or Brazil."
That declaration of innocence is being contested by Fazzary, who said after the day's session that he thought "I established on cross (-examination) what I needed to establish" -- in this case, that Trappler has been "less than truthful all along. I think I proved that."
BetzJitomir, on the other hand, said that Fazzary had not shown that her client had any connection to the murder, adding that if she was the DA, "I wouldn't have brought this case at all."
Both attorneys agreed that once the jury gets the case, there is no telling how long it might take to reach a verdict. But while Fazzary said its members might want to go over any number of records placed into evidence -- which potentially could take a long time -- BetzJitomir doubted that they would.
The Direct Examination
The early part of Friday's session saw Trappler resume her testimony under the guidance of BetzJitomir, explaining some of the text messages in the case and her thinking in the days leading to the murder, the night of the killing, and afterward.
The matter of one text -- in which she had suggested that the alleged shooter, Borden, stop texting her on the night of the murder -- was the first item addressed, since the first day of her testimony left off there. She said the "Towers traceable??" line in that text was a reference to an earlier phone call in which Borden had said he was thinking of disabling Bennett's vehicle -- something he had once done to Trappler's own vehicle -- and then contact her from another hill because "towers are traceable." The line in her text, she said, was questioning that premise. She said it sounded like he had been drinking, and she told him he should go home and "call from Corning."
She said that phone calls recorded in the Chemung County Jail of her asking her parents to contact Brett Bacon so she could talk to him were issued because she needed to know if Bacon -- who had given her a .12 gauge Mossberg shotgun for protection -- had taken it from her goat ranch, where she was keeping it. She had noticed it missing, she said, a day before her arrest. She wanted to know, she said, because "if he didn't, then I thought Wes (Borden) had done something stupid" -- had killed Daniel Bennett. It turned out that the .12 gauge was the murder weapon.
She also explained the reported "meltdown" she suffered at work, which the prosecution had said was created by an upcoming Family Court hearing regarding a possible paternity test to determine that Bennett was the father. If the test was approved, that could ultimately have led to visitation by Bennett with daughter Lily, who Trappler had been vowing to keep away from Bennett. She had told people Bennett was "a sperm donor" and "a monster" -- both terms she repeated Friday under cross-examination by Fazzary. The meltdown, she said, was caused by more than the hearing -- by court, "which was taxing"; by an effort to start a landscaping business with a neighbor; by "raising an infant daughter"; by "going between two residences" (the goat ranch and her mother's house); and by efforts involved with "all these men we've heard about here."
Before that, though, BetzJitomir was building a defense on such things as Trappler's ownership of many shovels of various kinds -- a clear reference to the fact that Borden purchased a shovel after the murder in order to bury the murder weapon in Pinnacle State Park near Addison. Why buy a shovel, BetzJitomir was implying, if Borden had had access to one from an alleged accomplice? And the purchase of a file -- presumably used to file down the serial number on the .12 gauge -- would likewise not have been necessary if Trappler were involved, the attorney implied, because the defendant had a number of different ones at her goat ranch.
As for a line in one of the jailhouse phone recordings, in which Trappler is urging her father to find Bacon and "quell his fears," she said she wanted to make sure that Bacon "knew I had nothing to do with this."
"Have you ever committed a crime?" BetzJitomir asked. "No," Trappler responded.
"Have you ever been the victim of a crime?" she was asked. "Yes," she said -- when Bennett assaulted her one morning at the goat ranch, an incident recounted in her testimony the day before. She ended up getting an order of protection.
When asked by BetzJitomir why the April 20, 2012 Family Court hearing was so upsetting to her -- given that "it didn't sound like a big deal" -- Trappler said there were "variables, I would say ... the unknowns. I didn't know what (Bennett's) actions would be at court." She was going to have Borden stay outside "so there was no physical confrontation. That was a big concern of mine."
When the police came to her house to question her around 4:30 a.m. on the day after the murder -- "It was not a knock, (but) a pounding that shook the house" -- she said she carried a pistol to the door because it was "unnerving. Then I put it away." Police had said in their report that she appeared to be up at that hour, and she essentially agreed. "I was in bed, but awake. That's usually my get-up-and-go time. Lily had been up during the night, too, and I was breastfeeding." So being up "was not at all unusual."
