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Borden's death recounted

Day 4 of Trappler trial also introduces text messages

WATKINS GLEN, April 25 -- The fourth day of testimony in the murder trial of Alice Trappler in Schuyler County Court Wednesday was highlighted by an account by a Pennsylvania law enforcement official who participated in the pursuit of alleged killer Thomas Wesley Borden on the day Borden was killed when struck by a commuter train.

The incident occurred in Jenkintown, Pa., just north of Philadelphia, on April 23, 2012 -- four days after the murder of Daniel Bennett in the Town of Dix, purportedly at the hands of Borden. Authorities have ruled Borden's death as a suicide, essentially by train.

Also of interest Wednesday were some text messages read aloud by a New York State Police Senior Investigator in the Computer Crimes Unit in Candandaigua -- texts between Borden's phone and Trappler's on the day and night of the murder.

Trappler faces charges of 2nd Degree Murder, 1st and 2nd Degree Burglary and 2nd Degree Conspiracy in connection with the shooting death of 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, a resident of Steuben County, is alleged to have conspired with her ex-husband, 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. The charge was reduced from 2nd Degree Murder as long as he testified against Trappler. He has not yet been called to the stand.

Much of Wednesday's testimony had to do with chain of evidence as District Attorney Joe Fazzary attempted to show that all pieces of evidence surrounding the murder of Bennett and the subsequent death of Borden were protected along the way -- from procurement to presentation at trial -- according to established protocol.

But the first witness of the day veered from that dry, procedural testimony to give an eyewitness account of the pursuit of Thomas Wesley Borden that ended with Borden's fatal injuries on train tracks outside of Philadelphia.

The witnesses, in order:

1. Detective Mark Bates of the Cheltenham Township Police Department in Montgomery County, Pa., near Philadelphia. He was on duty on April 23, 2012 when he became aware of the manhunt for Thomas Wesley Borden, sought in connection with a homicide in Schuyler County, New York. Bates said Borden's cell phone was being "pinged," telling authorities the suspect was southbound on Rte. 309, a highway from Bucks County to Philadelphia, "at a high rate of speed" in a blue pickup truck. The pursuit had crossed through several jurisdictions, heading toward Cheltenham Township and Detective Bates.

Borden (pictured at right) managed to elude authorities who spotted him in Jenkintown, which borders Cheltenham. His truck "was found unoccupied later" in Jenkintown, behind an elementary school, Detective Bates said. The area, he added, is "a tightly compact residential area, heavily populated."

He said he and a partner were in an unmarked car, wearing vests that identified them as police. They were "riding, looking" for Borden and turned on to a small side street, Cloverly Street. There, they spotted a male walking on the sidewalk. He was wearing blue jeans and a green sweatshirt, the hood up and with a cream-colored cap. They thought at first he might be part of a team of landscapers parked there, but he walked past the landscaping truck.

"We slowed our rate of speed," said Bates, "crossed an intersection and pulled over. The male suddenly cut to the right, appeared to be trying to evade us."

They called for backup "so that we had manpower to stop him," and Borden was indeed stopped by an Abington police officer (Abington being another nearby township) as Bates and his partner pulled up. "The Abington officer put him up against the car. I walked up on the right ... I asked (Borden) his name, and he said 'Mike Hand.'"

As the Abington officer started pulling something from Borden's pocket -- "a credit card or license or something," said Bates, "I said 'Get down on your knees.'"

Instead, Borden "started running, and we chased him." Borden cut behind two houses and then "down a steep embankment" with trees and bushes "to railroad tracks. One track was entering the city, and one was coming out. I see him running toward Philadelphia, on the rock area of the (southbound) track."

Bates followed down the embankment and started running "on the outbound tracks. He was on the inside tracks," to Bates' right and "probably 10 yards ahead." Then Bates spotted a train coming toward him. At police request, they were all going "at low speed. I leave the track, and he turns to see where I'm at, sees me, immediately turns to the left, jumps and is impacted by the train" that had been heading north toward Bates.

The detective said on cross-examination that Borden had put his arms up like a football receiver would when trying to catch a pass -- and in that position was struck by the train.

"He hit the front of it?" defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir asked.

"Yes," said Bates, "and went flying through the air." One of the sneakers Borden was wearing was dislodged and came to rest along the track several yards away.

Borden was not killed instantly. His face, one photo showed, was streaked with blood as he was assisted by two officers.

"Was he armed?" asked BetzJitomir.

"Not that I know of," said Bates.

"While chasing him, did you call to him?" asked the attorney.

"I don't recall," the detective said.

Borden died a short time later.

