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Jury gets Trappler case, fails to reach a verdict on 1st day
Fazzary, in his closing, rips defense theories
WATKINS GLEN, May 8 -- The jury in the Alice Trappler murder trial finally -- after opening and closing arguments and 11 days of testimony -- was handed the case Tuesday afternoon for deliberation ... but ended the day without a verdict.
The jurors started their deliberations after hearing an hour-and-a-half closing argument by District Attorney Joe Fazzary in the morning, and then a 45-minute charge by Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris in which he read them matters of law and specifics of the charges against Trappler. The deliberations began at 1:15 p.m., and didn't end until the jurors were sent home at 5 p.m. by Judge Morris, who cited state rules regulating courtroom hours. They were told to report back Wednesday morning.
During the course of deliberations, the jury several times sent out notes for Judge Morris requesting evidence or, in one instance, a return to the jury box to have some testimony read to them relating to locks on the doors at Trappler's goat ranch -- they wondered if there were any -- and to have the judge explain to them a second time the legal definitions of the charges with which Trappler is charged.
Trappler, a resident of Steuben County, is charged with 2nd Degree Murder (either intentional or felony), 1st and 2nd Degree Burglary and 2nd Degree Conspiracy in connection with the April 19, 2012 shooting death of Daniel 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 last week.
Trappler has been housed in the Chemung County Jail since her arrest more than a year ago. There was never any bail set in her case.
The Closing Argument
Before the case went to the jury, the day started -- actually seven minutes early -- when Fazzary presented the closing argument he had intended to present Monday. On Monday, various delays -- and the length of defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir's closing, 1 hour and 45 minutes -- had left the DA without enough time. So he rescheduled for Tuesday.
"Did (BetzJitomir) say she would prove her case in two minutes yesterday or two hours?" Fazzary opened, adding: "I don't normally address counsel's remarks in a summation, but I have to today. I don't think we sat in the same trial. I thought yesterday was a remake of 'Dallas' I was listening to."
He then took her to task for suggesting that Bennett's father Frank should be a suspect along with people on the periphery of the murder investigation. "Trying to saddle Frank Bennett with that is unconscionable," Fazzary told the jury. "He didn't kill Daniel. That's ridiculous." And others suggested by BetzJitomir as viable suspects "are beyond the stretch of the evidence," the DA said.
He then tackled the contention by one of the Bennett neighbors, Sue Brill, who said she heard one set of footsteps heading toward a vehicle parked down the road from the Bennett place after the shooting, and one car door slam. "With all due respect," he said, Brill's house "is probably 50 or 75 yards from the roadway, blocked by trees." Hearing so acutely from that distance and circumstance, he suggested, doesn't "make sense."
He addressed the absence of bruising on the shoulder of the shooter, Borden, by holding up the murder weapon -- a sawed-off .22 gauge Mossberg shotgun with two hand grips and no rifle stock. It is not, therefore, designed to be held against the shoulder.
As to whether or not Thomas Borden was the shooter, the DA said it "was proved he shot and killed Daniel Bennettt when Nathan Hand took the stand and told you he watched him do it. There is no dispute that Thomas Wesley Borden pulled the trigger that night."
As for the issue of "blowback" -- particles of blood and brain matter -- not found on Borden, in his truck or on the gun, Fazzary said BetzJitomir "has watched a little too much CSI. This isn't TV; this is real. No blowback? It's a moot point. Two people confessed to this" -- a reference to Hand, who cut a deal for reduced sentence, and Borden, who confessed over the phone to a State Police investigator.
Fazzary also took exception to the defense counsel's assertion that police did "a horrible job" investigating the murder. "Nothing could be further from the truth," he said. It wasn't a shoddy job; the "evidence shows otherwise."
As for Trappler being touted as "an amazing planner," the DA said, "how much did she really plan when she had a child with a man she called a drug dealer and a monster and lived under these conditions?" With that he showed jurors a picture of the rundown goat ranch at which she resided and which she was, she said, renovating.
