Thurber Trial - Day 5: Prosecutors Nearing End Of Case

By: Cayle Thompson Email
By: Cayle Thompson Email

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Monday, Feb. 9 - 4:00pm

Prosecutors are nearing the end of their case in the Justin Thurber capital murder trial. Monday, they showed jurors graphic photos and video of the crime scene where Jodi Sanderholm's body was discovered.

Judge James Pringle dismissed jurors before 2:30 in the afternoon, citing the speed with which the trial is moving forward. Court resumes at 9:00 Tuesday morning. That's when prosecutors plan to present what may be the most telling evidence in their case: DNA evidence reportedly linking Thurber to Sanderholm's death.

Prosecutors say she was kidnapped after college dance practice on Friday, January 5, 2007. Her body was found days later in a remote spot in the Kaw Wildlife Area. She had been beaten, strangled, and sexually assaulted. Her car was found several miles away in a fishing lake.

Prosecutors say Thurber stalked members of the Cowley College Tigerette dance team, and that Sanderholm was his victim.

Monday, prosecutors showed jurors photos of the crime scene. Sanderholm's mother, father, sister and grandparents were flanked by friends for support. At times, quiet sobbing could be heard in the courtroom. Several jurors could also be seen wiping their eyes.

Jurors saw photos of the brush pile under which Sanderholm was burried. Parts of her nude body were visible through branches.

In later photos, investigators described how she was found "posed" in a sexually suggestive position. Grass and leaves had been shoved into her mouth and ears. She was quickly identified through a birthmark on her chest.

Tuesday, prosecutors will likely discuss autopsy results and DNA evidence obtained from the crime scene. During opening statements, they told jurors DNA found under Sanderholm's fingernails matched that of Thurber. It's also believed a strand of hair found in Sanderholm's car belonged to Thurber.

Jurors also heard Monday from an investigator who specializes in footprint analysis. He said prints found at the scene of the crime in the Kaw Wildlife Area matched those on the bottom of shoes taken from Justin Thurber's home.

Prosecutors say they could rest their case by Wednesday, at which point Thurber's defense attorneys have an opportunity to call their own witnesses to testify on his behalf.

On the first day of trial, Thurber's attorneys promised jurors they would not "belabor" the process. They have thus far asked very few - if any - questions of the prosecution's witnesses. It is not clear how many of their own witnesses they may have lined up in Thurber's defense.

Although Thurber has a right to call witnesses on his behalf, the burden of proof lies solely on prosecutors. This means Thurber does not have to ask anybody to testify in his defense. He is to be presumed innocent unless jurors convict him based on the prosecution's evidence.

If jurors should find Thurber guilty of capital murder, they must also recommend whether he deserves life in prison, or the death penalty.

That decision is made during what is called the "Penalty Phase" of trial. During this phase, prosecutors give jurors reasons why they believe a defendant should die for his/her crime. Likewise, defense attorneys give reasons why life in prison is more appropriate.

Just as a jury must agree unanimously in order to render a guilty verdict, they must also agree unanimously on death if that is to be a defendant's fate. If only one juror votes for life, then the defendant is automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

If Thurber is convicted of capital murder, his conviction is subject to an automatic review by the Kansas Supreme Court, regardless of the jury's decision during the penalty phase of trial.

Stay with KAKE News and for updates through the remainder of the trial.

For a detailed look at today's testimony and evidence, read the postings below.


Monday, Feb. 9 - 2:15pm

KBI agent Cory Latham takes the stand next. He collected DNA from Justin Thurber. His testimony is brief; enough to establish that the DNA taken from Thurber was lawfully obtained.

Agent Falletti takes the stand again, just long enough to tell jurors the DNA specimens collected from Thurber and from Sanderholm were sent for special testing and analysis.

Court is in recess as of 2:15 this afternoon. Prosecutors are moving faster than anticipated, and have several out-of-state witnesses due to testify on Tuesday. That is when the DNA results are expected to be shown to jurors.


Monday, Feb 9 - 1:45pm

In what is perhaps the most emotional moment of trial, jurors watch a video taken from the scene where Jodi Sanderholm's body was found. The courtroom sat in silence for 20 minutes while the video played. It showed the brush pile where Jodi's body was found underneath a stack of limbs, sticks and logs. The camera repeatedly zoomed in at times to show parts of her body visible underneath.

After the video, jurors see still photos taken after the brush pile was removed from above Jodi's body. The photos -- and much of the preceding video -- are too graphic for television.