It was that meeting with police, she said, where she learned Bennett had been shot to death and that it wasn't an accident. Her response that day was to go to her attorney's office for a scheduled meeting regarding the Family Court hearing, and then "to work, to a job site and then home. I don't remember everything that day," she said. "It was a traumatic day." The next couple of days she "carried on the best I could doing things I normally did, from laundry to taking care of Lily to chores to going to work."
She also said a text from Borden to her on the night of the murder telling her to "throw away the box" -- a line considered suspicious by authorities -- was a reference to a box that contained a toy bowl that Borden had delivered to Lily. It was a replacement for one that was defective, and Trappler said that upon receipt of the gift she had half-jokingly told Borden she would hold on to the box in case this bowl was defective, too -- presumably to be used for return to the seller.
"I said I was not throwing the box away," she said, adding that his text meant she didn't need to keep it -- "the bowl wasn't going to break."
BetzJitomir asked her if she had done anything illegal in connection with the death of Daniel Bennett -- if she had helped plan it.
"Absolutely not," said Trappler. "I plan things for a living. I wouldn't plan something like this. I'm a construction coordinator. I plan $100,000 projects, a $1 million project. I plan things that work, are efficient, detail-oriented. I don't lack planning skills."
"Was this murder lacking planning skills?" BetzJitomir asked.
"Yes," said Trappler.
Fazzary conducted a consistently aggressive cross-examination, hammering away at the defendant regarding her attempts to secure signatures on birth certificates and Acknowledgments of Paternity from three different men who were not Lily's biological father: Thomas Borden, Brett Bacon and Mike Buck (who testified Thursday morning)..
As he went over each application, he accused Trappler several times of "lying" on forms, although she contended she was either following directions on the forms or acting on the advice of her attorney.
"You've had pretty rotten luck with the legal system, haven't you?" Fazzary asked her at one point, referrng to a previous experience in Family Court in which she lost custody of Borden's daughters, Chastity and Autumn, when they were returned to their birth mother after Trappler had raised them for several years. They were still in her life, visiting her on weekends, when the murder and her arrest occurred.
"Family Court, Criminal Court," said Fazzary. "You've had a pretty bad turn with it."
"I don't think that's a fair statement," said Trappler, explaining that after the children returned to their mother, she was given joint custody and visitation.
"But you were devastated, weren't you?" said Fazzary.
"Yes, I was absolutely devastated," said the defendant.
Fazzary turned to Trappler's experience with law enforcement following the alleged assault by Daniel Bennett at the goat ranch. "You tried to have him arrested," he said.
"Actually," said Trappler, "they asked if I wanted him arrested. I didn't. I said I wanted him off my property."
"As a matter of fact," said Fazzary, "it was only after he filed a petition for custody that you wanted him arrested for an incident months before. You had to beg and plead" with police officials.
There was another factor, Trappler said -- a note left inside her house by Bennett, who was not supposed to be there under the order of protection. "I went through proper channels," she said. "I don't know if your words 'beg and plead' apply."
Fazzary said that by Trappler's own account, she visited the police five times and called them 10 times on the matter, but "they didn't want to entertain your charge, did they?"
"Not with what I was bringing to them," she said, indicating they needed more evidence.
"They thought you were being vindictive, didn't they?" asked the DA.
This brought an objection from BetzJitomir.
Fazzary pursued the issue further, calling into question an alteration in Trappler's accounts to police regarding the alleged assault. A charge was ultimately lodged against Bennett, but a judge decided "to dismiss the case -- an ACD (Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal), right?" said Fazzary. "And the order of protection was dropped, too, wasn't it?"
"Not to my knowledge," said Trappler. "I believe it was still in order." She added that there was earlier testimony that such an order was found in the glove compartment of Bennett's truck.
Fazzary turned again to Trappler's experience in the Family Court system, saying "You were lying to the Steuben County Family Court, weren't you?"
"How so, sir?" she asked.
"You don't get to ask the questions," Fazzary shot back, adding: "By filing an Acknowledgment of Paternity" with a name other than the biological father's.
"It's not a lie," she said. "You read through the instructions, and they very clearly state" that such a filing is allowed.
