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Lover testifies he gave Trappler the murder weapon
Day 6: Borden confession surfaces; more texts read
WATKINS GLEN, April 29 -- A fellow worker with whom Alice Trappler had an on-again, off-again sexual relationship testified Monday in Schuyler County Court that he gave Trappler the shotgun that was used to slay Daniel Bennett.
Brett Bacon -- an employee with Trappler in 2011 and 2012 at Doug Gross Construction in Painted Post -- said that he purchased the weapon for Trappler for protective purposes. Defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir, during cross-examination, elicited from Bacon that the weapon was provided to Trappler without her requesting it, that he had to show the defendant how to use it, and that they only used it together, practicing, on one occasion.
Bacon's testimony about his relationship with the defendant was the centerpiece of Day 6 of the Trappler murder trial. She stands accused of 2nd Degree Murder, 1st and 2nd Degree Burglary and 2nd Degree Conspiracy in connection with the death of Bennett -- a former boyfriend with whom she had a child, Lily, in early November 2011.
The defendant, a resident of Steuben County, is alleged to have conspired with her ex-husband, Thomas Wesley Borden, and Borden's stepbrother, Nathan Hand, both of Corning, to have Bennett killed over a custody battle involving the child. Trappler is not alleged to have been present at the killing.
Comments by attorneys following Monday's session were brief. District Attorney Joe Fazzary said he didn't have time to talk to the media, although he stopped to answer one question -- on a matter raised in passing twice Monday: a confession by Borden to a police investigator on the phone while he was in Pennsylvania after leaving the Corning area following Bennett's death. Borden died four days after the murder when struck by a train while fleeing authorities in Jenkintown, Pa.
"What's this about a Borden confession?" Fazzary was asked, for it is not an aspect of the case that has been publicized.
Fazzary smiled. "You'll hear," he said. "There's more to come."
BetzJitomir moments later arrived to talk to the media, and was ebullient over the day's events. "I think we had a great day," she said. She followed up a defense strategy -- trying to cast doubt on the identity of the killer, believed to be Borden -- by suggesting that Bacon had the means, opportunity and motive, although there has been no evidence to suggest he was anywhere near the crime scene on the night in question.
As for Borden's confession, BetzJitomir said he told an investigator on the phone that he had killed Bennett and had acted alone; and that he was thinking about "eating lead" -- killing himself. The defense attorney tried to use that information in a cross-examination of the day's final witness, New York State Police Investigator Eric Hurd, but got no further than asking "When Thomas Wesley Borden confessed, he said he was acting alone, didn't he?" At that point, Fazzary objected. "Hearsay, your honor," he said. Following a sidebar, Judge Dennis Morris sustained the objection, and BetzJitomir steered away from the subject.
The day's testimony, witness by witness:
1. Brett Bacon, age 37, of the Addison area, a construction operator with Doug Gross Construction in Painted Post. He said he met Trappler years ago at her father's farm, and started a relationship with her after she started working at Gross Construction in 2011. He was married at the time, with two children, ages 18 and 10. He said that after Trappler had spent some years away from New York in Texas and Philadelphia, he had "first seen her back" in the spring of 2011. They started their sexual relationship in May or June, 2011, he said, and it continued on and off until April 2012, the time of the Bennett murder.
"She asked me to come up and do some work at her house on the goat ranch," a place in the Town of Woodhull that featured goats and chickens. The relationship started then, he said. She was pregnant at the time with a child from Bennett, a man she told Bacon "wouldn't be a good role model. She called him a 'f****ng monster' and said he had abused her and threw her around a little. She didn't want him to have any rights to the baby." Bacon said Trappler also asked him to "sign a birth certificate as the father. I didn't agree (to that). I didn't want to be the father; I had kids of my own."
He testified that he provided her with a .20-gauge Rossi shotgun -- that "she asked me for it" and put it in her bedroom, "in the corner." The gun was registered to Bacon's wife, Tara.
Bacon said, upon questioning by Fazzary, that in another conversation in August or September 2011 with Trappler that she "was upset (Bennett) would get custody" and said "she wished he was dead. She wished he would disappear and just go away. If he got rights, she would leave the state."
In September 2011, he said, he bought another gun, this one from a friend "to give to Alice." While she already had a gun, he said, the Rossi was registered to his wife. "If she was to leave, I wouldn't want her to take it with her." The newly purchased gun was a .12-gauge Mossberg, black with two pistol grips. Fazzary pulled open a box containing the murder weapon, a .12-gauge Mossberg, and Bacon identified it as the weapon he had provided the defendant. He said he could tell because of two repairs he had made on it.
While he purchased it in September, Bacon said, he didn't give it to her right away because it needed repairs. And about that time he and Trappler stopped seeing each other because "my kids didn't agree" with the relationship. "Your wife probably didn't either," said Fazzary, to which Bacon replied. "No."