Fazzary also brought up Trappler's contention that Bennett had told her "he was going to rape the child. There was no evidence of that. To the contrary, he was begging her to be a part of his child's life. If he had walked away, he wouldn't be dead."
The DA said the "best way to describe" Alice Trappler "is she's a manipulator of all people. She gets whatever she wants at any cost -- is willing to do anything to get what she wants. And she doesn't take no for an answer."
He ran through excerpts from text messages that he said indicated Trappler was experiencing "panic, fear ... motive" as the hearing neared in Family Court -- the hearing which could have been a step by Bennett toward proving he was the biological father of Lily, and a step toward him acquiring visitation rights."If you believe Nathan Hand," Fazzary said, "then this case is pretty easy. He was the most sincere witness in the trial," sorry for his role in the murder and exhibiting "compassion. Did he have a motive to lie? What benefit did he get by telling the truth?" Hand is awaiting sentencing on a plea bargained deal that reduced his time in jail. Part of the deal was that he testify at the Trappler trial.
Trappler, the DA said, "told you she deletes her text messages," accounting for those from the day of the murder that were removed from her phone but retained by Verizon. Fazzary held up a stack of text message printouts. "No, she doesn't. What she does do is delete Wes Borden, delete critical texts."
He dwelt on one text sent by Trappler to Borden the morning after the murder. "Wonder if he'll show up today. LOL," it said, a reference to that day's scheduled Family Court appearance. Bennett had failed to appear at a couple of hearings beforehand. Since "LOL" stands for "Laugh Out Loud," Fazzary suggested, Trappler was inappropriately mocking a situation in which a man was dead. "It's not funny at all," he said. "The meaning is clear, true beyond belief. She knew he was dead when she sent that message."
Fazzary had the courtroom lights turned off for a power-point presentation on a screen to the right of the jury. Their heads turned, jurors watched a number of text messages appear on the screen that were related to the case. And then there were pictures, and audio of a couple of Trappler jailhouse phone conversations with her mother.
The final text showing on the screen was the "LOL" one.
"Wonder if he'll show up today. LOL" the screen read. Fazzary, turning from the jury box and returning to his seat, uttered five words, dripping with distaste.
"Ha, ha, Alice. Ha, ha."
The waiting game
After the jury adjourned to its room to deliberate -- and the trial's four alternates were led to another room to wait -- a crowd varying from 30 to 40 people milled about in the spectator section of the courtroom. Most of the principals had departed until, an hour into deliberations, the jury passed four notes out for the judge, each seeking evidence. Before the judge responded, he needed both attorneys and the defendant back in the courtroom.
After that, nobody wandered far as the jury continued to make requests and reentered at one point for a readback of testimony pertaining to locks at the goat-ranch house, and then a rereading of that portion of the judge's charge pertaining to the specifics of the formal allegations in the case.
Among other requests made along the way: the jury wanted to review Nathan Hand's testimony, but that would have to be read by the stenographer and, in its entirety, would likely take a couple of hours to complete. The jury didn't follow through on that one.
Among the items sent to the jury room were stacks of unidentified papers, stacks of photos, notebooks full of text message reports from Verizon and AT &T, and a chart showing cell tower locations used to track Thomas Borden's whereabouts at specific times during the night of the murder.
Along the way, there were repeated conferences between the judge and attorneys at the bench. Media in the spectator area grew nervous as their evening deadlines approached. Trappler's parents sat next to one another, stoic, for most of the last hour.
Then, at 5 p.m., the judge called the jurors out of their room, told them they were being released for the night, and said he would see them there again the next morning.
Photos in text:
Top: District Attorney Joe Fazzary leaves court Tuesday, holding the box that contains the murder weapon.
Middle: Defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir speaks to the media after court Tuesday.
Bottom: Defendant Alice Trappler is led back to jail after Tuesday's court session. She is carrying a manila folder, and smiling upon spotting her attorney.
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 10 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 11 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)
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