Fulton County Prosecutor Scott Haselman told jurors on the opening day of the Sierah Joughin murder trial that overwhelming evidence will show that alleged killer James Worley “kidnapped her, he murdered her, and he buried her in a cornfield.”
Following the final selection last Monday morning of 12 jury members and six alternates, Haselman used his opening statements to recap the alleged events surrounding Joughin’s murder and Worley’s suspected involvement.
In his lengthier opening statement, Haselman told the jurors that Fulton County Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Simon initially searched for Joughin in the late hours of July 19, 2016, just shortly after she was reported missing during a bicycle ride. Simon found the Metamora resident’s sunglasses and blue bicycle just within a cornfield on County Road 6. He also retrieved a green sock identified as one Joughin had been wearing, earphones, and a towel.
Haselman said a motorcycle helmet was found on the road and taken by Troy Vandenbusche near the scene that same day. The Jaspar, Mich., farmer, who farms in Fulton County, surrendered the helmet to the county’s authorities the following day after hearing of Joughin’s disappearance.
The helmet was covered in blood that was later determined to be Joughin’s, and authorities allege Worley used it to strike her on the head.
The University of Toledo student was found by a volunteer searcher in six-foot grave on County Road 7 three days after disappearing.
According to reports, reddish brown stains on nearby corn stalks were determined to be blood mixed with both Joughin’s and Worley’s DNA.
“He had to kill her if he was going to get away with it,” Haselman told the jurors.
He said DNA from both subjects was found at three county sites specifically targeted in the investigation.
A search of Worley’s property at 10627 County Road 6 revealed a barn with blacked-out windows and a makeshift U-shaped room inside made of hay bales. Authorities also found a mattress, bags of women’s lingerie, sex toys, sex bondage restraints, duct tape, rubber gloves, clothesline, blood-stained women’s panties, and blood-stained paper towels found to contain both Joughin’s and Worley’s DNA.
In a much briefer, more concise opening statement, Worley defense team member Merle Dech asked the jury to carefully examine each of the 400 exhibits to be presented during the trial.
“The evidence in this case will come from the exhibits presented to you,” he said. “Focus on what’s not there, because that’s important, too.”
Dech reminded the jurors that Worley cannot be found guilty of a crime until the State of Ohio “has established each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Hasleman then led a quick succession of prosecution witnesses to the stand, including Sheila Vaculik, Joughin’s mother; Joshua Kolasinski, Joughin’s boyfriend; and Lisa Stirn, a County Road 6 resident who witnessed Joughin biking past her home July 19 sometime after 7 p.m to establish the timeline of Joughin’s evening ride and subsequent disappearance.
But the witnesses also included Delta resident Mary Steine, who returned to Fulton County the evening of July 19 after visiting a friend in Blissfield, Mich. After a road blockage led her to decide to take a more scenic route home, Steine traveled south on County Road 6 between County Road T and U.S. 120. There, at about 7:20 p.m., she noticed a bicycle lying alongside the road, along with what appeared to be a light-colored garment.
After slowing to drive around the obstacles she looked right and spotted a male figure wearing red shorts and a possible white shirt crouched within several rows of corn. Steine said she didn’t know what the male was doing, and saw him for just a few seconds before passing the scene.
In cross-examination, she said she couldn’t readily identify the male or what he wore on his upper body, “but he wasn’t that far into the corn, so I saw the red shorts.”
The second day of the trial focused primarily on cataloguing detailed photes from locations of interest. But authorities also testified about finding Joughin’s gravesite and searching the property of Worley.
On Wednesday, a longtime friend of Worley testified that he smoked pot and watched pornography with the defendant at his home.
Lawrence Krise, of County Road 6, told Haselman that Worley also mentioned once or twice his plan to build a pornography studio in the north barn on his property.
Krise said he has known Worley for 35 years, and once or twice a month visited his friend’s home. He said the pair always smoked marijuana when he visited, usually in the machine shop located in the north barn on Worley’s property. Krise said Worley wouldn’t smoke pot in his home because he took care of his elderly mother there.
But they did hang out in Worley’s house more than a dozen times, Krise said, sometimes watching pornography from a computer. When questioned by Haselman, Krise said the pornography varied in type, including bondage videos.
On occasion during the home visits, Worley would show him items such as packaged lingerie, a ball gag, and a leather mask, Krise testified.
