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Day 3: Emotional testimony
Borden's father testifies; so do Trappler's bosses
WATKINS GLEN, April 24 -- The third day of testimony in the murder trial of Alice Trappler in Schuyler County Court Tuesday was largely dry testimony involving maps and the search for the murder weapon -- until the father of alleged killer Thomas Wesley Borden took the stand at the behest of District Attorney Joe Fazzary.
Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the death of the younger Borden, struck by a commuter train as he fled from police in Jenkintown, Pa. Authorities have ruled Borden's death a suicide .
Thomas A. Borden, 55, took the stand well after Tuesday's lunch break. Under questioning from the DA, he explained that he and his wife Melody have several children, the oldest of which was Thomas W. Borden -- who, his father said, "is dead. He died a year ago today." His voice cracked at the mention, as it did when he said Tuesday was also his and Melody's 25th wedding anniversary.
Trappler faces charges of 2nd Degree Murder, 1st and 2nd Degree Burglary and 2nd Degree Conspiracy in connection with the shooting death of Daniel Bennett at about 11 p.m. on April 19, 2012 at his father's home on Pearl Street in the Town of Dix, where the 30-year-old Bennett resided.
The defendant, of Addison, is alleged to have conspired with her ex-husband, "Wes" Borden, and Borden's stepbrother, Nathan Hand, both of Corning, to have Bennett killed over a custody battle involving a then-5-month-old child born to Trappler and fathered by Bennett. Trappler is not alleged to have been present at the killing.
Hand -- alleged to have been with Borden at the killing, and to have served as lookout -- later pleaded guilty to a charge of 1st Degree Manslaughter. It was reduced from 2nd Degree Murder as long as he testified against Trappler.
Tuesday's session involved a time-consuming continuation of testimony by Investigator Lee Stonebraker of the State Police Forensic Unit in Canandaigua, who had explained scores of photographs of the crime scene and related locales for well over an hour Monday.
His testimony Tuesday took up the morning session and nearly an hour of the afternoon. The witness lineup, starting with him, follows:
1. Investigator Lee Stonebreaker, who opened the day by demonstrating how to operate the murder weapon -- which was pulled from a long box in court by Fazzary. The .12-gauge shotgun, the witness explained, was found in the Pinnacle State Park near Addison, where Nathan Hand led investigators, saying Wes Borden had discarded it, burying it in the dirt among some trees. It was located with the help of a metal detector.
That search also yielded a pair of sneakers that Hand said belonged to Borden. DNA analysis determined that they were Borden's although defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir got Stonebraker to concede that that didn't mean Borden was wearing them on the night of the murder -- a seeming effort by BetzJitomir to sprinkle doubt about whether it was Hand or Borden who pulled the trigger to kill Bennett.
Stonebraker, with the aid of photos, described the search by police of Trappler's residence, where three cell phones were "collected" by Stonebraker for analysis; of the residence shared by Wes Borden (pictured at right) and Hand in Corning at the time of the murder; and of a pickup truck sent to State Police in Canandaigua by Pennsylvania police following Borden's death. It was the truck, Stonebraker said, that was driven by Borden, containing such things as a receipt showing the purchase of a pair of sneakers "similar" to those unearthed at Pinnacle State Park. That purchase came in Quakerstown, Pa. on April 23, after Borden had departed the Southern Tier in the wake of the murder. There was also a receipt in the truck indicating he had stayed April 21 at a hotel in Horsham, Pa. There was a round-tipped shovel in the truck, too. Fazzary produced the shovel in court, contained in a large plastic bag.
2. Schuyler County Undersheriff Breck Spaulding. He described how he was actively involved in the murder investigation "almost immediately," and helped lead the investigation in the direction of any outlet that sold shells and recorded the sales through bar codes. That led, he said, to the Walmart in Gang Mills.
3. Andrew Callahan, asset protection manager of the Gang Mills Walmart. He said he was asked by authorities on April 22, 2012 to look "for a transaction of turkey-loaded ammunition on April 19." He tracked back by searching through receipts, and found one that showed the purchase of a box of such ammo at 7:17 p.m. April 19. The cost of the box was $7.10, paid for with a $10 bill.
Fazzary produced photos taken from security discs recorded at Walmart, and Callahan identified them as showing the purchase in question, a shot of a pickup truck in the parking lot owned by the purchaser, and the exit made by the purchaser.
He was asked a day or two later to look for the sale of a round-tipped shovel, and tracking back through receipts found one that sold at 11:57 p.m. April 19, 2012 -- perhaps an hour after the murder of Bennett. The shovel cost $10.47, and was paid for with a $100 bill.
4. Donald J. Vaverchak, a retired State Police investigator who oversees security for Dandy Mini-Marts' 69 stores. He said he was contacted on April 21, 2012 by the store manager at the Dandy facility on Rte. 414 near Beaver Dams, telling him State Police wanted a disc burned of some of the store's video surveillance. They wanted the period of 7 to 11 p.m. on April 19. He complied with the request.
