ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Prosecutors believe a hair found in the home of Lydia Ashworth following her murder will prove to positively identify Devon Wayne Fuller as one of the individuals responsible for her death.
That disclosure was presented Monday as the capital murder trial for Fuller, 20, of 3567 Franklin St., Bellaire got underway. Fuller faces two counts of aggravated murder committed in the course of rape and aggravated burglary, one count of aggravated burglary, one count of burglary and two counts of trespassing in connection with the June 30, 2012 murder of the 92-year-old Ashworth. His co-defendant, Brandon Michael Phelps, of 1281 Birch St., Bellaire, faces similar charges.
Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Flanagan said during his opening remarks that Ashworth had been found beaten and strangled.
"That was her home. That was the home she and her husband built 50 years ago," he said, adding that the house had been ransacked for money and valuables. "Murdering Mrs. Ashworth wasn't enough. Causing this most violent, turbulent end wasn't enough."
Flanagan said investigators found DNA evidence at the scene, including a hair that yielded a DNA profile.
"The hair belonged to somebody who had no right, no reason and no privilege to be in that house," he said. "The DNA profile of that hair was Devon Wayne Fuller's."
However, Kirk McVey, who is representing Fuller, said the evidence was in doubt, even at a time of advanced scientific knowledge and procedure.
"The case against Devon Wayne Fuller is as thin as the hair they rely upon to make the case," he said.
McVey said the case is biased, standing on questionable witnesses and one piece of circumstantial evidence. He said the investigating agents and examiners acted on assumptions proven to be false and ignored additional leads and pieces of evidence.
"Evidence was ignored, mishandled and misplaced," he said.
Following opening statements, Ashworth's daughter Sylvia Eimer took the stand for the prosecution. She described her mother's life and their last conversation by phone the night of June 29. Eimer said the next day she and her husband became worried when the phone was unanswered. Eimer's voice shook and broke as she described the experience of discovering her mother's body in the house where she had been raised.
"The door frame was completely down. My dad built that door frame, and it was down," she said. "She worked hard. She didn't deserve this."
Karissa Dutcher - who had been in a relationship with Phelps at the time of the crime - testified she visited Fuller and Phelps at a friend's house following the incident. She stated she heard the two have a conversation and use the phrase, "what's done is done."
Dutcher said the statement raised suspicions in her mind, but she delayed coming forward and speaking to Bellaire police until August.
Also testifying Monday were Lt. John Watson of the Bellaire Police Department and BCI Special Agent Ed Lulla, who handled DNA samples from both Fuller and the crime scene. After a request from BCI to resubmit the evidence was made, Watson said all proper procedures were followed, and Fuller was arrested less than two months later.
However, McVey questioned Watson about the police department's procedure for storing evidence and submitting it to BCI. While Watson said the regulations were strictly adhered to and a record was maintained of everyone who handled evidence, McVey said human error remained a factor.
McVey also referred to a BCI report which stated that while the initial examination of the crime scene suggested a rape, BCI report found no rape had occurred.
Belmont County Prosecutor Dan Fry said the state would address that point when a medical expert takes the stand today.