A 3rd Circuit judge said he needs more time to decide if he has heard enough evidence to support a charge that Donald C. Jaeger killed his live-in girlfriend.
But Jaeger, West Jordan, says Mary L. Barndt, 19, shot herself.Jaeger is charged with second-degree murder for the shooting death of Barndt on Aug. 22 at his West Jordan home, 6495 S. Scranton Drive (3655 West). Prosecutors say the couple had been in an argument that evening and believe Jaeger shot Barndt just below the neck.
But during a preliminary hearing Wednesday, the evidence did not appear to weigh heavily in either direction.
"I'd like to think about the case a little bit further," said Judge Michael Hutchings. He said he would decide later this week whether or not to bind Jaeger over to 3rd District Court to stand trial on the charges.
A taped recording of the 911 phone call placed right after the victim was shot was played during the hushed courtroom Wednesday afternoon.
"I . . . I . . . My girlfriend just shot herself," Jaeger told the 911 operator as she answered the phone. "I don't know what to do . . . Oh God, I can't believe she done that. How could she . . . "
Jaeger bowed his head and cried in the courtroom as he relived the night of Aug. 22. He often sobbed on the recording, continually asking the operator to hurry and send help, pausing to emotionally encourage his girlfriend to breathe.
"Mary, hold on. Don't go. I love you," he said on the recording.
But prosecutors said it would have been impossible for Barndt to have shot herself. Dr. Edward Leis, associate medical examiner, said the gun was held between nine and 10 inches away from her body when it was fired and said the woman's left arm would have had to have been raised in the air when it was fired.
"It would be very unusual for this to be a self-inflicted wound," he said.
Kevin Smith, a criminologist at the Utah State Crime Lab, said he conducted gunshot residue tests that were taken from the hands of the victim even before she died as well as the hands of Jaeger.
"I found that gunshot residue was not present on Mary Barndt," he said.
But Jaeger's test results showed particles characteristic of gunshot residue.
Defense attorney Lisa Remall said her client works with automobiles and his hands could have contained lead - one of three chemicals looked for in a gunshot residue test. James Gaskill, assistant professor at the crime lab at Weber State University, said such residue consists of tiny particles that could be transferred or washed away easily.
Remall reminded the judge that the 911 dispatcher encouraged Jaeger to hold the victim's hand until paramedics arrived and said it was possible the residue was transferred from Barndt's to Jaeger's hand.
Gaskill also testified that the gun had close to a "hare trigger" and Remall said an accidental discharge of the gun was "equally likely," considering Barndt's judgment could have been altered since she had alcohol and valium in her system.
Barndt's mother, Judy Clark of Layton, testified that she received a phone call from her daughter the night of the killing. She said her daughter was upset and crying.
"The main thing she kept saying to me was Don hates me," she said.
However, Clark said her daughter never mentioned suicide or gave any indication that she wanted to commit suicide.