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Jury Hears Conflicting Statements in Damien Ditz Murder Trial
CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – The jury heard hours worth of audio/video testimony from Damien Ditz to the Pennsylvania State Police on the second day of the murder trial Wednesday at the Clarion County Courthouse.
Ditz, who suffered what was termed by Judge James Arner as a “medical emergency” on Tuesday, was not present in the courtroom on Wednesday. Arner said Ditz waived his right to be present during testimony, and Arner instructed that the jury “shall not draw any inference” from him not being present.
While Ditz wasn’t physically in the courtroom, the jury heard a lot from the defendant via three separate interviews between Ditz and the state police – one on March 1, 2017, the night Ditz is accused of killing his girlfriend, Katrina Seaburn; another from May 16, 2017; and a third from June 20, 2017.
In two of the interviews, the one from March 1 and the one from June 20, Ditz’s story of what happened on the evening of March 1 at a trailer park in the Lake Lucy area, changed three times.
This much is certain: no one – including Ditz’s own attorney, Adam Bishop – denies that Ditz shot Seaburn.
The question before the jury is whether or not the shooting was intentional or an accident, with the outcome of that distinction ranging anywhere from murder in the first-degree to involuntary manslaughter.
Ditz’s story changed twice on March 1 while he was being interviewed by state police at the Marienville barracks.
His initial story to police, as heard on audio recordings played in the courtroom, was that the gun, a Glock 45, had slid off the dashboard of the car he was driving, hit the console, and shot Seaburn, a front seat passenger in the car. (It was learned earlier that the Glock 45 was owned by Ditz’s cousin Dustin Hoffman, who lent it to him. It was also previously discussed that the defendant was driving Seaburn’s car.)
Following over an hour of emotional interviewing on March 1 by the state police, during which it appeared that Ditz had found out for the first time that Seaburn had died, the story changed slightly.
State Police Investigator Shawn Nicewonger is heard saying, “I think you loved her, but I don’t think it (the gun) slid off the dash. I think you tried to catch it. I think that’s what happened.”
After Nicewonger said this to Ditz, Ditz agreed.
“I tried to catch it, and it went off,” Ditz is heard saying. “It went off.”
Nicewonger responded by saying, “It was a terrible accident,” and Ditz can be heard crying hysterically.
“You didn’t mean to do it,” Nicewonger said.
“I tried to catch it,” Ditz said. “I loved her.”
Ditz was then interviewed again at his father’s house in Clarion on May 16, but that interview, as played, seemed to focus on money that Ditz had lent to his friend DaShon Smerker ($130.00) and money that Seaburn had lent Ditz ($1,000.00) to potentially buy a car.
Then, on June 20, Ditz was asked to come to the Ridgway State Police barracks to interview with Nicewonger and Troopers Matthew Higgins and Eric Mallory.
Ditz went to that interview without a lawyer, and without, at least on tape, being read any rights.
While at the Ridgway barracks, he was interviewed for at least seven hours, two of which were shown on videotape that had been edited down in an agreement between Aaron and Bishop.
During that seven hours of testimony, Ditz started by telling the officers the same story he had told on the night of March 1 that the gun had slid off the dashboard, he had caught it, tried to put it in the back seat, and it had gone off – shooting and killing Seaburn.
But, after intense questioning, Ditz’s story changed.
Ditz now agreed, after being told by the officers that his original statements didn’t make any sense, that he was in the process of parking the car, moved the gun, and it went off. Previous versions of his story said the gun slid off the dashboard, went off, and then he parked the car.
“I did not physically pull the trigger,” Ditz is heard saying. “I did not pull that trigger on purpose.”
As officers continued to question him, saying that his story was “bull s***,” that it wouldn’t have been possible for him to park the car and hold the gun in his right hand without turning his body “into a pretzel.”
Ditz said he couldn’t recall when he had parked the car.
“I can’t remember exactly anything I did,” Ditz told the officers.
The officers continued the questioning and told Ditz that somebody had died in the car and that he “had shot” Seaburn.
“I didn’t intentionally shoot her,” Ditz told the officers.
He continued by telling them if he had an answer for what had happened, he would tell them, at which point, one of the officers replied, “You do. You were there. It (your story) doesn’t make sense.”
“I did not intentionally pull the trigger of that gun,” Ditz said. “I did not intentionally put force on it to make the gun go off.”
As the questioning went on, Ditz eventually admitted that the gun did not slide off the dashboard as he and Seaburn were pulling into the trailer park.
“That (the gun sliding) did happen, but that was at a different point,” Ditz said.
Ditz said that he put the car in park, and he and Seaburn were “discussing” money that he had lent to Smerker.
He told the officers that he said to Seaburn, “DaShon better give me my money pretty soon.”
He then told the officers, “It had nothing to do with her.”
With a little more prodding, Ditz said that he was waving the gun as he made those comments, but that he wasn’t intentionally pointing the gun at Seaburn.
“I didn’t intentionally point it,” Ditz said. “I was demonstrating. I waved the gun. I was telling her about getting my money back.”
Ditz continued and said that he told Seaburn, “DaShon needs to give me the money.”
He said as he talked to her, he wasn’t looking at her.
“I was mad,” Ditz told the officers. “I was mad because I had waited and waited and expected him to pay me back.”
The officers then asked Ditz if Seaburn was bugging him about money.