5. Thomas A. Borden, 55, a mechanic who lives in Addison. He was asked if his late son Wes had once been married to Alice Trappler. He said yes, though he couldn't remember exactly when. "They were married two or three years, I think," he said. Did they have any children together? "Not to my knowledge." During the marriage, the couple lived in Philadelphia, the witness said, and Wes remained there after their divorce. Wes Borden didn't return to New York to live until January or February of 2012, bunking at first with one stepbrother, John Hand, "for three or four weeks, and then with Nathan in Corning." He worked during this period as a driver for a trucking company.
When asked how his son died, the senior Borden took a deep breath. "They say he committed suicide -- jumped in front of a train." He looked toward the back of the room, where a relative was sniffling, and shook his head slightly.
He was then asked to look at the Walmart security photos -- and identified his son and his son's truck in those showing the purchase of shotgun shells, and his son and Hand in photos relating to the purchase of the shovel. Under cross examination, when asked by BetzJitomir how he could be sure the truck pictured during the late-night purchase was his son's -- the photo having been taken from a distance and in poor light -- he responded: "I'm a mechanic, and I can tell that truck. The body style." By the end of cross, he conceded his son "owned one exactly like that."
6. Larry Knowles, owner with his wife Janice of Doug Gross Construction in Painted Post, a firm with 35 to 40 employees. He said Alice Trappler was at first a part-time employee with them starting early in 2011, and worked her way up to full-time and to overseeing such things as a landscaping project that was being planned at the time of the murder.
He said he learned the week of the shooting that Trappler had a custody issue coming up in Family Court that Friday, April 20, 2012, and would consequently not be in to work that day. He said she had given birth to her daughter, "Baby Lily," late in 2011. When talking about the upcoming hearing, Knowles said, Trappler seemed "okay" at first, but then "became more emotional ... said she didn't want the father to see the baby. She called the father a 'monster' ... and then broke down and cried over the fact she was going through this."
He said he had been through a divorce himself and had gone through Family Court for visitation rights, and told her "the father has a right to see the child" unless the court rules otherwise. "I could tell she was very upset ... but it's hard to say what was really in her mind."
That Friday, April 20, 2012, he said, he learned that "something had happened to the baby's father. My wife said she didn't know if Alice would be in or not. It was pretty shocking. Then I saw (Trappler) talking to some employees (at work). I told her I hoped she had a good alibi because she'd be the first one they'd be looking at." She told him she did.
7. Janice Knowles, owner with her husband of Doug Gross Construction. She said her titles are also vice president and secretary. She said Trappler was hired in February 2011 on a temporary basis for snow removal duties, and promoted to full-time in March or April. Trappler was pregnant about that time, "but I never asked about the father." The baby, Lily, was born on Nov. 2, 2011, Knowles said, and maternity leave ran from mid-October to February.
"I didn't know the name of the father," Knowles said, adding that Trappler referred to him only as "the sperm donor and, in the last week, Monster." She said Trappler also told her her ex-husband, Wes Borden, was "not a nice person," and that he "beat her and left his children with her" for an unspecified period. Trappler also didn't want Knowles putting any pictures of Lily "on the Internet. She didn't want (Bennett) to have one."
Trappler, she added, was "visibly upset" at work on April 17, 2012. She was "very concerned about the legal proceeding," said Knowles, and "was afraid (Bennett) would do terrible things to Lily." She was "pretty much hysterically sobbing."
Trappler came to work "very briefly" on the 19th, Knowles said -- "I didn't see her" -- and then called Knowles on the 20th to tell her to expect a visit from troopers who had been at Trappler's residence. Knowles ended up seeing the defendant that day when "she came in" to work and entered a building where some employees were gathered, "put her keys on a candy machine, put her hands in the air (Knowles lifted both of hers upward, bent at the elbow, palms up) and asked if anyone had any questions."
She said Trappler once again called Bennett "a monster" but added that "this didn't have to happen" -- that she had had her "ducks all in a row and was going to win today." Then Trappler grabbed some papers "and went to a job site."
Knowles said on cross-examination that Trappler had talked "of co-parenting with the father" back in the fall of 2011, but had told Knowles that the father had told her "he wanted nothing to do with her or the baby."
Knowles was asked by BetzJitomir if Trappler was a reliable employee.
"Yes," she responded.
After the court session, Fazzary said he is "right about on pace" as far as calling witnesses. He has called about 20, which leaves about 30 to go. After that, BetzJitomir -- who has a witness list with about 15 people -- will call hers.
He said he hadn't foreseen that Stonebraker's testimony would go as long as it did, but that other witnesses Tuesday went quicker than expected. He hadn't expected Janice Knowles' testimony until the next day.
"The next two days will be pretty full," he said. Then the jury gets a day off Friday because Drug Court has the courtroom, "and we'll start in Monday. I should be done" with prosecution witnesses around May 2nd.
Photos in text:
Top: DA Joe Fazzary leaves court with the box carrying the shotgun authorities say was used in the killing of Daniel Bennett.
Middle: The late Thomas Wesley Borden in a file photo.
Bottom: Defendant Alice Trappler leaving court Tuesday.
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 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 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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