A murder trial is all about the defendant — what he’s accused of, what the evidence is against him, what his defense is, how the law applies to his charges.
Family members of the victims must sit in silence and watch the person charged with the deaths of their loved ones have his day in court.
It is never easy.
During Tuesday’s David Bentz murder trial in Quincy, the families of David Jones and Samuel Burton watched photos on a large screen shown to the jury. They were images of Jones and Burton as they both lay dead in their respective third-floor apartments in the Seventh and State building last October.
There are about 10 to 12 family members at the trial. Several wept quietly when the photos were shown. One stood up and walked out, but made little noise.
Others kept steely gazes and watched Bentz, who has shown no emotion during the trial. He scribbles the occasional note and confers with his attorneys, but he also looks uncomfortable in a dark suit and tie, almost shriveling up at the defense table.
Much like the family members of Rodney Wood at last week’s David Ater murder trial in St. Charles, Mo., the families of Jones, Burton and Linda Wilson keep their vigil this week.
They hope for justice, and for one day their voices to be heard.
Quincy Fire Lt. John Ray was the first witness this morning as the David Bentz murder trial started in Quincy.
Ray gave gripping testimony about responding to the Seventh and State apartment fire last October that killed three occupants. Bentz faces three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of arson.
Ray said when he responded to the fire at about 3:15 a.m., he drove down State Street and saw flames coming out of the second floor on the south side of the building. They appeared to licking up toward the third floor, he said.
Standing outside the building, his arm was grabbed by a woman, who said there were people in side the building. Ray and firefighter Cory Goehl entered from the southwest corner and went to the second floor.
Ray said he opened a second-floor apartment and immediately felt a blast of heat coming out, “like when you are baking cookies and you open the oven, only three times as bad.”
Fighting fires in older buildings like the one as Seventh and State are difficult because remodeling often leaves holes and places for fire to travel, Ray said. The brick construction also makes it tough for heat to escape.
On the third floor, while crawling on his hands and knees, Ray found Linda Wilson on the ground in the hallway.
“What I thought was, ‘I hope this a dog,’ ” he testified.
His face was an inch and a half away before he finally saw Wilson’s arm.
He and Gohl carried her down the hallway and down a flight of stairs. Ray thought he was on the south side of the building, and stepped out of a second-floor door onto a roof.
He stepped to his left, then fell off the north side first-floor roof 15 to 20 feet to the ground.
Ray landed on his left hip and his head hit the pavement, but fortunately he was wearing his fire helmet. The impact jarred his breathing gear to the side of his head.
At first, Ray said the adrenaline was pumping so hard that he didn’t realize he was injured, just had his wind knocked out of him. But he quickly realized he had injuries.
Ray broke his elbow in four places and suffered a torn right meniscus in his knee and a sprained right ankle, along with getting a deep bruise on his hip.
He was off duty for more than two months.
He let go of Wilson when he fell, but fortunately Gohl held on. Wilson died hours later at Blessing Hospital of smoke inhalation, depsite the heroic efforts of the Quincy firefighters.
Thoughts after the second day of the David Ater murder trial in St. Charles Wednesday …
ATER AND STICE TESTIFY: Against the advice of his attorneys, Ater took the stand. Little new information was learned from his testimony, except for the fact he claims Wood hit him in the leg with his moped at the start of the fight. And his prior criminal history was introduced, so the jury now knows about his four felony convictions. Time will tell if his testimony helped or hurt his cause.
Co-defendant Nathan Stice also took the stand and sparked a bizarre series of events when he initially refused the testify. He apparently didn’t realize he was forced to testify because he took a plea bargain earlier this year, pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and kidnapping. The jury was excused while Stice was told why he had to testify, so all jurors saw was an indifferent witness in an orange prison jumpsuit. Then Stice answered questions from the stand about the case an hour later, giving short answers in a contrite tone.
LATE NIGHT AVERTED: There was speculation Judge Daniel Pelikan might give the case to the jury late Wednesday. After he and the attorneys took more than an hour preparing jury instructions, the jury was summoned at about 4:45 p.m. and told the case would resume Thursday morning. From general talk amongst the Wood family, there seemed to be a sense of resignation and relief, and hope the case will wrap up Thursday.
CIVIL: Marion County Prosecutor Tom Redington and defense attorney Jennifer Richardson were praised by the judge for keeping the case moving. There’s been little sniping between attorneys, with only one minor incident when Redington asked Richardson to “ask a question” instead of leading a witness. Pelikan quickly stepped in and calmly reminded the attorneys to keep things civil.