On cross-examination, he told Dech that Worley mentioned once or twice his plans to build a pornography studio in his barn. “It was just talk. I didn’t pay much attention to it,” Krise said.
He said Worley, who had quit his job to care for his mother, told Krise he’d done research on operating a pornography studio. “He said he could make some money from it,” Krise said.
He added that Worley also talked about raising rabbits in the barn.
Related testimony revealed that a search of the hard drive on Worley’s computer showed him searching for pornography websites of a violent nature.
With Toledo police detective and computer forensic analyst David Morford on the stand, Haselman pointedly led the court through a long list of Internet pornography searches Morford had recovered from the hard drive of Worley’s computer. With few exceptions, most of the searches were conducted from a pornography site, xvideos.com, between September 2015 and July 2016.
According to Morford, many of the searches used tag words such as “hog-tied,” “forced,” “gag,” “stranded,” “raped,” “violent,” “helpless,” and “hitchhiker.” All were under the user name “Jim” and were password protected.
The list also showed that Worley searched over two dozen pornography websites on the day Joughin went missing, many just hours before her disappearance.
However, Dech strongly objected to the display. During his cross-examination, Morford admitted he had chosen specific search words to find websites Worley had visited. “What we have here is a few thousand, but it could be much, much more,” he said.
Haselman also acknowledged the list of websites presented in court was not complete.
Dech demanded the full list recovered from the hard drive, suggesting that not all the pornography sites Worley visited displayed violence.
A major portion of the morning’s proceedings was devoted to cataloguing items found in a green crate in the north barn on Worley’s property. Both state and local law enforcement officers have testified the crate was found to contain items including lingerie, women’s panties, bondage-type restraints, other sex paraphernalia, adult diapers, zip ties, and duct tape.
On Thursday and Friday cell phones and DNA were among the topics.
BCI agent John Saraya told the court he photographed injuries on Worley’s body in July 2016, following the defendant’s arrest for Joughin’s abduction and murder. Photographs displayed to the jury showed injuries on Worley’s left arm, right arm above the elbow crease, left and right shoulders, the right side of his neck, and a finger.
Swabs for DNA profiles were taken on Worley’s fingers and genitals.
FBI agent Joseph Jensen said analyses of both Joughin’s and Worley’s cell phone records show that between 8:01 p.m. and 8:05 p.m. on July 19, 2016, the day Joughin disappeared, their phone signals were within the general area of one another.
The records gathered from area cell phone towers also showed that “arcs” of available signals emitted from the towers and picked up by Joughin’s Verizon cell phone and Worley’s Sprint cell phone intersected at one point at the alleged crime scene on County Road 6.
Fulton County Assistant Prosecutor Paul Kennedy led BCI agent and forensic scientist Emily Miller through a list of items confiscated from Worley’s vehicles and barn to determine which had tested positively for presumptive blood evidence. They included a motorcycle helmet and boots owned by Worley, a pink female undergarment, socks worn by Joughin, paper towel, a bat, and carpet samples from inside a freezer found buried in the barn floor.
Items that did not test positive for presumptive blood evidence included a lace bandeau worn by Joughin when her body was found and straw, duct tape, a black mask, rope, a drinking straw, and a shovel found in Worley’s barn.
A blanket in the barn tested positive for semen but an air mattress also found there did not. Swabs performed on Joughin’s body produced no evidence of semen.
Swabs were also performed on numerous items of clothing found in the barn.
During a cross-examination, Dech questioned why some items in the barn were not checked for presumptive blood or DNA evidence. Miller said it was determined no analysis was necessary for those items.
She also acknowledged that it’s not possible to conclude when and where human blood would have been deposited on those items that tested positive for presumptive blood.
Timothy Augsback, a CBI forensic scientist specializing in DNA, led the prosecution team through a detailed list of items confiscated in the investigation that were tested for Joughin’s and Worley’s DNA profiles.
Testing drew hits for Joughin on an inflatable mattress and on paper towels, and for Worley on a black mask and clothing, all found in the defendant’s barn. Insufficient results were found on other items from the barn including straw and knives.
Worley’s DNA was excluded from paper towels and a fingernail of Joughin’s. Items labeled as having insufficient DNA results included a pair of Worley’s boots, white socks, a bat, rope, a thong, and straw. However, some items tested showed the presence of male DNA insufficient for comparison to Worley’s.
The trial resumes today.