Wrapping up week one of the Brad Compher murder trial - where is the defense going? - East Idaho News
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Wrapping up week one of the Brad Compher murder trial — where is the defense going?

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POCATELLO — Through three days of trial, the defense’s case is in full focus.

Defense attorney J. Scott Andrew appears to be just as concerned with disproving robbery and rape as he is in disproving Brad Compher’s role in Nori Jones’ murder.

RELATED | LIVE UPDATES | Day 3: Murder trial for Brad Compher, man accused of killing Nori Jones in 2004

The “why?” is quite simple. Compher is charged with first-degree murder, meaning the prosecution must prove — beyond a reasonable doubt — that Compher killed Jones either following premeditation or in the commission of another crime — in this case, rape and robbery.

If the prosecution cannot prove one of those, the jury will be instructed they must acquit Compher of the murder charge.

A Bannock County Deputy Prosecutor not involved with this case explained to EastIdahoNews.com that a murder acquittal would mean the dismissal of the deadly weapon enhancement. In that case, Compher would be released after being held in Bannock County Jail custody for nearly 10 years.

RELATED | LIVE UPDATES | Day 2: Murder trial for Brad Compher, man accused of killing Nori Jones in 2004

Jones was found unresponsive in her bed the morning of Sept. 28, 2004, by co-workers who were concerned about her well-being when she did not show up for work.

According to testimony offered by former forensic pathologist Steven Skoumal, who performed Jones’ autopsy, the cause of death was ruled to be stab and cut wounds. While Skoumal was unable to determine which of the numerous wounds to Jones’ head, neck, trunk and extremities was the death wound, he did find that five of the wounds were “potentially fatal.”

While suspects were identified and investigated, it took 10 years for an arrest to be made.

Compher, formerly known as Ralph Roy Compher, was arrested in 2014 and charged with the murder. He was linked to the case by DNA, following technological advancements in forensic investigations.

RELATED | LIVE UPDATES: Murder trial begins for Brad Compher, man accused of killing Nori Jones in 2004

Compher day 3, Skoumal
Steven Skoumal testifies Friday. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

During opening statements Wednesday, defense attorney J. Scott Andrew acknowledged that Nori Jones suffered a violent death. But, he told the jury, the prosecution would not be able to provide any motive for murder.

More than 15 witnesses have testified through two-and-a-half days of trial. Aside from Friday afternoon, when the prosecution began exploring the collection and storage of fingerprint evidence, every witness had been asked about an engagement ring Jones was known to wear.

According to Jennifer Heisler, a co-worker and close friend of Jones who testified Wednesday, Jones bought the ring herself as a deterrent from being hit on by men. Heisler and Mark Mayfield, another friend and co-worker who testified Wednesday, said Jones always wore the ring.

Additionally, Heisler commented during questioning that the ring was the most expensive item that would have been in Jones’ home at the time of her murder.

That explains why the defense continues to question witnesses about the ring.

Suppose the ring, along with several electronic devices — which would have been targeted in a robbery, especially in the early 2000s — were not taken. In that case, it stands to reason that there was no robbery.

The prosecution has also been asking about the ring. It seems they are setting up a case for the ring being the reason for the attack.

As Heisler said during her testimony, Jones used the ring to deter male callers. If Jones flashed the ring at her eventual murderer — Compher or someone else — who understood its value, it may have been the target of an attempted robbery.

That, in turn, is why the position of Jones’ left hand at the time her body was discovered has become another hot topic.

In pictures published to the jury, Jones’ left hand is curled in a very unusual fashion. Her fingers appear to be bent back toward her palm, almost as if it were a fist. But — and it is a huge but — the left ring finger, where she wore the ring, is awkwardly extended straight.

It would appear that the ring finger was straightened from the other fingers after the onset of rigor mortis.

While testifying Friday, former Pocatello police Anthony Busch said the ring fell, he suspects, from Jones’ body while she was being transported through the kitchen and out of the house.

The prosecution could be setting up the argument that Jones’ murderer targeted her with the intent to take the ring but failed. Perhaps the suggestion would be that the killer pulled the ring from Jones’ finger but then dropped it and in their haste to flee the scene and could not search thoroughly enough to find it.

Compher day 3 Busch 2
Anthony Busch testifies Friday. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

As for rape, that angle has been addressed but not at great length — as experts who could provide greater insight have yet to be called to testify.

What we have heard in court is that a sexual assault examination was performed, and Jones’ body swabbed for DNA. DNA experts are expected to take the stand next week and allegations of rape will likely be brought.

The presumption is that Compher’s DNA was found on Jones.

If that is the case, testimonies from Heisler and Jones’ former boyfriend — and, according to some testimonies, fiancee — Reo Wilde would return to relevance.

Wilde testified that he believes he was Jones’ first sexual partner. Heisler added that Jones loved Wilde beyond measure and would not have been dating anyone else.

So, if Compher’s DNA — specifically semen — was present on Jones’ body, the insinuation would be that he raped her either before or after he killed her.

But, during discussions between the prosecution and defense at previous pre-trial hearings, Andrew brought up a DNA expert he believes would challenge whether any DNA found at the scene could absolutely be identified as semen.

Skoumal testified Friday that semen and blood cells are microscopically different.

The defense here would be, if the cells cannot unequivocally be identified as semen cells, can we say — again, beyond a reasonable doubt — that the DNA donor’s semen was present?

Brad Scott Compher
Compher during a pre-trial hearing. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

Strangely, this trial — through its first three days — has become as much of a rape-robbery case as a murder case.

That being said, it would be possible for the prosecution to prove premeditation without proving the murder was committed in the commission of another premeditated felony.

The prosecutor who spoke with EastIdahoNews.com explained that premeditation does not have a time qualification.

The prosecutor used the Jesse Leigh murder case as an example.

RELATED | ‘I hate myself for doing this.’ Pocatello man who killed 2, including wife, gets 30 years to life

Leigh pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. In that case, the prosecutor said, an audio recording from inside the home where Leigh killed his estranged wife and her boyfriend caught Leigh breathing heavily and making a threatening comment.

While it was mere moments before Leigh shot the two victims, it was enough to show he considered the crime before committing it — which was determined to be enough to show premeditation.

There is no audio recording of Jones’ murder, though, so the prosecution would have to find another way to prove the murderer had a similar moment of clarity.

The trial resumes Monday morning when experts are expected to testify for the prosecution.

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