By Ed Meyer
Beacon Journal staff writer
The fate of a Barberton man charged with aggravated murder and death penalty specifications rests with the jury understanding a defense assertion that the facts of the case do not support the legal building blocks behind those serious charges.
In a short, plainly worded opening statement Friday in the Summit County capital murder trial of David A. Stoddard, 25, of Barberton, defense attorney Brian Pierce did not attempt to cloak his strategy.
He flatly told the panel it is not a case of “who done it,” and that Stoddard certainly is “no angel.”
In the early hours of Jan. 6 last year, both sides agreed, Stoddard brought two semiautomatic handguns into a cramped home, at 261 East Archwood Avenue in Akron, looking for his 21-year-old girlfriend, who wasn’t there.
Angry words were exchanged inside after a night of partying and drinking at a nightclub, and Stoddard opened fire moments later on the young occupants.
Anna Karam, 16, of Akron, was fatally shot in the head, an unborn child succumbing with her. A second victim, Jessica Halman, 20, of Barberton, was shot in the left side of the head but survived.
Anna had been pregnant with a boy, prosecutors said, for 19 to 21 weeks.
The defense didn’t try to hide any of that in openings.
Stoddard, Pierce said, “bears responsibility for what happened. He absolutely does. The reason why we’re here having this trial,” he stressed, “is that the facts of the case don’t support the aggravated murder charges.”
Stoddard is facing seven counts.
The first aggravated murder count, prosecutors said, is for purposely causing Karam’s death while committing an aggravated burglary.
The second aggravated murder count, an alternate theory of the crime, involves the elements of prior calculation and design in connection with Karam’s death.
Both charges carry capital specifications. The first is for purposely killing two or more in a continuing course of conduct, the second for purposely killing or attempting to kill two or more.
Stoddard also is charged with two counts of attempted murder, aggravated burglary, felonious assault and involuntary manslaughter. Under state law, prosecutors must prove each and every element of a particular charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
“If one of those elements fails,” Pierce told the jury, “the charge fails.”
He summed up by noting that Stoddard did not barge into the home with the intent, or purpose, to kill anyone.
Pierce said the ordeal began on the evening before the shootings, Jan. 5, when Stoddard, Halman and five other young men and women, including Stoddard’s girlfriend, went to the Lux nightclub in downtown Akron in separate cars.
As they were heading home, Halman and Stoddard got into a heated argument in his car. Halman and Stoddard’s girlfriend, testimony showed, got out and were picked up by the second car. But by the time Stoddard barged into the East Archwood home, his girlfriend had already left.
Summit Assistant Prosecutor Justin Richard said Stoddard fired four shots into the tightly cramped quarters and fled, checking into a Wadsworth motel. Police found him there with one of the guns at about 4:25 a.m. The second was found in his car.
Richard said the Summit County Medical Examiner and experts from the state crime lab will testify that Stoddard’s DNA was on the gun in his car. Four shell casings from that gun, along with a bullet recovered in Karam’s autopsy, Richard said, matched the gun’s ballistic markings.
When Stoddard pulled the gun, Richard said, he held it only inches from Halman’s left temple and fired. As Stoddard was about to leave, he paused over Halman’s fallen body, Richard said.
“Whether it’s to admire his work, or to see if he had finished the job, he kind of scoffs or laughs, then continues out the door,” the prosecutor said.
Halman was the state’s first witness. She said she was shot near the left ear. The bullet lodged in the upper spinal area in the back of her head, and surgeons were unable to remove it, she said, without causing catastrophic damage.
She gave a written statement to police about what happened that night. Under cross examination, Pierce asked Halman if she felt Stoddard meant to shoot Anna Karam.
“He may not have meant to shoot Anna,” Halman answered, reading from her statement, “but he meant to shoot me.”
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330 996-3784 or email@example.com.