The Times West Virginian

Local News

March 22, 2014

Self-defense pushed by defense in Palmer murder trial

CLARKSBURG — On Friday, the 10th day of the first-degree murder trial of Michael Ian Palmer, the defense had its first full day presenting its side of the case.

The state rested its case Thursday.

Defense attorney Sean Murphy brought forward four witnesses throughout the day.

Palmer, of Baxter, was arrested in June 2012 and charged with the premeditated murder of his father-in-law, Everett “Ed” Wilson. Wilson was shot to death at the Baxter home of his daughter, Kristyn Palmer, and son-in-law, Michael Palmer, on Dec. 11, 2011.

The incident was originally portrayed as a domestic incident in which Wilson damaged the front door while trying to enter the Palmers’ home. Wilson was shot once in the torso. He was pronounced dead on the scene by a state medical examiner.

Murphy presented his opening statement with his theory of the case on the first day of the the trial. The opening statement is not considered evidence, but is intended to be a helpful outline to aid the jury in their understanding of the case, Marion County Circuit Judge John Aloi said at the time.

During the statement, Murphy agreed with the prosecution that Wilson was the kind of man who would “give the shirt off his back” to anyone. However, he also talked about Wilson’s PTSD diagnosis, and his being prescribed anti-psychotic medication. Murphy said Wilson talked to his therapist about outbursts, road rage and confronting people.

Murphy also discussed Wilson’s drinking, contending that since the death of his wife, his drinking and life were “spiraling out of control.”

During opening statements, defense and prosecution agreed that the night of the incident, Wilson’s blood alcohol level was over the legal limit.

Murphy continued with his opening statement, and said after a phone conversation with Palmer the night of Dec. 11, 2011, Wilson was in a rage.

Murphy’s main argument in the case rests on this point; he said that just because Wilson’s buttons were pushed did not give him a right to “invade a man’s home.” Murphy said Wilson kicked in the back door of the residence with brass knuckles in his hand. Murphy told the jury that “Mr. Palmer exercised his legal right to self-defense.”

That line of thought was present throughout the defense’s case Friday.

Before bringing the jury into the courtroom Friday, Murphy made the case for Michael Palmer’s acquittal to Aloi. He argued that the state had not given sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Palmer had not acted in self-defense. He stated that because of the Castle Doctrine, which gives a person certain immunities within their own home to act in self-defense against an intruder, Palmer clearly had acted within his rights as a resident of his home.

“And I have never personally experienced a case, or even read about a case, that is more ripe at this juncture for a judgment of acquittal.”

However, State Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Wilson said that in considering acquittal, the court should look at the evidence “in light most favorable to the state of West Virginia,” he said. “There is evidence of first-degree murder in this case.”

Aloi ruled to deny the motion for acquittal, saying the issues that had been discussed were factual, and for the jury to consider.

The defense’s second witness, Stephen Lee Perkins, was called to the stand. The defense’s first witness, forensic scientist Larry Dehus, was called earlier in the week to accommodate his schedule.

Perkins, 20, of Rivesville, is currently incarcerated at North Central Regional Jail.

Defense attorney Rebecca Tate asked Perkins about his relationship with Danielle Saunders, who lives in a house beside the Palmer residence in Baxter. Perkins said he was in a relationship with her in the summer of 2010, testifying that while he was spending the night, he and Ed Wilson had an altercation in the kitchen of Saunders’ house and that Michael Palmer broke up that fight.

Perkins said that during the fight, he saw Wilson wearing his vest and his gun in its holster.

He said that the next evening, Wilson contacted them and they ended it on a “decent note,” with Wilson writing Saunders an $800 check for the damage to her kitchen caused by the fight.

“He was a nice guy when he wasn’t drinking,” Perkins said.

On the night of the altercation, Perkins testified that there had been a bonfire party and Wilson had been drinking.

“The next day, he wasn’t drunk and he was fine as can be to me. He didn’t have any hard feelings about the fight,” Perkins said.

Perkins testified that when he was arrested by the Marion County Sheriff’s Department at a later date, he was questioned on what he knew about the Palmers and Wilson.

He stated that he was told to sign a statement about the previously mentioned altercation between Wilson and himself. Perkins said he pointed out inaccuracies in that statement where it did not correspond to his statements to officers. He testified he was told corrections would be made at a later date, but to sign it now anyway, so he did. He stated that he was never asked to sign a corrected statement.

Perkins also testified that on another occasion after Wilson’s death, he had seen Dustin Wilson, Ed Wilson’s son, bust in a window on Ed Wilson’s home, which he characterized as one of the “nicer homes in Baxter.” He also said he witnessed a multi-day yard sale by Dustin Wilson, which included items he had previously seen in Ed Wilson’s home.

The jury was shown the statement with highlights to indicate the contested portions.

The cross-examination of Perkins by prosecution was delayed until Monday because prosecution stated they wanted access to audio versions of transcripts they had received from defense before they could cross-examine. Throughout the day Friday, defense kept Aloi and prosecution updated on their progress in locating the tapes, which they were still attempting to do by the time court went to recess at the end of the day.