2. Francis Joseph Ryan, a Jenkintown, Pa. Borough Police Sergeant in charge of investigations. He said he assisted in the pursuit of Borden, learning the suspect was en route toward Jenkintown at 9:30 a.m. on April 23, 2012, but still about 30 miles north. When Borden arrived in the area, he was spotted by another officer but then disappeared until Ryan located Borden's truck in a lot behind an elementary school, prompting an immediate "full shutdown" of the school. Ryan later learned that Borden had been located. He didn't say whether he reached the scene before Borden was struck by the train. His testimony instead focused on the chain of evidence -- the passing of the truck from his department to the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office. He also said he saw in the truck two cell phones "in front between the seats." There was "a large amount of dirt in the back (of the truck), along with a shovel, car seat" and assorted trash. The truck, he said, was registered in Montgomery County, and had Pennsylvania plates. He couldn't recall the name of the vehicle owner.

3. Alexander John Balacki, a supervisor and medical investigator in the Montgomery County, Pa., Coroner's Office. He said his office obtained blood samples from the body of Borden during autopsy and placed four drops of it on an FTA Blot Card, an absorbent material. When asked by the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office for a blood sample for DNA testing, he said, a portion of the FTA card was cut free, put in an evidence bag and sent to the Sheriff's Department through its Federal Express account. When asked by BetzJitomir on cross-examination what FTA stood for, Balacki said he didn't know.

4. David Perl of the New York State Police, in charge of evidence security in the forensics unit at Troop E headquarters in Canandaiga. Under questioning by Fazzary, he gave a long, dry account of how evidence is secured in a locker or vault, and the protocol utilized whenever a transfer of evidence takes place. He identified a number of items in the murder case -- the .12-gauge shotgun used in the killing, the spent shell found at the Bennett residence, the live shells found on Catlin Hill Road, the shovel found in Borden's truck, the right and left shoes belonging to Borden that were found in Pinnacle State Park after the shotgun was located there (allegedly discarded by Borden after the murder), two cell phones recovered from Borden's truck, another found during a search at Trappler's residence, and "test fires done at the crime lab from the shotgun." For each item, he explained the date he received it, any date or dates upon which it was sent to the crime lab in Albany, the date it was returned to him, and the date he turned it over to Fazzary for use in the trial.

5. Matthew J. Maloney, a Sergeant in the Schuyler County Sheriff's Department's Criminal Investigation Division. He testified briefly about how the initial search in the perimeter surrounding the Bennett residence on Pearl Street was expanded after a live shotgun shell similar to the spent shell left near Bennett's body was discovered alongside Catlin Hill Road a mile-and-a-half south. That discovery led to two more live shells in the grass nearby. Maloney said he also requested a DNA specimin from the Montgomery County, Pa. Coroner's Office, and received it through the Sheriff's Department's Federal Express tracking-number account.

6. Robert Freese, a firearms examiner contracted with New York State and working at the State Police Crime Lab in Albany. He said he has examined the shotgun that police said Borden used to shoot Bennett, and studied the spent shotgun shell found near Bennett's body along with the three live rounds found along Catlin Hill Road a mile-and-a-half away. He said the spent shell came from the shotgun, but that there were not enough marks on the live rounds to determine if they had been in the gun and ejected. He also identified the shotgun -- handed to him by Fazzary -- as the murder weapon.

7. Schuyler County Sheriff's Deputy Andrew Yessman. He related how he was directed -- after Borden's death -- to travel to Jenkintown, Pa. in a county tow truck with county employee Carl Scott "to get the Ford truck" that had been driven by Borden. "We put it on the county rollback and returned it to Schuyler County," he said.

8. Dennis R. Kemp, a New York State Police Senior Investigator in the Major Crimes Unit in Canandaigua. He described the search on April 23, 2012 of the Rathbone residence being shared at that time by Trappler and her mother, Wilma. Both women were present, along with Alice Trappler's young daughter, Lily. Kemp said 12 officers were on hand, and that three cell phones, two laptop computers, "some Facebook papers" and some papers from a truck parked in the driveway -- later identified as registered to Alice Trappler -- were collected and removed. Two of the phones were in a small laundry room just inside the house's entrance, but he wasn't sure where the third had been located.

"Is one of your jobs to make sure nothing is tampered with?" Fazzary asked him.

"Not on my watch," Kemp responded.

"Was anything tampered with?" Fazzary asked.

"No," said Kemp.

Also found in the house -- in a kitchen cabinet -- was a handgun which police determined was "legally processed, so we left it with them."

Two days later, he said, a search warrant was executed at the defendant's own home, a residence in the Town of Woodhull. He said a Rossi .20-gauge shotgun and ammunition was found there and secured by authorities. "We left a receipt there" that listed "what we took," he said.

BetzJitomir pressed the matter of the previous search, saying: "You were not in every room with everyone who was there that day." No, answered Kemp, "that's not possible."

