Ditz Testifies in Own Defense; Closing Arguments to Be Heard on Friday in Murder Trial
CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – A very emotional Damien Ditz took the stand in his own defense on Thursday – the third day of his trial in which he is accused of killing his girlfriend, Katrina Seaburn, on March 1, 2017.
Ditz was called to the witness stand by his lawyer, Adam Bishop, who started out by asking three questions, with Ditz answering the same thing after each question.
Bishop started out by asking, “Did you murder your girlfriend?”
“No, I did not,” Ditz responded.
“Did you fire the gun on purpose?” Bishop asked.
“No, I did not,” Ditz responded.
“Did you intend to hurt Katrina Seaburn?” Bishop asked.
“No, I did not,” Ditz responded.
The defense has said from the start of the trial on Tuesday that he doesn’t expect the jury to find Ditz not guilty. Still, he doesn’t believe he is guilty of anything other than involuntary manslaughter in the death of Katrina Seaburn. Katrina, a Clarion University student from Curwensville, Pa., died from a single gunshot wound to the chest at a trailer park near Lake Lucy.
On cross-examination by Mark Aaron, Aaron asked Ditz if he pointed the gun at Seaburn during an “argument” over money.
“I waved it at her,” Ditz said.
Aaron then asked Ditz if he pulled the trigger.
“Yes,” Ditz said.
Prior to Aaron’s cross-examination, Bishop asked Ditz to walk him through the details of March 1, 2017.
Ditz said as he turned into the trailer park, the gun, a Glock 45, slid forward and across the dashboard.
“I caught it and put it by my side,” Ditz said.
Ditz then said he pulled into the parking area near his cousin’s (Brandon Strotman’s) trailer and put the car in park. He said that he and Seaburn were discussing $130.00 that he had lent his friend DeShon Smerker and that Seaburn was telling him that she didn’t think he would see the money anytime soon because Smerker was unemployed at the time.
“I picked the gun up to put it in the back seat,” said Ditz, who needed to take a break during the testimony of the details of the event.
“I shook the gun and said ‘I will get the money,’ and it (the gun) went off. It went off.”
Ditz said that following the shooting, he was in shock.
“Did you point the gun at her?” Bishop asked.
“I didn’t,” Ditz said.
“Did you intentionally pull the trigger?” Bishop asked.
“No, I didn’t,” Ditz said.
Ditz said right after Seaburn was shot, he called 9-1-1.
“I don’t remember anything after that,” Ditz said.
Bishop then asked his client, if he had initially lied to police about what had happened.
(Ditz had given three different stories as to what happened that night. First, he said the gun had fallen off the dashboard, hit the console, and went off on its own; then he said he caught the gun, and it went off, before finally saying that he was waving the gun, and it went off.)
“Yes, I did,” Ditz said.
Bishop then asked Ditz why he had lied to the police.
“I was scared,” Ditz said.
Bishop then questioned Ditz about why he was scared.
“I was afraid they wouldn’t believe me, and they would say I murdered my girlfriend,” Ditz said.
Bishop then concluded the questioning of his client by again asking him if he had murdered Seaburn.
“No, I didn’t,” Ditz responded.
Bishop then asked if there was anything else Ditz wanted to say.
“I’m sorry,” Ditz said. “I never meant to hurt Katrina.”
Prior to asking Ditz about the events of March 1, Bishop asked Ditz to describe his relationship with Seaburn.
“We loved each other, we cared a lot about each other,” Ditz said.
Bishop then showed Ditz the bucket list that Ditz and Seaburn had drawn up together and asked him if he remembered writing it.
“Yes, I do,” Ditz said. “It was things we wanted to do together. Katrina wrote (part of it) and I did.”
DEFENSE PAINTS PICTURE OF SOMEONE TORN UP BY DEATH OF GIRLFRIEND
Prior to putting Ditz on the stand, Bishop tried to paint a picture of his client as someone who was completely torn up by the death of his girlfriend by a horrific accident as opposed to something that was pre-planned or premeditated.
Bishop also was painting the picture that Ditz and Seaburn, who were dating at the time, had not been having trouble prior to the shooting.
The defense called a number of witnesses to paint this picture including Tim Brooks, MD, who treated Ditz on March 2, 2017; Dave Beary, Ditz’s uncle; Clinton Beichner, Ditz’s first cousin who went fishing with Ditz and Seaburn the night before Seaburn’s death; Dustin Hoffman, Ditz’s first cousin who had lent Ditz the gun that shot Seaburn; Fred Ditz, Ditz’s father; Rebecca Hoffman, Ditz’s aunt; Cole Boyer, Ditz’s self-proclaimed best friend; and Bruce McHenry, whose daughter was friends with Ditz and who had Ditz do some farm work for him.
While Bishop called on all of these witnesses to testify, the most interesting – and perhaps telling – early morning questioning came from Aaron to Dustin Hoffman.
Aaron was trying to get Dustin Hoffman to say that Ditz would have been torn up just as much if the death was an accident or intentional. Hoffman had previously testified when questioned by Bishop that Ditz was torn up to the point where he could barely function both in the moments after Seaburn’s death, the day after Seaburn’s death, and the weeks following Seaburn’s death.
But, that wasn’t how Dustin Hoffman saw it.
“Could (Ditz) have been upset because (the shooting) was an accident?” Aaron asked.
“Yes,” Hoffman replied.
“Could (Ditz) have been upset because (the shooting) was intentional?” Aaron then asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” Hoffman replied.
Dustin Hoffman also testified that he had never seen Ditz mad in his life and that he had never seen Ditz and Seaburn in any type of physical altercation.
