MAYVILLE - On Thursday, the prosecution continued its case against Jason Wells in Chautauqua County Court by bringing autopsy results and a video of the murder into evidence.
Jurors viewed pictures from Ruth Fisk's autopsy and heard her last moments before Wells allegedly killed her in his apartment.
Only three witnesses came forward to testify Thursday, including Dr. Dianne Vertes, the deputy Erie County medical examiner at the time; Kristen Betker, forensic biologist at the Erie County Central Police Services Forensic Laboratory; and Officer Nathan Scriven, patrolman and evidence custodian in the Fredonia Police Department at the time.
Wells was a 37-year-old resident of One Temple Square, a low-income Fredonia apartment complex, at the time he allegedly stabbed and beat fellow resident and friend Ruth Fisk, 81, a retired nurse, to death.
The defendant faces a charge of second-degree murder, a crime punishable by 25 years to life behind bars.
THE AUTOPSY & DNA TEST RESULTS
Vertes walked the jury of six men and six women through the process of completing Fisk's autopsy.
Six graphic pictures of Fisk's face, neck and left hand, taken by Vertes during the procedure, were shown to the jury after county District Attorney David Foley and Assistant District Attorney Grace Hanlon entered them into evidence.
Defense attorney Lyle Hajdu briefly objected to the use of the pictures, telling Judge John Ward the photos are only admissible "if their value outweighs the possible prejudices" they may incite within the jury.
"These are some of the most horrific and gruesome images I've ever seen," he stated. "They may cause biased opinions and Ms. Vertes explained the autopsy without the pictures during her grand jury testimony. We aren't disagreeing with who caused Ruth Fisk's death, but these pictures may inflame the jurors' passions."
Ward overruled Hajdu's objection, citing the prosecution's need to satisfy the burden of proof.
"Ruth Fisk died from multiple injuries due to strangulation, multiple blunt-forced trauma and sharp-forced injuries," Vertes concluded after noting various bruises and cuts to the pictured areas and several broken bones in Fisk's body.
After Vertes' testimony, Betker took the stand to explain she had tested the various pieces of evidence collected from Wells' apartment, No. 301, to see if Fisk's DNA matched the DNA located on the dry, red stains on various pieces of evidence.
According to the forensic biologist, after analyzing an oral sample from Fisk, every stain tested positive for blood, and the majority of Fisk's DNA profile matched that of every stain.
Betker testified to positive matches for all of the following evidence: Wells' jeans, a knife handle and blade, a chair Wells allegedly attempted to dispose of, the carpet Fisk was wrapped in after her death, a kitchen towel, a swab of a stain from the bedroom carpet, a Clorox bottle and a swab of a stain from Wells' bathroom sink.
"Bleach can destroy DNA," Betker pointed out after noting there were traces of a second unidentified DNA sample on the Clorox bottle.
She added gum found on a scarf on Fisk's person also tested positive for the woman's DNA.
While nearly all of the murder video shown to jurors came out pitch-black, sounds and noises painted a disturbing picture of Fisk's final living moments in Wells' apartment.
Scriven took the witness stand to present jurors with a videocassette recovered from Apartment 301. He explained the cassette was damaged at the time investigators found it, but the audio/video center at SUNY Fredonia managed to repair it.
"I watched the three-hour video and took about 42 minutes off of it and put it on a CD," Scriven explained. "That was the footage I felt was most pertinent to the case."
Hajdu stipulated Fisk's family, most of whom did not attend court on Thursday due to the nature of the testimony, were not required to take the stand to testify that it was indeed their loved one's voice on the tape; he told Judge Ward he understood who was speaking on it.
Throughout the dark video, music plays in the background. Wells and Fisk engage each other in conversation for about 25 minutes, calling each other "honey" and "sweetheart."
"You got to stop drinking so much," Fisk tells Wells, after which Wells asks her to "figure out (his) camera for (him)."
Fisk replies she does not know anything about cameras.
"I want to get out of this chair and go home, I'm tired. You should get to bed, too. Get some sleep," she says, asking Wells multiple times to help her out of the chair so she can head back to her apartment.
At one point, Fisk notes it is 4:30 in the morning.
"You don't want to fix the (expletive) thing," Wells snaps at Fisk, referring to the camera. He is slurring his words and burping throughout the video and at one point, opens up a beverage can.
"You're bad to me," Fisk says twice during the video.
Wells then goes on a disjointed rant, at one point trying to "factualize" people's existences. In part, he states, "A lot of people help me and blame me and I hate it ... my own existence is part of their life ... Life upon my own is life upon their own ..."
"Settle down, there's no (expletive) worry for you!" Wells yells as Fisk continues to ask him to help her leave. Wells then accuses Fisk of inserting objects inside people in a sexual manner when she worked as a nurse, and even accused her of doing the same to him in eighth grade.
"I don't care anymore at this point, you're not paying attention to me in the first place," Wells said. "You weren't listening."
For about five minutes, the audio changes to sounds of a struggle ensuing, as Fisk's final moments are recorded. Wells breathes heavily throughout that time.
"It'll be all over soon," he states.
At that point, Fisk's voice can no longer be heard, possibly indicating her death. Wells then apparently enters the kitchen and turns on the water faucet; sounds of kitchenware are heard apparently being washed and put down.
The tape then ends abruptly.
The defendant displayed little emotion during the video playback, putting his head down and closing his eyes every so often.
Almost immediately after the video, court adjourned for the day because there were no more witnesses scheduled for Thursday. Trial proceedings should continue today at 9:30 a.m.
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