Opening statements began Monday in what is expected to be a two-week-long jury trial for Floyd Eugene Maestas, charged with capital murder in the slaying of an elderly woman.
The body of Donna Lou Bott was found Oct. 1, 2004, in her Salt Lake home.
"She lay ... there in her own blood for almost three days," said prosecutor Cara Tangaro. The 75-year-old woman had been stabbed in the face, strangled, beaten and stomped on to the point her aorta ruptured.
"All this, ladies and gentlemen, for a coin purse and a cell phone," Tangaro said.
Police say she was attacked Sept. 28, a few days before, while she was sleeping. Tangaro told the 14 jurors, nine of them female, that they will hear from two co-defendants about the brutality of the crime.
Rodney Roy Renzo, she said, will testify he saw Maestas punch the body on the floor with full force, kick the body with full force while wearing cowboy boots and stomp on the body with full force, especially in the chest area.
Another co-defendant, William Hugh Irish, Tangaro said, will testify that he saw Maestas straddling the woman with a pillow or a sheet over her face. Bott was struggling, Tangaro said.
Renzo and Irish testified against Maestas at a daylong preliminary hearing in 2005, and both said they cut deals with prosecutors for unspecified lesser charges in return for their cooperation. It is those deals that defense attorney Michael Sikora said jurors needed to be wary of.
The state's case, he said, is built largely on what the two men have to say.
"They have much to gain by cooperating and testifying. These are two good friends, they have everything to lose, they are 22-year-olds and are now testifying against the outsider."
Maestas, 52, also is charged with aggravated burglary, a first-degree felony, stemming from what police say is another attack on an 83-year-old woman that happened that same night.
Prosecutors contend that Maestas broke into the house of the victim, who was in a reclining chair watching TV.
The window of her house was shattered with a rock, and Maestas then jumped on her, tried ripping off her shirt and attacked her, peeling the skin off one arm and bruising the other, yelling, "Where's your purse? Where's your purse?" according to Tangaro.
Police say they caught up with the trio after Renzo and Irish starting making calls from Bott's cell phone. They also found the second victim's wallet with $44 dollars in it in Maestas' vehicle, which had run out of gas on the freeway.
Tangaro said there was a fingerprint on the inside of a window at Bott's house that matched Maestas' and DNA under her fingernails that also matched Maestas and excluded the other two defendants.
But Sikora questioned the DNA technique used in the case, which he asserts is used to exclude people but doesn't conclusively identify someone.
"It doesn't say we got our guy."
He also cautioned the jury to pay close attention in the coming days to testimony regarding Bott's injuries from the medical examiner.
He predicted jurors will hear contradictory testimony, scientific evidence that is not clear-cut and most importantly, will be asked to determine the credibility of two very important state witnesses.
"At the end you are going to have to ask yourselves whether you trust Rodney Renzo and (William) Hugh Irish."
A neighbor and friend of Bott's, Cherilyn Strensrud, spotted Maestas hanging around the neighborhood in September, and on Oct. 1, Strensrud was walking her dog when she noticed that Bott's outdoor light was on and three newspapers were
on the porch. No one answered when she rang the doorbell or knocked, so she called police.
Salt Lake City police Detective Michael Omer came to Bott's house and discovered her body. He had been there only a few days before after Bott called stating that she had awakened at night to find a man in her bedroom rifling through her dresser drawers where she kept costume jewelry. At that time, she had screamed and the man took off without taking anything.
Omer noticed at his first visit that Bott had a new, silver cell phone, and when he arrived there again, it was gone.This is the first capital murder trial in Salt Lake County since 1996. Usually capital murder cases are resolved through plea bargains, but former EMT Michael Scott DeCorso stood trial for torturing and killing Margaret Ann Martinez, who was attacked and murdered two years earlier. The jury in the DeCorso case found him guilty but decided against the death penalty and gave DeCorso life in prison without parole.
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