"You're saying you were okay with the Family Court system?" Fazzary asked.
"Oh, no, it's broken in many ways," she said, adding that as far as being unnerved by it, as Fazzary had suggested she was, "Any court system, including a traffic ticket, would make me nervous."
"It was making you sick that Daniel Bennett might have access" to the child, Fazzary said.
"I found it worrisome," said Trappler.
"You were freaking out at work" about it, Fazzary answered -- and asked her if she hadn't told people Daniel Bennett was "a monster."
"He was a monster," she replied.
The DA also challenged her about the specific period in which she'd had a relationship with Bennett after she claimed that it was essentially over after she secured the order of protection. Text messages produced by Fazzary showed clearly, through endearments, that it continued beyond that.
And he attacked her for claiming false statements by Bennett on an application for paternity. One such statement had to do with her residence, which was listed at her mother's address, where she was staying. She said she considered that temporary lodging, and that the goat ranch was her real address. The other had to do with the period of sexual relations specified by Bennett on the form. Trappler said it was erroneous because the period of relations lasted beyond the end date specified on the form.
"You had sex in that time frame," said Fazzary, and when Trappler tried to reiterate the reason for calling the time frame erroneous -- "I was just questioning the date on there" -- the DA produced text messages from Trappler's cell phone that had been sent between her and Bennett. And he told her to read the messages.
"This is embarassing and highly personal," Trappler said. "I'm not denying I had sex." When Fazzary made it clear he was waiting, she said to the jury: "I apologize," and then read a series of intimate exchanges that were graphic, starting with the line "Are you incredibly horny?"
Twice BetzJitomir jumped to her feet to object, first on the grounds of relevance and second to point out that the defendant wasn't disputing the presence of a sexual relationship. Just as Judge Morris appeared to be turning to Fazzary to say something, the DA turned away from Trappler. "The relevance speaks for itself," he said.
After a sidebar, Trappler said: "The only thing I was denying was the date it ended."
So, asked Fazzary, there was sex later?
"Yes, we established that," said Trappler.
The last portion of the cross-examination dealt with the motivations of Trappler on the night of the murder, in particular her failure to make sure that Borden and his stepbrother, Hand, were returning home from the Town of Dix after she told them, as she claimed, to abort an attempt to subpoena Frank Bennett for the Family Court hearing the following day. And Fazzary questioned the need for the subpoena at all, given the fact that Trappler was conceding that Frank probably wouldn't have contributed anything to her case in court.
But Trappler said she held out hope that Frank might have a change of heart.
Fazzary brought up a phone call made by Trappler to Borden at 9:11 p.m., less than two hours before the murder. Borden and Hand were in the vicinity of Beaver Dams, not far from the Bennett house. "When you called," said the DA, "your testimony today is you told him to get out of there, it was too late to serve" the subpoena.
"I believe so," said Trappler.
"You believe so, or it was so?" asked Fazzary.
"It happened," Trappler replied.
The DA raised the matter of the knowledge -- as contained in the testimony of Nathan Hand earlier in the week -- that Borden and Hand possessed regarding the Bennett house: the presence of a sensor alarm on the porch, the fact that the door was never locked, that Frank Bennett slept in the basement, and that Daniel Bennett would be sleeping in the living room. Trappler had been to Bennett's residence several times, Fazzary pointed out, but the alleged killer and his accomplice hadn't.
Trappler said in regards to the alarm: "I don't recall telling them that."
"They got their information on their own?" asked Fazzary.
"I don't know," said Trappler.
And she gave the same answers regarding the bedroom of Frank Bennett. As for the unlocked door: "I had no way of knowing if it was locked or not."
"Did you ever see Dan Bennett put his key in that lock?" asked Fazzary.
"I don't recall that," said the defendant.
"And they knew Dan Bennett slept on the couch," said the DA.
"I knew he slept on a chair or couch most of the time," said Trappler.
"Did you tell them?"
"They came up with that themselves?"
"Apparently so," said Trappler.
And Fazzary addressed the matter of text deletions from Trappler's phone and Borden's. Evidence entered in the trial showed such deletions occurred -- something Trappler wasn't denying.
