Aggravated murder trial begins in Gresham double slaying
Nov 04, 2010 (The Oregonian - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
On a hot summer day in August 2008, a utility worker knocked on the door of a Gresham townhouse and noticed an awful smell. Next, he noticed all of the flies.
Gresham police broke in to find the bodies of a married couple in their 20s sprawled across the floor. The couple, known drug dealers, had been dead for up to 13 days, each from a single bullet wound to the brain. A bullmastiff who had been left in the house with the bodies had scavenged parts of them down to the bone.
Over the following months, investigators would link another drug dealer -- James Charles Tooley, 37 -- to the deaths of Melinda Beth Kotkins and Anthony Patrick Cooper. This morning in Multnomah County Circuit Court, prosecutors opened their case against Tooley by announcing the evidence they intend to present.
Tooley was the last known person to see Kotkins and Cooper on July 24, 2008.
Tooley's fingerprint was found on a gun case in the house.
Tooley's cousin is expected to testify that Tooley bragged about beating "a double murder rap."
Jurors will hear recorded jail phone calls between Tooley and his wife, in which Tooley reportedly persuades his wife to deliver $2,400 in bail money to the mother of another inmate, who Tooley has enlisted to kill his cousin. "They're not trying to stick a needle in your arm!" prosecutors said Tooley can be heard telling his wife.
If convicted of aggravated murder, Tooley faces the death penalty.
But Tooley's defense attorneys told jurors the prosecution's case isn't as solid as they contend.
Investigators have found no DNA evidence linking Tooley to the deaths. They also never found the murder weapon. They don't have a confession, either.
What's more, defense attorney John Gutbezahl told jurors they would have to judge the veracity of the statements being made by some of the prosecution's witnesses, including those with criminal histories and deals cut in exchange for their testimony.
"There is nothing scientific, nothing forensic about this case," Gutbezahl said. "...We're left with circumstance, supposition and snitches."
Gutbezahl said jurors would also have to decide for themselves how damning the statements Tooley supposedly made to his cousin are. Gutbezahl said although Tooley reportedly said "I did it," it's not clear what he's referring to.
Gutbezahl pointed to another man he said had a motive to kill the couple. He also said jurors shouldn't rule out the possibility that it was a murder-suicide.
Prosecutors will start presenting their witnesses this afternoon. The trial is expected to last four weeks or less.
--- Aimee Green
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