Did Jeffery Locker hire his own killer?
Kenneth Minor's trial for killing Jeffery Locker is now under way. And even though almost nobody in the courtroom doubts that Locker wanted to die, the prosecutor argues Minor is still a murderer.
"It's the defendant who brought us to this point... He's the one who chose to kill somebody. He's the one who said, 'Yes' instead of 'No,'" Prosecutor Peter Casolaro addressed the court. "The right thing to do would have been for Mr. Minor to tell Locker that, 'I will not be part of your scheme.' The right thing to do would have been to walk away."
Casolaro says Minor could have done what Melvin Fleming did.
"Melvin heard the same speech. Melvin...was offered the same money. But Melvin didn't kill anybody," Casolaro told jurors.
Minor says this is a case of assisted suicide. But Casolaro says there's one reason Minor killed Locker: It's cash, not compassion.
"Mr. Minor is going to ATMs within a half hour of that death," Casolaro continued in court.
"That doesn't look good. That begins to look more like murder than assisted suicide?" Schlesinger asked defense attorney Dan Gotlin.
"Well in a sense it was a murder for hire. But it also is assisted suicide," he replied
Gotlin will argue that his client, Kenneth Minor, spent hours with Locker... enough time to establish a weird kind of relationship.
"People make connections with other people under strange situations," Minor told Schlesinger. "It might sound a little morbid, but I was kinda privileged to be, like, to be there for, like, you know, this is, like, your last, you know. Nobody else will ever see you again. Nobody. And you chose me."
And so Minor says he held the knife against the steering wheel and just watched as Locker threw himself on it again and again and again.
Asked if that's possible, Det. Robert Stewart told Schlesinger, "I don't believe so."
"What do you think happened?"
"He stabbed him...no question," Det. Stewart replied.
"I believe what my client said sounds truthful...And very possibly was truthful," Gotlin told Schlesinger.
"And how many times did Locker lunge onto the knife?" Schlesinger asked.
"I think there were six times," said Gotlin.
"How come the horn doesn't go off?"
It was one of the first questions Gotlin himself asked. And the answer, he believes, helps prove his case. Gotlin sent his investigator, Michael Barry, to examine Locker's car. The horn didn't work.
"I believe Locker disconnected it or pulled a fuse," Barry said. "And that tells me...right then and there that that's how well...prepared Jeffery Locker was...to get someone to assist him in his suicide."
All of which, the defense says, means the police got the right man but the wrong crime. This was not murder.
"You did offer to plea to a lesser charge," Schlesinger noted. "To manslaughter?"
"Correct. From day one," said Gotlin.
It's a big difference. Manslaughter means a maximum 15 years in jail. Murder could mean life.
"I've always said I will pay for what I did. I will pay for the part that I played," said Minor.
Minor says he helped Locker die, but he didn't kill him.
"I never saw him as a victim," Minor told Schlesinger.
"But he's dead?"
"You know, that was a self-appointed choice," said Minor.
And that is what Dan Gotlin wants the jury to know about Jeffery Locker.
"He killed himself. That's what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it to make it look like a robbery murder for one simple reason, so he could screw the insurance companies, screw his creditors, and everybody else that -- that had to collect money from him that he was stiffing over the last several months. That's what happened here," he told the court.
Except the medical examiner says it was homicide. All the wounds were in a tight 6-inch cluster in Locker's chest.
"The medical examiner claimed...that the wounds appeared to be coming from one side downward in," crime reporter Murray Weiss explained. "The contention basically was that somebody sitting in the passenger seat...would be reaching over and plunging a knife in."
But Gotlin has his own medical expert.
"I see nothing here that is physically, forensically, scientifically inconsistent with Mr. Minor's presentation," said Cyril Wecht, Gotlin's star witness.
Wecht is a controversial forensic scientist most famous for insisting there was a second gunman in the JFK assassination. He thinks Locker had Minor tie his hands so he wouldn't have second thoughts once he began killing himself.
Wecht agreed to show "48 Hours Mystery" how easy it would have been then for Locker to throw himself on a knife.
"We're gonna show with this collapsible knife of course, how this could have been accomplished," Wecht said, lunging forward into the knife while sitting in the driver's seat of a car. "So you see all of that accomplished in a matter of a few seconds."
But if Locker wasn't in control of his own death and Minor attacked him from the passenger seat, Wecht says Locker would have had different wounds on his body, which he didn't.
"Joe, pretend that you're going to be stabbing me now. You wanna stab me, OK," Wecht says to the man in the passenger seat as he moves, trying to get away from the knife.
"[I'm] trying to get away. See, and a heck of a lot more than that nice 6-inch circumference we have on the chest," Wecht pointed out.
"I still, to this day, have trouble imagining somebody actually doing this to themselves, hurling themselves onto a knife," said Schlesinger.
"Well that's because you've never seen...what people can do when they make up their minds to commit suicide...I have seen people who have shot themselves repeatedly, people have stabbed themselves repeatedly," Wecht said. "...once you make up your mind then that's it."
"But what people I think can't get around in this case is the simple fact that stabbing yourself that many times would, to use a technical forensic term, hurt like heck?" said Schlesinger.
"Yes, it hurts. It hurts when it goes through the skin,' Wecht explained. "When it penetrates the heart and lungs, there's not much pain."
"I respectfully disagree," Casolaro said in court. "It has to be more painful than that."
And it has to be messier too, says Casolaro, who asked why the steering wheel and the dashboard were so clean.
"How can you have these gaping wounds and not leave a single drop of blood, if you're throwing yourself forward again and again and again?" Casolaro asked. "His shirt got saturated with blood, totally saturated. You mean not one drop of it is going to come off and go forward?"
Wecht has an answer. He says Locker didn't hit major blood vessels. The shirt got soaked with blood afterwards when his wounds continue to bleed.
"It's really a battle of experts," Gotlin said. "Who you choose to believe."
And that's what the jurors are about to decide: who to believe and what to believe about Kenneth Minor and his intentions on that night... in that car.
"Is the defendant an angel of mercy?" Casolaro asks the court. "No, he's the Grim Reaper."
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