Pointing to a sheet of numbers from one of the items of evidence, Fazzary asked if it was "fair to say that between April 15 and April 19 at 8:45 you basically wiped Wes Borden from your phone."
"That is what that shows, yes," said Trappler.
"I know what the record shows, but you did it, yes?" asked Fazzary.
"It looks like a whole block was deleted, yes," said Trappler.
Fazzary pointed out that some other messages were selectively erased, and that two of them coincided with messages erased by Borden on his phone. That coincidence was "odd," he said.
"I don't think that odd at all," said Trappler. "We sent probably 800 something text messages; I don't think it odd we erased some."
Fazzary also returned to the interview conducted by police at Trappler's mother's home after 4:30 on the morning after the murder. He pointed to her negative response when asked if she owned any long guns. "It didn't come to your mind about the Mossberg?" he asked.
"I answered the questions exactly as they asked them," Trappler responded.
"Are you saying Investigator Kelly (who was questioning her at the interview) wasn't telling the truth? What was there to hide? Why couldn't you say you had two guns down at the goat ranch?"
"I don't know," said the defendant.
"And you didn't tell them you had a boyfriend. But you did, didn't you."
"Other people didn't know about Brett and I ..."
"You told them no," said Fazzary.
"Yes," said Trappler. "I was asked if I knew anyone who would do this on my behalf. I didn't think anyone would do this."
"So you got arrested," Fazzary went on.
"And you go to jail and start asking your mother about getting in touch with Brett Bacon." Trappler has said she needed Bacon to do things at the goat ranch for her, but that she was also concerned with how he was handling the situation -- and was worried about whether he had secured the gun..
"What were you charged with?" asked Fazzary
"One count of Second Degree Murder."
"You want the jury to believe," said Fazzary, "that you were worried about the goat ranch? Is that what you want them to believe?"
"I was worried about a lot of things," said Trappler.
"Later, you were a little more adamant."
"Yes, very much so," said Trappler. "There were several issues on the goat ranch."
"That had to be huge on your mind," Fazzary said sarcastically, "whether the goats were being fed."
"That was one of my concerns, yes," she answered.
Fazzary quoted from the jailhouse recordings concerning Bacon: "'Please, please have a conversation with him. He's scared to death; flighty, nervous.' What did that have to do with the goat ranch?"
"It had everything to do with the goat ranch," answered Trappler. "I wanted to know if he took the gun from the goat ranch."
"'Calm him. Quell his fears,'" the DA continued, reading from the recordings transcript. "You needed to calm him down because you knew that gun was used in the homicide."
"No," said Trappler, "I didn't know that.
"You were worried about Brett cooperating with the police," said Fazzary.
"I was worried about him getting into trouble, about my animals, about selling my belongings to help pay for an attorney, about Lily, my parents, about everything under the sun."
When the defendant learned that Bacon was cooperating with the DA's office, said Fazzary, "you wanted to 'shout and scream,'" according to the transcript. "You were worried because Brett Bacon was the only guy standing who could tie you to the murder. Weren't you?"
He said this in a loud voice, in front of Trappler. He was brandishing the sheaf of transcript papers back and forth in front of him.
"No," said Trappler. "I was worried about Brett."
Finally, Fazzary said that on direct testimony, Trappler had said that Borden "wasn't heeding your directive to leave the Bennett" neighborhood as of 9:38 p.m. on the night of the murder.
"Did you call him back at that point?" the DA asked.
"No, I never called him," she said.
"Did you call the police, give them a head's up that there might be a problem up there?"
"That's all I have," said the DA, sitting down.
On redirect, BetzJitomir asked Trappler more about that. "He wasn't making much sense," the defendant said about Borden "I told him to call from Corning and he never did."
"You thought he wasn't listening to you?" asked the attorney.
"Yes," said Trappler.
"Did you think he was murdering someone?"
Photos in text:
Top: District Attorney Joe Fazzary after court Friday.
Middle: Defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir speaks to the media Friday.
Bottom: Defendant Alice Trappler is led back to jail after Friday's court session.
The Story from Day 1 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 2 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 3 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 4 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 5 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 6 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 7 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 8 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 9 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 11 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 12 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 13 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 14 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 15 may be found by clicking here.
(All court stories by Charlie Haeffner)
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869