He also testified that when he arrived at Strotman’s trailer the night of the shooting, he found Ditz on the bathroom floor.
“He was completely in shock,” Dustin Hoffman said. “He was bawling, dry heaving, screaming ‘It should have been me. It should have been me.’ He was totally shaking, in shock. It was awful for me to see.”
Dustin Hoffman said the next day, on March 2, 2017, he decided he needed to go see Ditz who was at his father’s house, so he and his cousin Jennifer Graham went to see their cousin.
“Damien was on the couch and had a blanket,” Dustin Hoffman said. “He was crying and shaking. The shaking was driving me nuts. He was sweating, and he was holding what I think was Katrina’s necklace. He wouldn’t talk. We couldn’t get him to drink anything.”
Dustin Hoffman said that Ditz eventually came to live with him after Seaburn’s death. He talked about an incident when the two of them – with Ditz driving – accidentally drove past the scene of the shooting.
“He was violently shaking,” Dustin Hoffman said. “He started bawling. He just lost it, and he was throwing up. It was just instantly.”
Prior to Dustin Hoffman taking the witness stand, Bishop had called Dr. Brooks to the stand and asked him if he had treated Ditz on March 2, 2017.
Brooks said that he had seen Ditz the night of March 2.
“He wasn’t doing well,” Brooks said. “He was very hysterical, inconsolable. I couldn’t get any information out of him. He couldn’t maintain a sitting position. He was clutching what I felt was a rosary.”
Brooks said there wasn’t anything he could do for Ditz and thought Ditz needed to be taken to the hospital, which Fred Ditz did.
“I felt he should be transported to the emergency room,” Brooks said. “He needed a diagnostic workup, and I thought he needed a sedative.”
Later, when Damien Ditz was on the stand, Bishop asked him if he was still on medication, which Ditz said he was.
Ditz also said he was still affected by the shooting.
“I’m sick,” said Ditz, who could be seen balling his hands into a fist and slumping his shoulders while fighting through tears.
“I’m not right. I’m not normal.”
Fred Ditz and Rebecca Hoffman also testified to Damien Ditz’s condition on the night of Seaburn’s death.
“He was in the bathroom floor (at Strotman’s trailer),” Fred Ditz said. “He wasn’t in good shape. He was doing a lot of shaking.”
Hoffman said that when she arrived at the trailer, Ditz was outside and on the phone with who she soon found out was Seaburn’s mom, Tammy Seaburn.
“He was so distraught,” Rebecca Hoffman said. “He said ‘Aunt Becky, it’s Katrina’s mom.’ I took the phone from him and talked to her. I then took the phone and gave it to a paramedic because she wanted to talk to a paramedic.”
Rebecca Hoffman said Ditz was “gagging and throwing up” when she next saw him.
Fred Ditz said it was a rough night for his son the night of March 1 into March 2.
“He wasn’t real good during the night,” Fred Ditz said. “It was a restless night. He tightened up and had shortness of breath. I took him to the doctor and then to the hospital.”
Fred Ditz said even in the day after the incident, his son had trouble talking, including the day Tammy Seaburn came to Fred Ditz’s house to get her daughter’s stuff. (Katrina Seaburn was staying at Fred Ditz’s place with Damien Ditz at the time of the shooting.)
He said when Tammy Seaburn tried to talk to Damien, Damien wasn’t able to respond. He also said that he was able to get Damien to tell him where Katrina’s stuff was so he could pack it up for Tammy Seaburn; however, he was only able to do that after some prodding.
When Bishop interviewed Beary, who Ditz and Seaburn had gone rabbit hunting with two days prior to Seaburn’s death and who had eaten wings with the couple the day before her death, he asked Beary how the couple’s relationship seemed.
“Did you notice anything off between them (on February 27, 2017),” Bishop asked.
“No,” Beary replied.
“Did they seem to be getting along,” Bishop followed.
“Yes,” Beary said.
Beary went on to say he had never “seen anything between the two (Ditz and Seaburn) of them.”
Bishop then brought Beichner to the stand. Beichner, Beichner’s girlfriend, Ditz, and Seaburn had all gone fishing the night of February 28, 2017, in Pymatuning, Pa.
Bishop asked Beichner if the couple was getting along okay.
“Yes, as far as I could tell, they were getting along fine,” Beichner said.
Aaron cross-examined Beichner and noted that Beichner hadn’t been in the car on the way to Pymatuning with Ditz and Seaburn, and therefore, couldn’t know if they were fighting on the way up.
Bishop then asked Beichner if it seemed like the two had been in a fight when they got out of the car.
“No,” Beichner said.
In a short questioning of Boyer, Bishop asked if Ditz was known to be a violent person.
“He was a non-violent person,” Boyer responded.
In questioning of McHenry, Bishop asked if Ditz was respectful.
“He was always very respectful,” McHenry said. “I never seen him angry. At work, he was non-violent. He was a quiet fellow.”
Bishop also asked many of the witnesses if Ditz had ever had money issues, and not one of them was able to testify that he had.
Rebecca Hoffman, the aunt, said she had told Ditz that if he ever needed anything she would make sure he had it.
“At times, I just gave him money,” Rebecca Hoffman said.
Rebecca Hoffman said she had even lent money to Seaburn on one occasion.
“I think it was $150.00,” Hoffman said. “She told me she would pay me back, and she did.”
Fred Ditz said he would lend his son money when he could, and that his son had seasonal employment.
CLOSING ARGUMENTS TO HAPPEN FRIDAY
Closing arguments and the charging of the jury will occur Friday, December 7, starting at 9:00 a.m.
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