The photos show Jodi's body nude, posed on her back. She is severely bruised "from head to toe," as prosecutors said during opening statements.

The Sanderholm's were in the courtroom for the entire process. Brian Sanderholm, Jodi's father, looked away during much of the video and photo evidence. Cindy Sanderholm, Jodi's mother, could be seen leaning on her other daughter, Jennifer. Quiet sobbing could be heard throughout the courtroom, mostly on the Sanderholm's side of the courtroom where extended family and friends sat.

Several jurors were also moved by the photos, some wiping away tears.

Justin Thurber's parents were in court. His father looked down on several occasions, shaking his head. His mother left for a brief period of time. His sister didn't watch, and later went into the hallway where she sat with her head in her hands.

Investigators carefully removed Jodi's body, which they identified through a birthmark on her chest, and transported her to Wichita for autopsy.


Monday, Feb 9 - 1:30pm

Court is back in session. The first witness on the stand is Mark McCaslin. He testifies that the day Jodi Sanderholm's body was found the investigation switched from a missing person search to a criminal matter.

Agent David Falletti takes the stand again. As his testimony begins, prosecutor Chris Smith asks our cameras not to record or transmit any images of Sanderholm's body. Shortly after, prosecutors begin showing photos of the crime scene to jurors.

Falletti tells jurors how and why they set up a perimeter around the crime scene. He says everything is done very carefully so as to not disturb anything.

Lt. Eric Burr with the ACPD is on the stand again this afternoon. He helped document evidence at the site of Sanderholm's body. He videotaped the crime scene and surrounding area.

Prosecutors show that video to the jury.


Monday, Feb. 9 - 11:30am

ACPD officer Kevyn Ternes takes the stand for the second time this morning. He was part of the team to search Justin Thurber's car and house.

Ternes says he collected jeans and t-shirt from Thurber's home, believed to have been the clothes he was wearing at the time prosecutors allege he kidnapped and killed Sanderholm. Ternes is on the stand for only a few moments before prosecutors call their next witness.

Mark McCaslin also takes the stand a second time this morning. As noted in previous posts today, he also searched Thurber's home and car.

When McCaslin asked Thurber's parents to show him what he had been wearing the day before, they pointed out a pair of jeans and shirt that had been washed the night before. McCaslin's testimony is also very brief. He is dismissed from the stand after only a few minutes.

Prosecutors request a lunch break before moving into the afternoon session, where they will present the jury with evidence and testimony of how Jodi Sanderholm's body was found and recovered by investigators in the Kaw Wildlife Area.


Monday, Feb. 9 - 11:15am

Mark Bestor takes the stand next. He also is a forensic expert with the KBI, specializing in fingerprint analysis. He describes for jurors how fingerprint recovery and analysis works.

Investigators sent the Sanderholm's mail to Bestor. The mail was recovered in the septic tank of the park where Jodi's car was found submerged in a fishing lake. Prosecutors say Jodi was most likely kidnapped at her mailbox, less than a block from her own home. They allege Thurber dumped the mail in a public toilet at the park before driving her car into the lake.

Bestor says the mail was processed in a chemical bath to draw out the fingerprints of whoever handled the mail. He says he examined all the fingerprints "ridge, by ridge, by ridge." Bestor says Sanderholm's fingerprints were on the envelopes, but did not find Justin Thurber's prints.


Monday, Feb. 9 - 10:40am

Court resumes after a short recess. Koch and prosecutors show the jury footprints obtained in connection with the investigation into Jodi Sanderholm and Justin Thurber. Jurors watch a slide-show that shows them photos from the crime scene and where it's alleged Thurber walked with Sanderholm into the woods of the Kaw Wildlife Area.

Koch says the prints recovered show a pair of flip-flops (believed to have been Sanderholm's) walking side-by-side with a pair of ADIDAS shoes (believed to have been Thurber's).

When Koch continued his investigation at the Sanderholm's house, he also found a matching ADIDAS shoe print outside their home.

Koch says although the footprints were not "verified" to be 100% from Thurber of Sanderholm, technical analysis shows an extremely close match and suggests the prints belong to both the suspect and victim in the case.


Monday, Feb. 9 - 10:00

Steven Koch takes the stand. He is a forensic scientist with the KBI specializing in finger, foot, palm, and tire print analysis. Koch was brought in to look for any prints at the crime scene.