“No, not really,” Ditz replied. “I did not mean to point it at her. I had no reason to point it at her.”
Ditz then admitted that he and Seaburn had been having a discussion about money on the way from Clarion to Lake Lucy.
“She would argue with me about money if I lent it out,” Ditz told the police. “She would want me to pay it back right away. It was just me being stupid, being an idiot.”
One of the officers then said, “You shot your girlfriend.”
Ditz responded, “I understand that. She was getting on my nerves. I was not intentionally pointing the gun at her. The gun went off by accident. That is what happened. It was a discussion where I was mad, but I wasn’t taking it out on her.”
Ditz continued, “I waved the gun at her while speaking of the money situation because I was angry. It wasn’t her that was pissing me off. It was the situation. I was angry, but I was not angry at her.”
Ditz said that pointing the gun was a “spur of the moment” thing.
He then said he was in the process of putting the gun in the back seat and was shaking the gun.
“That’s when the gun went off,” Ditz told police. “I didn’t sit there and point the gun at her.”
Ditz said after parking the car, Seaburn said to him, “Well, you make sure DaShon knows you want the money.”
At that point, he said he picked up the gun and turned to her and said, “I will make sure. I will get that money.”
He said that was when the gun went off.
“I was putting it in the back seat,” Ditz repeated.
A few minutes later Ditz is heard saying he didn’t mean any harm.
“I did not mean any harm with that gun,” Ditz said. “It wasn’t meant like that. I would never shoot anybody. I was making a demonstration.”
The officers reminded Ditz he was pointing a loaded gun, and eventually, one of them said to Ditz, “With your trigger finger you pulled the trigger.” And, Ditz answered, “Yes sir.”
Ditz then continued on, saying it wasn’t intentional.
“I did not intentionally pull that trigger,” Ditz is heard saying. “I did not intentionally kill my girlfriend.”
MEDICAL EXAMINER TESTIFIES
After playing the audio/video interviews with Ditz, Aaron called Dr. Eric Vay to the witness stand as an expert witness. Vay, a forensic pathologist, examined Seaburn’s body in Erie on March 2, 2017.
Vay testified that Seaburn suffered a gunshot wound to the chest, the “left, upper chest.”
“It was just to the chest side of the armpit,” Vay said. “It was 16 centimeters, about six inches, to the left of her midline and 14 centimeters, or about four inches, below the top of her shoulder.”
Vay said that the bullet had entered between her second and third ribs, went into her left chest cavity then into her upper left lung before traversing her heart causing “considerable” trauma and then into her right-middle and right-lower lung before stopping right at her fifth intercostal rib.
“It (the bullet) went left to right, slightly downward and slightly backward,” Vay said.
Aaron asked Vay if he could determine how far away the shot had been taken from, but Vay said he could not.
Aaron then asked Vay if a person was sitting in a normal facing forward position and a shot came from the side, would Vay expect to see some impact with the left arm, and Vay said he would.
Bishop then cross-examined Vay and asked if he had seen any signs of defensive wounds on Seaburn’s body. Vay said he had not.
The defense attorney then asked if a shot coming from someone turning toward the back could cause the backward path of the bullet like was seen in Seaburn, and Vay said it could.
Aaron then questioned if it was possible for Seaburn to have raised her arm, and Vay said that was also possible.
FIREARMS EXPERTS QUESTIONED
The day ended with two firearms experts being questioned.
David Burlingame was called as an expert witness who was hired by the prosecution to examine the gun that killed Seaburn.
Burlingame said he had examined the gun after the state police had examined the gun, and his findings differed slightly from the state police’s findings on the amount of pressure the gun in question needed to fire, saying his test showed it needed between six and eight pounds of pressure, which was close to the five-and-a-half pounds of pressure that the Glock manufacture says it takes to fire.
According to Burlingame, some of the reason for the discrepancy between his report and the state police report – which the jury later found out said the gun needed between nine to 11 pounds of pressure – was because of the condition of the gun.
“The gun did not seem to be maintained regularly,” Burlingame said. “The trigger pull will lighten up if there is more dirt in it.”
Burlingame, upon being questioned by Aaron, also said the three safety mechanisms on the gun were all properly working.
“All three were functioning correctly,” Burlingame said.
Bishop then asked Burlingame if it was possible that the pressure needed to fire the gun would be lighter on the second day of firing it compared to the first. Earlier in the day during the interviews with state police, it was learned that Ditz had testified that he had shot the gun on February 28.
Burlingame said that was possible.
Bishop then turned his attention to the part of Burlingame’s report that said that there are four causes of unintentional firings of the Glock, including carelessness with the trigger finger.
“It is a leading cause,” Burlingame admitted.
Burlingame then agreed that unintentional discharges can happen to anyone and that many police departments have begun to carry modified Glocks with a New York trigger to keep that from happening.
The gun in question had not been modified in any way, including with a New York Trigger.
Following Burlingame’s testimony, Aaron called another expert witness to the stand, this time state police firearms expert Dale Wimer.
Wimer spent time showing the jury how the safety guards on the Glock work and also said he had drop-tested the gun to see if he could get it to fire.
“I couldn’t get it to fire under shock and drop testing,” Wimer said while explaining that included hitting the gun on six sides with a rubber mallet and also dropping it on to a hard, rubber mat from about a foot away.”
Testimony will continue at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, December 6, at the Clarion County Courthouse.
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