REACTION: There are more than a dozen Rodney Wood family members attending the trial. Sheila Wood, Rodney’s widow, has sat in the front row for much of the process. She’s remained composed, quietly crying when Rodney’s bike helmet was pulled out of an evidence bag. Several family members have wisely left the courtroom when upset by testimony, including several when Ater took the stand and talked about the fatal encounter.
ATER AND STICE TESTIFY: Against the advice of his attorneys, Ater took the stand. Little new information was learned from his testimony, except for the fact he claims Wood hit him in the leg with his moped at the start of the fight. His prior criminal history was introduced, so the jury now knows about his four felony convictions. Time will tell if his testimony helped or hurt his cause.
Co-defendant Nathan Stice also took the stand and touched off a bizarre series of events when he initially refused the testify. He apparently didn’t realize he was forced to testify because he took a plea bargain earlier this year, pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and kidnapping. The jury was excused while Stice was told why he had to testify, so all jurors saw was an indifferent witness in an orange prison jumpsuit at the beginning. Then Stice answered questions from the stand about the case an hour later, giving short answers in a contrite tone.
LATE NIGHT AVERTED: There was speculation Judge Daniel Pelikan might give the case to the jury late Wednesday. After he and the attorneys took more than an hour preparing jury instructions, the jury was summoned at about 4:45 p.m. and told the case would resume Thursday morning. From general talk among the Wood family, there seemed to be a sense of resignation, relief and hope the case will wrap up Thursday.
CIVIL: Marion County Prosecutor Tom Redington and defense attorney Jennifer Richardson were praised by the judge for keeping the case moving. The attorneys have done little sniping, with only one minor incident when Redington asked Richardson to “ask a question” instead of leading a witness. Pelikan quickly stepped in and calmly reminded the attorneys to keep things civil.
REACTION: More than a dozen Rodney Wood family members are attending the trial. Sheila Wood, Rodney’s widow, has sat in the front row for much of the process. She’s remained composed, quietly crying when Rodney’s bike helmet was pulled out of an evidence bag. Several family members have wisely left the courtroom when upset by testimony, including several when Ater took the stand and talked about the fatal encounter.
Redington is trying to show the encounter between Wood, Ater and Nathan Stice quickly turned into a fight. During his opening statement, Redington told the jury evidence will show Wood didn’t want to fight after tangling with the two men, and Ater hit the defenseless man one more time, knocking him to the ground for a final time.
Richardson told the jury the evidence will show Ater was in a fight but did not mean to kill Wood, who nearly hit the two men on a moped and came back after them that fateful night. Richardson also got a pathologist to testify Wood had alcohol and marijuana in his system.
The most anticipated witness is Stice, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to involuntary manslaughter and kidnapping. With a Lewis County drug sentence, Stice was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
It’s not known if Ater will testify.
Judge Daniel Pelikan seemed pleased with Tuesday’s progress. The trial will last most of the week, though there seemed to be hope from family members the jury might get the case as soon as Thursday.
From left; Kevin Riley, Brian Coggan and Danielle Katz kayak past Clat Adams Park Saturday afternoon after a three-day rest in Quincy. They are in the middle of a 2,500-mile trip down the Mississippi River for What About Blue, raising issues about water. For more, check out my column on Page 2A Tuesday in The Whig.
Larissa Schuster of Shelbina, Mo., was convicted of killing her husband, Golden native Tim Schuster, and sentenced to life in prison in May 2008.
NBC’s “Dateline” had a story on its Friday show about Schuster called “Bad Chemistry.” The entire video story is not available on MSNBC’s Web site, but the video above is an interview police did with Schuster before the start of a nearly five-year legal process that aired as part of its piece. Hear Schuster describe her relationship with Tim and respond to detectives’ questions concerning his disappearance.
McCamy says he hears it about 10 times a game, and also at practices, from Ziesel, his 5-foot-3, 110-pound running back.
So in the final stages of Benton’s third game of the season on Monday at Maryville, McCamy decided it was time for Ziesel — a 15-year-old freshman with Down syndrome — to make his season debut.
With about 10 seconds left in the game, and Benton trailing 46-0, McCamy called his final timeout, told an assistant coach to organize the team for the “Matt play” and ran across the field to the Maryville defensive huddle — and to some puzzled looks from the opposing players.