Both the cross-examination of Perkins by prosecution and the questioning of witness Senate Corwin were delayed until Monday, awaiting access to the audio tapes.

The defense’s second witness Friday was Judy Broadwater, who testified she was a neighbor of Ed and Linda Wilson for 33 years.

Tate asked her about her opinion of Ed Wilson. She testified that he was a “nice guy.” Tate asked if she had seen Wilson drinking, and she said that several years ago, “he was an over-the-road truck driver, and he would come home and sometimes he would come home drunk.”

Tate then asked about if she ever saw a change in Wilson’s demeanor. Broadwater replied, “Well, there would be a change in his demeanor when he was drinking.”

Broadwater testified that he and his family “got along fine when he wasn’t drinking.”

“He would come home and he was very loud, just very loud and agitated,” Broadwater said.

Tate said she had no further questions.

Marion County Prosecutor Patrick Wilson asked Broadwater more questions about Ed Wilson’s drinking. She said that 33 years ago, Ed Wilson had a drinking problem.

But Patrick Wilson asked Broadwater whether Ed Wilson had a drinking problem more recently, from 15 years ago to present. She said it was completely different during that period.

Patrick Wilson asked if he no longer had a drinking problem and if his relationship with his wife had improved, and Broadwater agreed.

Broadwater said Ed Wilson had received treatment from the VA Hospital. She agreed with Patrick Wilson’s statement that he had been going to the VA Hospital for some time.

Patrick Wilson asked if she had ever seen Ed Wilson with a gun on his person. “Oh, no,” Broadwater said.

He asked how often she and her husband had contact with Ed Wilson. She said three or four times a week, and her husband even more often.

He then asked if she had ever seen him carry a gun on his person or threaten anyone, or, in the 15 years or so since getting sober, if she had seen him act aggressive or mean.

“No,” Broadwater said. “Ed was just a very nice person, a very good person. Very congenial.”

She also testified that Ed Wilson was “giving to a fault,” and helped out both his son and daughter. She testified that, to her knowledge, Ed Wilson wasn’t strapped for cash.

Tate then asked Broadwater if she was aware that Ed Wilson was prescribed anti-psychotics for his PTSD.

“No,” Broadwater said.

Tate asked if she knew he was in financial trouble and had borrowed $67,000. Broadwater said no.

She also asked if Broadwater had heard anything the night Ed Wilson was shot. Broadwater stated that she hadn’t heard anything until a neighbor called her.

Tate asked if she was aware Dustin Wilson had a sale that included Ed Wilson’s things after his death. Broadwater said yes. Tate asked about the condition of Ed Wilson’s home after his death, and she said it was “ruined.” She said Kristyn and Michael Palmer’s residence has also decayed in their absence.

Patrick Wilson then asked Broadwater if she thought that when Ed Wilson had been killed, if he had exhibited evidence of drinking problems, and she said no.

The defense then called its third witness, Brian Dykstra, president and CEO at Atlantic Data Forensics. Dykstra had been hired by the defense to analyze computer files the state had obtained for the case.

Murphy asked Dykstra if it would be possible to manipulate an email containing Facebook postings, to make something untrue appear to be true. Dykstra said yes, and Murphy admitted into evidence a version of the email exchange submitted into evidence by the prosecution that had been changed and modified by Dykstra in Microsoft Word.

Murphy then asked Dykstra about the computer files. Dykstra said there were 1,355 gigabytes of data, which he estimated would translate into 27,119,000 pages of paper, which he estimated would fill 84 tractor trailer trucks.

Dykstra testified that to go through all the data, he dedicated three of his six full-time employees to the task, and had billed $89,959.43 as of Thursday.

The state cross-examined Dykstra, asking what he did with the data. Dykstra stated that he processed and reviewed the data.

He was then asked if the state had given him the data on 10 disks. He said yes, but stated that the disk had contained an outline of their methods, but did not discuss their actual findings.

He was asked about the 25 exhibits the state ultimately identified as ones they would enter into evidence. He stated that, for example, with Michael Palmer’s contact list, it did not appear as one file, but as hundreds of files that needed to be processed.

Murphy then asked Dykstra to read what the exhibit list said, emphasizing that because the state’s list could change before the trial, the defense still wanted to do a thorough analysis of the files it had received.

Gary Cooper was the fourth and final witness the defense presented Friday. Cooper worked as a private investigator for the defense, taking photos and making a diagram of the crime scene. He stated that while the investigating officers had taken photos at the scene, he needed to go and see the residence to get a clear picture of where everything was in relation to everything else. He also made a map of the neighborhood and who lived where.

After the jury was told to retire, the judge and attorneys discussed wording for the instructions to the jury, which they will continue to discuss throughout the weekend.

The trial will continue Monday at the Harrison County Courthouse in Clarksburg.

Email Colleen S. Good at cgood@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.

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