But he said the relationship was rekindled "around December sometime." By that time Trappler had given birth to Lily. After the baby was born, he said, "she seemed to be more nervous." He gave her the Mossberg gun "sometime before the beginning of the year." He said he gave it to her at the goat ranch, and that they "both shot it" as he demonstrated in one session how to operate it. Then "she put it in her trunk" to take to her mother's house, where she was staying.
He said that later, in 2012, Trappler asked him to help her steal mail from Bennett's mailbox, which he refused to do. And she had access to Bennett's Facebook page. In both cases, he suggested, she was trying to gather information about Bennett as an April 20 Steuben County Family Court hearing regarding custody of Lily approached. The closer that hearing came, he said, "the more nervous she'd be."
He said he had various other text discussions with Trappler -- including one in which "she had found that Dan (Bennett) and Tara (Bacon's wife) had been talking to each other on Facebook."
"How did that make (Trappler) feel?" Fazzary asked.
Answered Bacon: "Really mad."
"Were you aware your wife was reaching out to Daniel Bennett?" the DA asked.
"No," said Bacon.
At that point in the testimony Fazzary started employing what became a long line of text messages retrieved by authorities from Verizon records. Verizon retains text messages for several days, and will put a hold on them when asked by law enforcement. He read a long account of exchanges between Bacon and Trappler on April 19, the day of the murder. A number of them painted the defendant as quite upset. She referred to herself in those texts as "hovering on sanity" and "so upset," and said she was "so worried about Lily's safety."
Bacon said under further questioning that he didn't see Trappler on the 19th, the day of the murder -- that he "left work, helped Tara move into an apartment (they were separating), ate dinner around 9:30 or 10" and went to Corning, visiting "a few bars and Lando's" before departing about 12:30 a.m. for a couple of bars near the state line above Lawrenceville. Then he went home.
"Were you on Pearl Street that night?" Fazzary said, referring to the Bennett residence in the Town of Dix.
"No," said Bacon.
"Did you know Daniel Bennett personally?"
"Did you know Wes Borden?"
"No," said Bacon. "I knew of him as Alice's ex-husband."
"Did you know Nathan Hand?" the DA asked, referring to Borden's stepbrother, who authorities say was with Borden at Bennett's at the time of the killing and served as a lookout. Hand was charged with 2nd Degree Murder, but pleaded to a reduced charge of 1st Degree Manslaughter in exchange for his testimony against Trappler. He is expected to testify before Fazzary wraps up his case on Wednesday.
"No," said Bacon.
"Did you give the shotgun to either man?" Fazzary asked.
"No," said Bacon.
"Did you know what it would be used for?"
Bacon said that after the shooting, he was interviewed by police and provided them with a written deposition. He said he told them "I gave her the .20-gauge. I didn't tell them about the .12-gauge. I assumed it was illegal and I didn't want to get in trouble for it." He said he "showed police my cell phone and let them go through all the messages on it."
On April 21, 2012, he said, his wife was interviewed by police. "I went with her," he said. "Then Tara thought maybe we should go up and talk to Alice at her mom's house." Tara and Trappler "sat at a table and talked. I heard a little. Alice said she didn't know why police were bothering me. And she was showing Tara some text messages Daniel Bennett's mother had sent her."
Trappler's demeanor, he said, "was much, much better. She was a little upset, but nothing like before." Eventually, he added, he and his wife "decided to get a lawyer." Police had shown Tara a photo of a gun that she said "looked a lot like one we used to own ... The cops said I was in the peripheral vision of this whole thing."
They went to the police in the company of an attorney, and Bacon gave his second statement, and a third, and told authorities about the .12 gauge. By the time of the third statement, he said, he had "received immunity from the DA." If the gun proved to be the murder weapon, he said, "I wouldn't be in trouble over it, as long as I told everything and was truthful."
In cross-examination, BetzJitomir entered into evidence a text from Bacon to Trappler on the day of the murder that said: "So you know, Alice, I love you more than you think. I love you 20 pounds heavier or 20 pounds lighter, it doesn't matter ..." In further cross, Bacon admitted he and his wife were "on the way out" of their on-and-off relationship at that time. His two boys "lived with me. She was not staying at the house."
The defense attorney also asked if Trappler had suggested Bacon take back the .12-gauge shotgun.
"Yes," he said. "I told her to leave it at the goat ranch."
"How did you feel about your wife communicating with Daniel Bennett on Facebook?" BetzJitomir asked.
"I was surprised," said Bacon.
"Did you ever home-load ammunition?" she asked him later.
"Yes," he said. "It was a hobby." It was also cheaper, he added, then buying shells.