“I’ve got a special situation,” McCamy remembers telling Maryville freshman defensive coach David McEnaney. “I know you guys want to get a shutout. Most teams would want a shutout, but in this situation I want to know if maybe you can let one of my guys run in for a touchdown.”
Several days have passed since Ziesel chugged more than 60 yards down a sideline for his first high school touchdown — but the buzz hasn’t.
The YouTube clip McCamy posted Tuesday morning had received more than 1,500 hits as of Thursday night. The e-mails and messages of support also have been rolling in all week — to McCamy as well as the Ziesel family.
“It’s just amazing how one play can mean so much to one kid and then to a team and then to a community,” McCamy said Thursday after practice. “And now it’s spread not just to the community of St. Joseph, but now it’s spread across the region. How something so simple can impact so many — to me, that’s the amazing part about it.”
Mike Ziesel, Matt’s dad, a longtime high school coach and the athletic director at Benton, was standing near the top of the bleachers Monday when a spectator told him it looked like Matt was about to enter the game. His wife, Patty, was at home. She hadn’t planned on Matt actually getting on the field Monday.
Neither had McCamy. As he headed across the field to talk to McEnaney, McCamy wasn’t sure what the reaction would be. He asked the players to avoid physical contact with Ziesel but to make it as real as possible for him.
“The (Maryville) players, they didn’t hesitate at all,” McEnaney said. “They jumped right on board.”
And so Matt Ziesel ran a sweep to the right and just kept going. This time, it was McCamy making sure he was close enough to be heard — running down the sideline alongside Matt, yelling as loud as he could.
“Come on, Matty! They’re coming!” McCamy yelled, making the play as real as possible for Ziesel.
Benton lost Monday’s game 46-6, but those six points made a bigger impact than McCamy could have ever imagined.
“It’s not necessarily about winning or losing,” said McCamy, a second-year coach who played college football at Missouri. “Obviously up in Maryville we lost the game. The end result, we lost the game, but when we went away, we were all kind of winners.”
After he posted the touchdown video on YouTube on Tuesday morning, McCamy sent the link to the Ziesels, so Patty could see her son’s first high school score, and to five fellow Benton coaches.
From there the highlight and the emotions it stirred just kept spreading.
“I don’t know that I (have) gotten one comment from somebody who said they didn’t cry” after watching the video, Patty Ziesel said.
Mike Ziesel, who coached boys basketball for 19 years, said what made him most proud was the way the rest of the players embraced the opportunity.
“It was just a good thing to see people realize that the value of winning is not (as) important as it is to participate and enjoy the game,” Mike Ziesel said.
Said McEnaney, who co-coaches the Maryville freshman team with Jordan Moree: “It just kind of takes you back to what it all really should be about.”
The truth is, Patty Ziesel had reservations about Matt joining the football team. And after she had taken him for the mandatory physical, she received a call from his pediatrician.
“When they got the report that said he was playing football, the pediatrician’s office said, ’We just want you to know that (the doctor) doesn’t approve of him playing football,”’ she recalled. “I said: ’Well, neither do I, but here’s the deal: He wants to be part of the team, and he will be part of the team.”’
To minimize the danger, Matt doesn’t take part in full-contact drills at practices, and on his touchdown run he raced untouched as players from both teams trailed along.
Standing next to Matt on Thursday after practice, Patty said she hoped the players on both teams understood how important Monday’s touchdown — and their roles in it — were for her son.
McCamy is sure they do.
“Some of them get it now, but in due time all these kids who were a part of it will have a better understanding,” McCamy said. “When they grow up and they get older, everybody will realize the impact that maybe that play (has) had — not just on that kid’s life, because Matt will remember that forever — but on some of these other kids and what they may have been a part of.”
I have the best beat in The Herald-Whig newsroom. There’s a saying at the Adams County Courthouse that goes something like this: “You can’t make it up.”
Everytime I go over there and think I’ve seen it all, I go back the next day and realize I’m wrong. Again.
Crime and courts stuff can wear on a reporter. I’ve never really had post-traumatic stress from work issues, but it’s certainly understandable — I’ve seen some stuff in my day.
Certainly I’ve never witnessed anything like the 9/11 attacks. And what I go through pales in comparison to what our many police officers, firefighters and emergency responders deal with every single day.
Click here for an interesting article about a photographer who was there when the World Trade Center towers fell.