DANBURY – The 12-member jury in the John Heath murder trial in Danbury Superior Court deliberated for about one hour on Thursday, October 10, without reaching a verdict.
The eight-man, four-woman panel is weighing the evidence and testimony presented during the trial that began on September 26.
The prosecution placed more than 30 witnesses on the stand in the case which is based on circumstantial evidence. The defense called one witness to testify. Defendant John Heath did not take the witness stand.
Deliberations were slated to resume at 10 am on Friday, October 11. Judge Robin Pavia is presiding.
The state alleges that in April 1984, John Heath, 70, of Bridgewater brutally beat his wife Elizabeth Heath, 32, to death at Heath’s 89 Poverty Hollow Road property in Newtown, after which Heath stuffed her corpse into a dry well located beneath the floor of a barn there.
While the property’s current owners were renovating an apartment in the barn in April 2010, they uncovered the corpse, which was wrapped in bedding. That discovery resulted in police arresting Mr Heath on a murder charge in April 2012. He is being held on more than $1 million bail.
After the prosecution rested its case on October 10, the defense called its sole witness to testify.
Special Public Defender Francis O’Reilly called Meghann Heath Hawes of Puerto Rico to testify about her life as the daughter of Elizabeth and John Heath.
Several days after his wife “disappeared,” Mr Heath had told Newtown police that she had run away from home, having discovered her disappearance after he awoke one morning. The couple was in the midst of a divorce. Meghann was four years old.
Under cross-examination by Supervising Assistant State’s Attorney Warren Murray, who is the prosecutor, Ms Hawes said she does not recall the day after her mother went missing.
“I have very few memories of that time, she said. Ms Hawes added that she has always had family photographs of that time in her life.
Ms Hawes said she had many babysitters as a child.
Mr Murray asked, “Was there any period of ‘waiting’ for you mother to return,?”
“I don’t really know,” she responded, adding that her mother had presumably left voluntarily.
“I don’t really know, I was four,” she said.
“Kids were making fun of me because I didn’t have a mom. All my friends had moms,” she said.
Raquel Figueroa, who had been a friend of Elizabeth Heath and a babysitter for Meghann, married John Heath in June 1985. Raquel Heath adopted Meghann and raised her with John.
Ms Hawes reportedly testified to Mr O’Reilly that Mr Heath has been a wonderful father to her.
In a closing statement to the jury, Mr Murray said Elizabeth Heath was brutally murdered with her skull having been crushed inward by great force, after which her corpse was placed in plastic garbage bags that were tied with ropes and placed in the dry well.
A cleanup at the murder scene took time to accomplish, indicating that the person who killed Elizabeth probably knew her, Mr Murray said.
“The state’s argument is that John Heath killed Elizabeth,” Mr Murray said. Mr Heath was the last person reported to have seen her, the prosecutor said.
Mr Heath has generated a “false narrative” about Ms Heath, claiming that she had mental problems, was a dug abuser, and was a bad mother in his attempt to obscure that he killed his wife, Mr Murray said.
“He’s making it seem like she’s run away,” the prosecutor said.
Within 72 hours of her having consulted a divorce lawyer, Ms Heath was dead, the prosecutor alleged.
The bedding in which Ms Heath’s skeletal remains were found was bedding that had come from the Heath’s bedroom, Mr Murray asserted.
In his closing remarks for the defense, Mr O’Reilly said, “The state has not proved their case.”
“That burden (of proof beyond a reasonable doubt) entirely lies with the State of Connecticut,” he said.
Problems with the state’s case include that Mr Heath is a “non-violent guy and that the components of the police investigation do not hold up, Mr O’Reilly said.
The defense lawyer suggested that Mr Heath’s father, Linwood Chester “Chet” Heath, who was living in the barn amid primitive conditions, was the murderer.
Chet Heath, who is deceased, was a violent man, who a was an alcoholic and a child molester, who had a history of violence against women, a disheveled appearance, and a nasty personality, Mr O’Reilly asserted.
Chet Heath’s presence on the Poverty Hollow Road property creates “reasonable doubt” as to whether John Heath is the murderer, Mr O’Reilly said.
“Isn’t it plausible that Elizabeth goes outside, and then Chet confronts her, about whatever, and then kills her,?” Mr O’Reilly asked the jury.
The defense lawyer claimed Newtown police did little to investigate the report of Ms Heath’s disappearance in 1984.
The murder case contains no incriminating DNA evidence or fingerprint evidence against John Heath, the lawyer said. “There’s no scientific evidence which ties John Heath to this incident,” he stressed.
A pending divorce does not amount to a motive for the murder, he added.
Two jail inmates who testified that Mr Heath had told them in January that he had killed his wife provided no unique information in their testimony, only testimony which they could have read in newspaper accounts, Mr O’Reilly said. The defense lawyer characterized the inmates as “manipulative, drug-addict thieves.”
“The state has the burden of proof. They haven’t met it,” Mr O’Reilly said.
In response, Mr Murray said of Chet Heath, “Perhaps, he’s not a dangerous a person as it was suggested he was.”
The prosecutor countered that the two inmates who testified against Mr Heath are not totally unbelievable as claimed by Mr O’Reilly.
Mr Murray told jury members, “You have a lot of information to consider here even though (the crime) happened back in 1984.”
Judge Pavia told the jurors that although Mr Heath did not testify in his own defense, “You may draw no unfavorable inferences from this.”