MAYVILLE - Opening statements wrapped up and the prosecution began its case Tuesday in the Fredonia murder trial for One Temple Square resident Jason Wells.
Eleven witnesses took the stand to testify against Wells in Chautauqua County Court in Mayville. Wells allegedly stabbed and beat fellow One Temple Square resident Ruth Fisk, 81, a retired nurse, to death in early February 2010.
He was 37 at the time and faces a charge of second-degree murder, a crime punishable by up to 25 years to life in prison.
Six women and six men comprise the jury in this case.
County District Attorney David Foley and his team will be attempting to prove Wells committed murder with both intent and cause.
Foley delivered the prosecution's opening statement to begin the trial by setting up the scene the day of the murder.
Fisk was a widow living in One Temple Square, a complex of 91 apartments for low-income elderly and/or disabled individuals. She befriended Wells, which Foley said ultimately led to her death on Feb. 4, 2010.
"They were seen together that day, and you (the jury) will learn that a neighbor of Wells heard two people in Wells' apartment, and he could hear profanities and loud thumping and grunting," Foley said. "A few days' worth of newspapers were under Ms. Fisk's doorway and her walker was located in her apartment, with her nowhere to be found. A maintenance supervisor asked Wells if he saw Ms. Fisk, to which Wells replied, 'Ruth's in there,' and pointed to a rolled-up carpet on his floor."
Foley continued on to say Fisk's blood was found on Wells' clothing and Wells had tried to clean up the mess and dispose of evidence, including a chair he used to kill her and a knife he used to stab her.
Foley said the jury will see a video of the killing, which Wells recorded.
"That way, you will see and hear him murder Ruth Fisk," he said. "At this time, it is important to observe him and to reason that he intentionally knew what he was doing."
After the DA's remarks, Lyle Hajdu explained to the jury in the defense's opening statement that they will be hearing two different experts testify how they believe Wells is "deeply disturbed."
"He is a diagnosed schizophrenic and it was paranoid delusions that drove him to kill," Hajdu told the jury, pointing out Wells was committed to a psychiatric hospital for two years after the killing. "One expert determined Jason definitely didn't appreciate his actions or know they were wrong, leading to the insanity defense, while the second expert concluded he was operating under extreme emotional disturbance and that he was not capable of murder, but manslaughter."
Hajdu added Wells accused Fisk of sodomy and being a sexual predator and even stated in his confession to police that Fisk had bribed, molested and harmed children before, a belief that fed Wells' "paranoid delusions."
"It's important to note that Jason was on social security disability, so he was a paranoid schizophrenic living in a community with elderly people," the defense attorney stated. "He has even accused his own attorney of molesting him, stealing money and changing the color of his eyes and growing taller."
EMPLOYEES DISCOVERED WELLS WITH BODY
On Feb. 5, 2010, after Fisk went missing for about a day, two One Temple Square workers, Maintenance Supervisor John Burse of Cassadaga and Manager Barbara Catalano of West Seneca, found her body rolled up in a carpet in Wells' apartment, No. 301.
Catalano explained on that day, after receiving the call that Fisk was nowhere to be found, she went to check Fisk's apartment, No. 115; she was not there, but the room was slightly messy, which was out of character for the fastidious woman.
Burse initially went to Wells' apartment and asked if he had seen Fisk, to which Wells replied, "No." However, the maintenance supervisor noticed a rolled-up carpet in his room, which he was not allowed to have since the carpet was from the third-floor storage room.
After fetching Catalano and telling her Wells was acting "weird," the two went to Wells' apartment to ask again if he knew anything about Fisk's disappearance, to which Wells replied by pointing to the carpet and saying, "Ruth's in there."
"Sure enough, it was Ruth," Burse said.
Catalano immediately left to call 911 as Jason sat on the couch and asked Burse if he was "in a lot of trouble."
"Ruth was a wonderful young lady at heart," Catalano remarked. "She was loving and caring."
Michael Schwertfeger, a Fredonia Fire Department medic at the time, responded to the emergency call that Catalano made.
"A female body was wrapped in a rug and I unwrapped it to check for any pulse or breathing, to which there wasn't any," he stated. "There were suspicious signs of death and I told the police officer there I believed this was a crime scene."
The officer, John Ferrarra, a part-time Fredonia Police officer at that time, was told by Wells that he found Fisk down on the rear parking lot sidewalk and brought her to his room in a shopping cart to "clean her up," as she was bloody and he "didn't know what to do with her."
After Wells was read his Miranda Rights, he took Ferrarra and David Price, Fredonia Police investigative sergeant, to the supposed spot he "found" Fisk.
"At that location, there wasn't any blood," Ferrarra said. "We wanted to get a written statement from him, so we took him to the station to write how Ruth was found, but something just didn't jive. Tears started showing up in his eyes and I told him, 'I can see it in your eyes. I think I'm hearing from Ruth that you killed her.'"
Wells then admitted to killing Fisk and typed his own statement saying so. He added in the statement he "has issues with sexual predators" and that Fisk "touched (his) children," causing them to argue a lot.
Wells noted in his statement that he first talked to Fisk when he was 14, though the truthfulness behind that is unclear.
According to the statement, Wells set up a camera and had Fisk come over to his apartment. He gouged her eyes out and inserted a knife into her mouth to cut the back of her spine. He then watched over her body and wrapped it up in the carpet when she "started to smell."
RESIDENTS DESCRIBE HOURS PRIOR TO KILLING
A few One Temple Square residents at the time were called to the stand to describe what they observed and heard on the night of the killing.
Mark Domedion, who lived in the apartment adjacent to Wells', said he heard someone yell, "Shut the (expletive) up! Don't say a word!" around 5 a.m., as well as grunting noises, loud thumping and furniture moving, then dead silence. The noise was coming from Wells' apartment and was loud enough to wake Domedion.
Carolyn Bane said she observed Fisk and Wells together that night as they went for a drive around 1:30 a.m. and came back a half-hour later.
After Fisk exited the driver's side to head into the apartment complex, Wells walked into One Temple Square with a 12-pack of beer, but not before getting into the driver's side of the vehicle, driving "fast" in the parking lot and subsequently hitting a snowbank.
Annette Silleman confirmed Bane's testimony and added she did not approve of Fisk's relationship with Wells prior to the killing.
"She kind of adopted him, treated him like a son," Silleman stated. "I warned her about him. He felt evil to me. I told him he was a snake when he asked me why I never stopped by once."
Trial proceedings are set to continue today at 9:30 a.m.
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