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Reporters interview defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir after the verdict.
Jury finds Trappler guilty
Day 13: The verdict and the reactions
WATKINS GLEN, May 9 -- Since Day 12 of the Alice Trappler murder trial Tuesday had dragged on with nearly four hours of jury deliberation, Day 13 on Wednesday seemed like it might be more of the same.
But the jury, after spending only about a half an hour deliberating, handed a note out the jury room door at 9:57 a.m. to a waiting deputy. It quickly became evident by the haste with which court personnel were suddenly moving that this was not like the notes of the day before -- each of which had sought items and notebooks of evidence presented during the trial by District Attorney Joe Fazzary.
The word circulated quickly: verdict. Fazzary left the courtroom, presumably seeking court personnel and people with an interest in the case -- such as shooting victim Daniel Bennett's father and sister, and assorted Bennett family supporters. Ten of them had been wearing orange T-shirts for the past couple of days -- shirts with the Dukes of Hazzard "01" on them, the same style of shirt often worn by Bennett, and the kind he was wearing in a picture presented as evidence in the trial.
Police officers came in and took their accustomed spots in the rear of the courtroom, and various personnel from county offices came in. This trial had been going on for weeks, and seemingly everyone who worked in the building had at least a portion of their attention pointed in the direction of the courtroom.
Finally, with everyone in place, the jury was released from the jury room and filed across to their seats. Each had a prescribed seat, determined left to right by order of selection. The first juror selected, an elderly woman, was the foreperson, and it fell to her to answer County Judge Dennis Morris when he asked if they had reached a verdict ("Yes, your honor") and then "How say you on the first charge, Murder in the 2nd Degree?" -- and so on through all of the counts, including two different felony burglary charges and one of Conspiracy, 2nd Degree.
Each time, the foreperson said, simply, "Guilty." When she was done, the judge asked the jurors as a group, count by count, if these were the decisions they had made, and they all nodded in agreement.
Alice Trappler sat, impassive, at the defense table. Her attorney, Susan BetzJitomir, was looking at the jury, a slightly surprised expression on her face. Judge Morris asked if BetzJitomir wanted the jury polled, and after a moment's consultation with her client, she said no.
The judge then said: "The court will record the verdict. Thank you for your service in this trial." He added that the jurors were released from their prohibition on talking about the case to others, saying such discussion would be "up to your discretion."
"Now you are excused," he said. "You may take your items and leave the courtroom if you wish."
They filed out of the jury box and past Fazzary, who had positioned himself to shake the hand of each as they passed by, thanking them. He had put a year of work into the case, and had hardly been away from his office in eight weeks, preparing.
When the jurors were clear, he walked over to the spectator section where the Bennett family and supporters had sat throughout the trial. They were crying and hugging each other, and now -- led by Daniel Bennett's sister Alecia -- they were hugging Fazzary.
Alice Trappler had stood up, but remained impassive. The only visible reaction she had shown was a light shake of the head as the verdicts were read. Now what lay ahead was a long prison term -- 25 years to life -- that she faces when Judge Morris sentences her on July 11th.
Day 13 had turned out to be very unlucky for Alice Trappler -- a woman who once, according to her father, had attended Corning Community College and studied Childhood Development and Criminal Justice.
A trial that lasted more than two weeks -- three counting jury selection -- and gave every indication of lasting well into Wednesday and possibly beyond ended with sudden swiftness. The verdict came so quickly that a couple of Corning residents who had attended the trial daily showed up too late to take in the drama of the verdict. One print reporter arrived late, too, as did a photographer from another newspaper.
The verdict itself left BetzJitomir, in her own word, "floored." She said that her client had said something to her upon announcement of the verdict, "but I didn't catch it." BetzJitomir was too busy reeling.
Trappler had been charged in connection with the April 19, 2012 shooting death of Bennett -- a former boyfriend with whom she had a child, Lily, in early November 2011. The prosecution accused her of conspiring with her ex-husband, Thomas Wesley 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.
The Bennett family and supporters celebrated in the parking lot outside the County Building after the verdict. Nathan Hand's mother was there along with her husband and a son. She said she hadn't told Nathan of the verdict yet, "but we'll be going in (to the jail) to do that. He'll be so happy."
Also present in the parking lot was Daniel Bennett's sister, Alecia -- one of the 10 people in court wearing those orange T-shirts. There had been 12 T-shirt wearers on Monday, but Judge Morris ordered a 10-shirt limit. Several people in the parking lot were wearing the shirts, and posed for photos -- but only of the shirts. None of the people wanted their faces recorded.
The group talked briefly about the love the Bennett family has for Alice Trappler's and Daniel Bennett's daughter, Lily, who has been raised this past year by Trappler's mother, Wilma. Where that family dynamic leads is anybody's guess, although the path will likely be through Family Court.
"Joe Fazzary," Alecia was saying, "was incredible. He gave an amazing number of hours to this case for over a year. I'm not only happy for us, I'm happy for him. It's been a long, hard road, but justice has prevailed."
For his part, Fazzary told the media that "we picked a very good jury. They came to the (same) conclusion in this case that we believed" -- that Alice Trappler was legally culpable in the shotgun murder of Daniel Bennett.
"Frankly," he said, "when Alice Trappler said in those jailhouse recordings" -- recordings of conversations she had from the Chemung County Jail with her mother -- "that this could be 'my demise,' it was prophetic."
It took "a lot of hard work" on the part of police "to get to the point we've gotten to," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that the jury got it right. I believe the evidence was overwhelming all along. You put all the circumstances and facts together -- the jury had it spot on."
Not everyone was happy, though.
There was Trappler, who maintained her impassive look even as she marched through a line of media on the way to the van that would take her back to jail.
And defense attorney BetzJitomir was "obviously disappointed. I believed Alice was innocent, and I still believe she is innocent."
When the verdict was read, she added, "I said 'Oh, my God.' I was floored."
BetzJitomir said she managed to talk to one juror as the 12 of them and four alternates exited the courtroom and county building quickly after the verdict. "I asked what had convinced them to vote guilty," she said, "and this guy said it was nothing presented in court -- but that they found a text message nobody had brought up and 'that convinced us.'" BetzJitomir said the juror departed before she could find out what the text message said, although "I'd love to know."
"It's frustrating," she said, "to think they came up with something I didn't have a chance to address. Alice will be spending a substantial portion of the rest of her life in prison on the basis of a text I couldn't address."
There will, as a matter of course, be an appeal, but BetzJitomir said "95% get turned down. It's far better to get it right the first time."
So ends a saga that started, really, on a Steuben County piece of land with a rundown house, a place called "The Goat Ranch." That was Trappler's land, purchased a couple of years ago, after she had returned from several years in the Philadelphia area. It was, one sensed, a place she loved, and one which she was in the process of renovating -- turning a camp into a home.
It was also a place she shared on occasion with Daniel Bennett before they had a falling out, and it was the place where she stored the shotgun that became the murder weapon -- taken, she said, without her permission by her ex-husband. It was a place she left -- to live with her mother -- as the birth of Lily approached.
It will sit now, that Goat Ranch, its future more uncertain than its owner's. It will be subject to the whims of the elements, the random rules of nature.
In contrast, Alice Trappler's future will be fixed by law.
Photos in text:
Top: Alice Trappler is led back to jail after Wednesday's guilty verdict.
Second: District Attorney Joe Fazzary speaks to the media Wednesday after his court victory.
Third: Two of the T-shirts worn in support of the Daniel Bennett family.
Bottom: Defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir following Wednesday's verdict.
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 12 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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