The Norman Transcript

June 10, 2014

Jurors expected to deliberate in murder trial

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — District Judge Thad Balkman told a jury of eight females and four males that he hoped deliberation would begin today for a first-degree murder trial that began last week in Cleveland County District Court.

Several witnesses were called Monday by state prosecutors Susan Caswell and Christy Miller to testify, including Oklahoma City Police Department officers and analysts and a state medical examiner who performed the victim’s autopsy.

Defendant Eddie Thompson, 35, was charged with first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and first-degree burglary with Loretta Hawks and Sebastian Shepherd.

Crime Scene Investigator Everett Baxter slipped on white latex gloves as he removed a serrated knife from an evidence envelope and slowly flipped the blade out as he was questioned about the weapon Monday morning. The knife was found in the victim’s, Arthur Strozewski’s, home after he suffered multiple stab wounds Aug. 31, 2012.

Baxter helped process evidence for the investigation, which included responding to the morgue and processing Strozewski’s body. While he was there, he took photos and collected evidence, which included documenting various injuries on the victim’s body.

Several weeks before the trial, prosecutors Caswell and Miller contacted Baxter, showing him the knife that had been found in the residence. When asked to compare the knife with injuries on Strozewski’s body, Baxter said two areas on the body appeared to be consistent with a serrated weapon.

Baxter also processed a 2004 white Buick, taking pictures and searching the interior of the vehicle. The vehicle was seen near Strozewski’s home on video footage from a neighbor’s security camera before and after the homicide was believed to have occurred, Det. Ryan Porter testified.

Porter was the first homicide detective to arrive on scene and took lead as the scene investigator as his partner, Det. David Jacobson, interviewed witnesses. Porter went through the home at 9305 Winston Way to process the scene and collect evidence after obtaining a search warrant. Nothing seemed to be out of place or moved around downstairs, he said, but things upstairs were different.

“There appeared to have been a vicious struggle,” Porter said, describing the bedroom Strozewski was found in.

One of the Oklahoma City police officers to first respond to the call, Mark Strickland, also testified Monday. Strickland and Officer Michael Knight responded to the call, which originally came in as a 911 hang-up, then a home invasion and then an assault.

Before they entered, Strickland said they could hear bursts of footsteps from what sounded like the upstairs portion of the two-story home. The front door was ajar and as they pushed it open, they called out to the female calling party, who was later identified as Strozewski’s 16-year-old daughter.

When she didn’t come down, dispatch informed officers that she was too scared to come down the stairs. About that time, they heard a burst of footsteps and a man with black, stringy hair came running down the stairs, Strickland said.

“He was wearing a white T-shirt and it was covered in blood,” he said.

The man appeared to be frightened and made eye contact with the officers. At that point, they were within six to eight feet of each other, Strickland said.

Both officers had their guns drawn and flashlights pointed at the man, who paused before making a U-turn at the bottom of the staircase toward the back of the house. Strickland told Knight to cover the back to try to contain the man, but then he saw the suspect come back toward the front, taking a few steps into the hallway.

Strickland said he then yelled for Knight to come to the front, at which point the suspect ran to the back again. He said he believed the suspect exited through the back door and as the officers made their way to the backyard, they heard what they believed to be a chain link fence rattling, leaves rustling and sticks cracking, most likely from the suspect fleeing.

Previous evidence presented during the trial showed that a downstairs bathroom toward the back of the home had been locked from the inside. Blood was later found on the toilet and around a window above the toilet. Patrol also later found a serrated knife in a cabinet underneath the bathroom sink.

When Strickland and Knight went back into the home and did a quick sweep, Strickland said he did not remember finding the locked bathroom door during the initial sweep.

The officers went upstairs and found a teenage male, Strozewski’s 14-year-old son, in his bedroom with duct tape around his hands and body, Strickland said. The teen’s room appeared to have been ransacked. They then located the calling party, the victim’s daughter, who was shaken up, and did a quick sweep of her room but didn’t find anything, the officer said. Then they made their way to Strozewski’s bedroom, where they found him lying on the bed.

“There was such a strong, strong smell of iron from the amount of blood scattered all over the room,” Strickland said. “I’ve never been to a room where the smell of iron was so strong because of so much blood.”

Strickland said he also observed blood-soaked pillows, the mattress, the walls and a bloody man lying on his bed with multiple stab wounds gasping for air. He was gasping so much that he wasn’t able to talk.

The officers immediately called for EMSA and fire upon entering the room. Upon further examination, they saw that the victim had been bound with black duct tape around his hands, which were up above his head, Strickland said.

The officers swept the home numerous times and noticed that the downstairs bathroom door had been locked at some point and found the bathroom window open, which they peered in, but didn’t find anyone, he said.

When Strickland was asked if he could identify the man who came down the stairs that morning with long, black hair covered in blood, Strickland motioned toward the defendant, Eddie Thompson. Strickland said the most noticeable difference of Thompson’s appearance was that he now has much shorter hair.

Porter also testified about phone records he obtained, mainly from Hawks’ cell phone. The records showed that Hawks contacted both Thompson and Shepherd, also known as Mac Dre, on Aug. 31 with numerous calls starting shortly after 2 a.m. and ending around 2:45 a.m.

Porter said there was no contact during the time the homicide was believed to have occurred and then a long string of phone calls between 3:51 and 4:04 a.m.

The large volume of calls was consistent with the two male suspects not being in the vehicle with Hawks, he said. Video footage from Strozewski’s neighbor also shows the white Buick traveling southbound past the home around 3:01 a.m. and then again traveling northbound around 3:30 a.m. before police officers passed it, Porter said.

When defense attorney Kevin Finlay asked if Porter knew if that was a consistent call pattern for Thompson and Hawks, Porter said no.

The phone records also corroborated with Thompson’s sister, Clarissa Miller’s, statement to police about Hawks calling her around 5 a.m. the morning of the homicide, asking if Thompson was home. Miller also told police Shepherd admitted to being involved in the incident but escaped before police saw him, court records show.

Porter said when he listened to the 911 call, she told dispatch there were two men — one who was inside her father’s bedroom fighting with him and one in her little brother’s bedroom.

To close the day, Dr. Inis Yacoub took the stand. Yacoub is a forensic pathologist with the State Medical Examiner’s Office who performed the autopsy on Strozewski and determined his cause and manner of death.

Yacoub was questioned about each injury found on Strozewski’s body, which ranged from cuts and abrasions to deep stab penetrations upon external examination. During internal examination, she also found fractures on a portion of the victim’s Adam’s apple and two ribs.

There were also several organs injured, including two stab wounds to the right lung, five stab wounds to the diaphragm, nine stab wounds to the liver and a stab wound to the spleen. Strozewski’s kidney had been surgically removed, so she said she could not testify as to whether it had sustained injuries, and there was also a suture in his colon, which may have sustained a stab wound injury, she said.

The length of the wounds ranged from a little less than an inch to a little less than two inches, and the depth of the wounds ranged from less than a half-inch to four inches, she said.

Yacoub counted 41 entry wounds to the body, but only 38 qualified as stab wounds. The other three wounds were not deep enough to qualify as stab wounds because they were not deeper than the length of the injury on the skin’s surface, she said.

The pathologist also was shown the serrated knife found in Strozewski’s downstairs bathroom, which she said could have caused the injuries. The injury patterns on the victim’s body were consistent with the patterns the knife could have left.

Yacoub ruled Strozewski’s cause of death to be multiple stab wounds and manner of death to be homicide.

The trial will be in recess until 9 a.m. today in Balkman’s courtroom at the Cleveland County Courthouse.

 

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