2. Peter Kozell, a New York State Police Investigator working in the Computer Forensic Lab in Albany. His job, he said, is to extract digital data from computers, cell phones and surveillance systems.
He explained the different levels of information extractions, or "phone dumps": Manual, Logical, File System Dump and Physical Extraction, each in ascending order more effective than the one before. He said that by utilizing lab technology, he created a chronological order to text exchanges -- in particular exchanges between Daniel Bennett and Alice Trappler. Bennett's phone, having been bloodsoaked, yielded much less information than the other.
3. Michael Tuttle, a man with ownership interest in Wise Services of Mansfield, Pa. He knew Borden, who "was employed with me for seven or eight months as a truck driver." On April 19, 2012, the day of the murder, Borden did not work. Fazzary asked if he ever returned to work. "No, sir," said Tuttle.
On cross-examination, Tuttle said at first that he believed Borden was supposed to work on April 19, but upon production by BetzJitomir of a police investigator's report on that subject that indicated otherwise, he changed his answer. When asked if Borden had mentioned going out of state, Tuttle said: "Someplace. I don't recall."
4 Eric Hurd, a New York State Police Investigator with the Troop E (Canandaigua) Violent Crimes Investigation Team. He analyzes phone records used in missing person cases, suicides, and criminal investigations.
The thrust of his testimony was a long line of text messages he read to the court that were obtained from Verizon, mostly texts between Borden and Trappler. Many, he said, were messages deleted from Trappler's phone but retained by Verizon. There were dozens of such deletions. Among them were messages from the night of the murder that have been presented in previous testimony. Perhaps the most questionable text was one on April 19, sent by Trappler to Borden at 9:38 p.m. saying: "Think we should stop texting. Towers traceable? You tried to serve them. They weren't HM ... Text from Corning."
(BetzJitomir said later that while that text "does not look good for (Trappler)," she was merely repeating something Borden had said to her. "Some things she needs to explain. That's what we're here for," the attorney said, noting again that Trappler will take the stand as the final defense witness, possibly Friday.)
Hurd's testimony led to an explanation of technology available which -- with Verizon's record retention -- makes locating a phone a fairly precise science. Where AT&T doesn't keep text messages and can effectively trace a phone only to the tower through which it is transmitting, Verizon's system allows for investigators to say -- often with a high degree of certainty -- where a given phone is at a given time. He had a chart and a map of the Steuben-Schuyler Counties region involved in this case, explaining from them that Borden's phone, on the night of the murder, was in the vicinity of the Beaver Dams-Moreland Road (not far from Pearl Street, where Bennett resided) at 9:11 p.m., at a Mini Mart on Rt. 414 at 9:52, on Olcott Road in Big Flats at 11:17 (after the 11 p.m. murder) and at Pinnacle State Park at 12:35 a.m.
He told Fazzary that he was sure the phone was in Corning, near Bridge Street and Denison Parkway, at 10:26 p.m. the night of the murder, and then in Big Flats at 11:17. Fazzary said that seemed like a narrow time frame in which to drive from Corning to the Town of Dix (to the Bennett residence for the murder) and from there to Big Flats. Hurd agreed.
"I thought the same thing," he said, so he drove the same route on a Thursday night (the same night of the week on which the murder had occurred). He found that driving "with the speed of traffic," he could make the trip with time to spare -- 17 minutes to spare, in fact.
BetzJitomir on cross-examination had Hurd read a section of text not read before on direct examination. It was from April 20, 2012, the day after the murder.
Among the lines was one by Borden at 4:40 a.m. saying: "I have to pick Jeff up at 8:40, right?" That was an apparent reference to Jeff Besley, a previous witness who had said he was planning to attend the custody hearing that day, the 20th, but needed a ride from Watkins Glen. Previous testimony showed Borden was supposed to supply the ride.
Five minutes later, at 4:45 a.m., Trappler sent this message to Borden: "???? State police are here ??????"
At 4:45, Borden responded: "Y"
At 4:48 he wrote: "You okay?"
And at 4:50, he wrote: "What's going on? Are you okay?"
Later in his testimony, Hurd read for BetzJiromir another text from a bit earlier, at 4:26 a.m. on April 20th. It was from Borden to Trappler, saying: "I think we are ready for whatever he brings to court."
Said BetzJitomir to Hurd: "This was the morning after the murder?"
"Correct," he said.
Next up: Testimony resumes today (Tuesday). Fazzary has said he plans to wrap up the presentation of his case on Wednesday. BetzJitomir thinks her case will take two days after that.
Photos in text:
Top: Defendant Alice Trappler leaving court Monday.
Middle: District Attorney Joe Fazzary after Monday's session.
Bottom: Defense Attorney Susan BetzJitomir.
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 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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