9. Jason Blencowe, a State Police trooper on Road Patrol. He participated in the search of the Wilma/Alice Trappler residence in Rathbone, saying he was the second or third person through the door, and that he "noticed the two cell phones sitting next to a purse" on the washing machine in the laundry room. He later drove the items to Canandaigua for examination there.

10. Michael Lostracco, a State Police Investigator in the Forensics Unit at Canandaigua. He too participated in the search of the Trappler Rathbone home, taking photos of the residence. When asked about the seemngly elusive third cell phone, he said it was in the purse atop the washing machine. At that point in the testimony, Fazzary provided a photo taken by Lostracco that showed the phone, partially covered by a green notebook, sitting in the purse. "It looks like a camera," said Fazzary of the phone. "I thought the same thing," said the investigator, adding that a search of Alice Trappler's truck outside yielded a folder full of paperwork that included an "acknowledgment of paternity for Family Court, a birth certificate" and other papers.

"Have any been added or removed?" Fazzary asked. Said Lostracco: "No."

He was also asked when the search of the house began, and responded "about 2:10 or 2:11 p.m." And when were the two cell phones visible on the washing machine photographed? Lostracco checked a notebook containing thumbnails of all of the day's photos, and answered: "2:31 p.m."

11. New York State Police Senior Investigator Keith Becker of the Computer Crimes Unit in Canandaigua. He said he handles crimes involving "digital evidence" from such items as cell phones, pads and computers. He said in particular he had analyzed an I-Pad and an I-Phone belonging to Borden, managing to download data from the latter through a process involving an external-signal-blocking device called a Faraday Cage. Such things as lists of incoming and outgoing calls, text messages and videos can be extracted using this method, he said. The "phone dump" can yield information different from that collected by a cell-phone company, since cell phone records can't be altered while Faraday Cage-extracted data might be missing information previously deleted from the phone by its owner.

He said Borden's phone -- determined as belonging to Borden through extraction of its phone number and by a check with phone company records -- contained a great deal of data, including text messages. Among them were calls on April 19, the night of the murder. One was outgoing from Borden's phone at 7:41 p.m. saying "Somebody is pissed." A minute later, a response from a number identified on the phone as belonging to "Alice" responded: "Who?" Then another incoming message from "Alice" said: "Frank?"

Outgoing: "Jill."

Incoming: (Expletive) (Note: Frank and Jill are the first names of Daniel Bennett's parents)

Incoming: "Why?"

Incoming: "She might warn Frank. They talk."

Outgoing: "That okay?"

Incoming: "Okay."

And again from "Alice": "Can't express my thanks to you for all this."

Later, at 11:17 p.m., Borden's phone carried an outgoing message to "Alice" that said: "I'm just leaving work."

On cross examination, BetzJitomir had more of the "phone dump" records read aloud:

11:16 p.m. on April 19, 2012, outgoing from Borden's phone to Alice: "Are you up?"

11:17 p.m., outgoing to Alice: "I'm just leaving work."

11:18 p.m., outgoing to Alice: "Guess not. Okay, well, anyway ... good luck tomorrow."

1:20 a.m. on April 20, outgoing to Alice: "Please call me to make sure I'm up in the morning. Thx.

4:17 a.m. incoming from Alice: "Good morning."

4:20 a.m. incoming from Alice: "Woke up and can't go back to sleep."

When asked by BetzJitomir if the text log "shows Alice responding" to the "leaving work" message issued on Borden's phone, Becker said: "No incoming, correct."

"There is no evidence she read the message or responded?" she asked. "Correct," said Becker.

In fact, BetzJitomir said, there were no messages on Borden's phone from Alice after 9:07 p.m., right? "Correct," Becker said again.

On redirect examination, Fazzary asked: "If Verizon records showed something different" from the "phone dump" extracted from Borden's phone, would Verizon present "a more reliable record?"

"Yes," said Becker.


County Judge Dennis Morris told jurors at day's end that the case is running roughly on schedule, and is still expected, in sum, to consume three to four weeks.

Fazzary said afterward that he thought the day "went well. I got in the evidence I wanted. We've exhibited that there was no tampering with any phones as was brought up" by BetzJitomir in her opening statement last week.

BetzJitomir, meanwhile, said: "I feel good. I said before that I thought I could prove (Trappler's) innocence in the first two minutes of my closing." Now, she said, it might take less time -- maybe under a minute..

"The closing will take a half-hour to 45 minutes," she said, "but in the first two minutes you'll know why she's not guilty."

Next up: Testimony resumes today (Thursday). Court is off Friday before resuming again Monday.

Photos in text:

Top: District Attorney Joe Fazzary speaks to the media after Wednesday's session.

Second: The late Thomas Wesley Borden in a file photo.

Third: Defendant Alice Trappler leaving court Wednesday.

Bottom: Defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir after court Wednesday.


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 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)


© The Odessa File 2013
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869