FAIRFIELD — A cold-case murder trial for a Fairfield man starting its eighth week of testimony in what was originally billed as a four-week trial is wrapping up against growing pressure to avert a possible mistrial.
Lonnie J. Kerley’s jury trial started in October. On Monday, another juror was lost to a family medical issue, leaving 12 jurors and no alternate jurors. With the court set to be closed after the end of this week until next year, there was growing concern that not finishing the trial this week would likely spur at least one more juror to jump ship, forcing a mistrial.
The defense case for Kerley may wrap up as early as Tuesday morning, but prosecutors intend to call at least five rebuttal witnesses.
Kerley is accused of killing Danna Dever, who lived with Kerley and their 9-year-old daughter at their home in Cordelia. He reported Dever missing to Fairfield police in August 1996, saying she walked out the door six weeks earlier and had not returned.
Dever’s badly decomposed, naked body was discovered in the summer of 1996 by farm workers in a ditch south of Dixon, but was not identified by authorities until 2007.
Jurors sat through a defense case in recent days that began with Kerley’s mother and father spending hours talking about what a good son they have and how there is no way he could have harmed Dever, who they say had a methamphetamine addiction and walked away from her family in June 1996.
Kerley’s attorney had two forensic anthropologists on the witness stand Monday. They tried to pick apart the testimony of the prosecution’s forensic anthropologist who examined Dever’s body in 2007 and again earlier this year, concluding that the broken bones found among Dever’s remains had been beaten and possibly strangled. The defense anthropologists testified that their examination of Dever’s remains in 2012 only turned up evidence pointing to Dever’s remains being damaged years after her death.
Jurors sat through hours of dueling anthropologists explaining why the size, angle and type of bone fractures, some of them only a few millimeters in size, supported their respective conclusions about whether Dever was murdered or likely died of a drug overdose, after which someone dumped her body.
At one point, one anthropologist on the witness stand carefully scrutinized pig bones cut up by the opposing expert and critiqued and compared the type of markings and fracture caused by the cutting tool.
Shortly before noon, Judge Alan P. Carter once again took a swipe at attorneys for ongoing acrimony that has repeatedly led to point-counterpoint questioning about the most minute and perhaps inconsequential points. After lunch, the prosecution brought its forensic anthropologist back to the witness stand. He was asked about 50 questions, with Kerley’s defense attorney objecting to more than one-third of those questions and Carter overruling all but two of those objections. That pattern has been largely the same throughout the trial.
Prosecutors are expected Tuesday to reveal to jurors newly discovered medical records from 1995 that reflect Dever being treated by a doctor for injuries from a beating by Kerley six months before she disappeared. Prosecutors not only want to reinforce their belief that Kerley was a violent man, but refute testimony from his parents about their son’s peaceful nature.
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