Jury Begins Hearing Evidence In Joseph Thomas Murder Trial
Thomas is accused of murdering and raping Mentor woman Annie McSween
On the night Annie McSween was murdered, her boss, Mario Cacaic, suggested that she go home and let him close up the bar.
It was her birthday, after all, he reasoned.
But McSween -- who was newly 49 -- declined. She told Cacaic that she wanted to restock the coolers so they wouldn't be serving warm beer to the patrons of Mario's Lakeway Lounge tomorrow.
"To be honest with you, she was number-one worker at my place," Cacaic testified via video to the jury Tuesday. (Cacaic is from Croatia and his English is sometimes broken.)
So Cacaic let McSween finish closing up the Mentor-on-the-Lake bar by herself that early morning of Nov. 26, 2010. It would be the last time he saw her alive.
The trail of blood
After almost two weeks of jury selection, the jury in the Joseph Thomas murder trial began hearing evidence Tuesday in Lake County Court of Common Pleas.
Thomas, 28, is accused of raping and murdering McSween, who lived in Mentor.
The charred remains of murder victim McSween's sweater, bra, pants and purse were found in a burn barrel in the backyard of Thomas' former residence on Marine Parkway, Lake County Assistant Prosecutor Charles Cichocki said in his opening statement Tuesday morning.
However, the burned clothes were not found until five months after McSween's body was found.
McSween was discovered in the wooded area behind a house, next to the bar, that Cacaic also owned. She was naked except for two brown tube socks, Mentor-on-the-Lake Police Chief John Gielink testified.
However, when Cacaic returned to his bar that morning, he didn't see McSween's body at first. What he saw was blood on the grass, even though it had rained during the night.
McSween's blood wasn't just on the grass, Cichocki said. It was on the side of the house that Cacaic rented to Margaret Huelsman, one of McSween's coworkers. Her blood was also on its steps and the outside of its windows. A bloody handmark was smeared near the door.
Meanwhile, James Yager -- who owned a nearby auto marina -- found a shoe and black pair of women's underwear that proved to be McSween's by his business.
Cacaic woke Huelsman and called police. So they, police officers and Yager searched for the source of all the blood.
It was Yager who found McSween first, he testified.
Cichocki listed her many injuries during his opening statement:
Her face had been repeatedly punched, a bone in her neck was snapped because she had been choked, her throat was slashed and she was stabbed five times in the back, Cichocki said.
She was dead -- most likely bled to death.
The burned sweater
Joseph Thomas was one of the people in the bar the night McSween was murdered.
Neither the prosecutors nor Thomas' attorneys dispute that.
"The vast majority of facts presented by the prosecutor, we have no qualms with," Thomas' attorney David Doughten said during his opening statement. "We disagree on what can be inferred from these facts."
Doughten told the jury that Thomas went to the bar, drank some, played a little pool and went home.
While prosecutors said Thomas attacked McSween as she was leaving the bar, raped and murdered her. Then, they believe, he took her sweater, pants, bra and purse and burned them in his backyard.
Police interviewed Thomas in December 2010. However, he was not identified as a suspect until April 2011.
In April, police officers canvassed the neighborhood where the murder occurred, hoping to find McSween's clothes.
A resident told police that he saw a man, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, standing in the rain and burning something in the backyard of 5589 Marine Parkway, Cichocki said.
When police searched the backyard, they found the barrel containing charred clothing. DNA tests later matched blood found on the sweater to McSween, Cichocki said.
Thomas was living at the Marine Parkway house at the time of the murder, though he later moved away.
Doughten pointed out that the evidence was not found until after Thomas had moved away.
Doughten then asked why Thomas would continue to live at the house so long after the crime if he knew evidence linking him to it was nearby.
Thomas has been indicted on charges of rape, tampering with evidence, aggravated robbery, kidnapping and aggravated murder.
His trial will continue this afternoon with the prosecution's witnesses. Additionally, the trial is expected to continue all week in Lake County Common Pleas Judge Richard Collins Jr.'s courtroom.