Koch says it took several days to collect prints from the Kaw Wildlife Area and the lake where Jodi's car was found. He describes for jurors the intricacies of obtaining prints left behind in various locations, and then obtaining prints from the shoes or feet where it's believed the print originated.

Koch confirms the shoes previously shown to jurors and believed to be those worn by Thurber the day Jodi died are the shoes he examined in 2007. He says investigators often exclude similar shoes (and other suspects) based on the unique print left behind by the shoes used at the crime scene. He says although there are thousands of ADIDAS shoes that match those allegedly worn by Thurber, after the shoe is worn, it develops a specific print -- it can collect pebbles in the groves, be worn down in different places, etc...

Prosecutors prepare to show the footprints to the jury, but request a break in order to set up a power-point presentation in the courtroom. The judge allows for a 20 minute recess.


Monday, Feb. 9 - 9:45am

Steve Roberts takes the stand next. He retrieved phone calls Justin Thurber made from jail after his arrest in connection with Jodi's death. The phone calls were recorded. Roberts is on the stand briefly, explaining to the jury how the phone calls are recorded.

Eric Mata takes the stand after Roberts. He examined the phone calls after they were handed over as part of the investigation.

Prosecutors let the jury listen to the phone calls. A screen across the courtroom scrolls a transcript of the call.

In the recording, Thurber tells his mother there are only two things linking him to Jodi's death. What those things are is not discussed in the phone call. He told his mother not to talk about things too much on the phone.

In another phone call, he discusses the security video taken from the Cowley College campus that reportedly shows him circling the school and parking in one of the parking lots near the dance team's practice location the day of Jodi's death. Thurber says the video doesn't prove it's him in the car, or that the car is his specifically.

Lt. Mark McCaslin takes the stand next. He has testified previously during the course of the trial.

McCaslin helped search Thurber's home in the course of the investigation. During the course of that search, officers recovered shoes from Thurber's home which they believe he was wearing at the time of the crime.

Officer Kevyn Ternes takes the stand. He works with the ACPD. Ternes was one of the officers to search Thurber's home, and collected a pair of ADIDAS tennis shoes believed to have been worn by Thurber the day Jodi disappeared.

The shoes are shown to the jury. They are a pair of white ADIDAS with three navy blue stripes along the side.


Monday, Feb. 9 - 9:30am

Thad Winkleman, an investigator with the FBI, takes the stand this morning. He examined a computer taken from Thurber's home after Jodi's disappearance.

Winkleman says his examination focused on what was searched during the first week of January, around the time Jodi vanished. He says his investigation doesn't tell him who used the computer, only what was searched.

Prosecutors show jurors what was recovered on Thurber's computer. Investigators found the search-term "Cowley County Community College." It was accessed within 24 hours of Jodi Sanderholm's disappearance.

Investigators say the computer was used to search for information on the Tigerette dance team, of which Jodi was a part.

Investigators also found a picture of Jodi Sanderholm downloaded onto the computer, which they say came from the website the day after her disappearance.


Monday, Feb. 9 - 9:00am

Prosecutors have listed approximately one dozen witnesses expected to testify today. The list is comprised mostly of investigators who worked the case.

This morning's testimony is expected to pick up where Thursday's left off, as prosecutors segue into physical evidence linking Justin Thurber to Jodi Sanderholm's death.

Experts today will testify about footprints found at the crime scene which they say matches the shoes worn by Thurber and Sanderholm the day of her death.

Prosecutors will also discuss with jurors evidence they recovered from a search of Thurber's home and car.


Monday, Feb. 9 - 8:30am

After a week of sometimes emotional testimony, prosecutors are set to resume their case against Justin Thurber, charged with capital murder for the 2007 death of Ark City teenager Jodi Sanderholm.

Trial recessed for a three-day weekend on Thursday, after prosecutors showed jurors evidence recovered at the state fishing lake where Sanderholm's car was found submerged. Jurors saw the remains of Jodi's clothes, which investigators say was shoved into a public toilet at the lake.

This week, prosecutors will show jurors DNA evidence found under Sanderholm's fingernails which they say links Thurber directly to the crime.

The trial is moving faster than expected, and prosecutors say they could rest their case before the end of the week. Defense attorneys have said they do not plan to "belabor" the process for jurors.

Defense attorney Ron Evans said in opening statements last week that if the jury should find Thurber guilty, he will ask that they spare him from the death penalty.

Stay with KAKE News and for updates.

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