Archive for Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Jennings murder trial goes to jury

March 13, 2007

A murder trial that has gone on much too long for some is finally wrapping up this week.

But it still remains to be seen if the jury can come back with a definitive verdict this time around in the trial of David Stagg, the Kansas City, Mo., man accused in the April 2004 murder of his romantic partner, Shawnee resident William Jennings. In the first trial last year, a mistrial was declared when the jury could not agree on a verdict.

The defense wrapped up its case Monday, a day District Court Judge John Anderson III had hoped would be used for closing arguments. The second trial began Feb. 26.

"You all are losing this jury," he told lawyers on both sides of the courtroom at one point Monday. "This jury is becoming disinterested in this case. This (trial) isn't just an episode -- this is becoming a miniseries."

The prosecution has argued that Stagg killed Jennings in a late-night argument, using an ornamental glass egg to beat Jennings in a struggle that left evidence all over the house before strangling him using the legs of a decorative, wrought-iron birdcage in the dining room. Prosecuters said Stagg then used Jenning's laptop to write a fake suicide note before returning the next afternoon to "discover" the body.

The defense used its last day to try to poke holes in the prosecution's case, saying Stagg left Jennings' home between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. the night he was killed and someone else came to the house and committed the murder. Witnesses testified to Stagg's demeanor, describing him as sweet, kind, considerate and not one to start a confrontation. One witness testified to Stagg's lack of knowledge concerning computers, testimony to put in doubt the theory of Stagg using Jennings' laptop to write a fake suicide note.

The day primarily focused on the defense's forensic witness, John Wilson, a former supervisor for the Kansas City, Mo., Crime Lab. Wilson reviewed the evidence and presented testimony that the Johnson County Crime Lab had inadequately investigated the crime scene and gathered evidence. He also testified that in his opinion, DNA evidence connected to an unidentified person -- a hair, a fingerprint and a tiny amount of DNA found under Jenning's fingernails -- appeared to eliminate Stagg as a suspect.

Prosecuting attorney Stephen Maxwell argued that as Wilson was not present at the crime scene, he could not adequately criticize the crime lab's investigative methods.

Before court adjourned for the day, Tom Bath, lead defense attorney, made a motion to have the judge dismiss the case, saying DNA evidence and more forensic testing in this trial had ruled Stagg out.

"I think the case is much different," Bath said. "I think it's stronger this time to our benefit."

However, Anderson declined to rule on the motion until the jury had given its verdict. Closing arguments took place Tuesday morning before the jury began deliberation. Brian Burgess, spokesman for the district attorney's office, said the jury was expected to come back with a verdict Wednesday.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.