Fulton County Prosecutor Scott Haselman told jurors on the opening day of the Sierah Joughin murder trial that overwhelming evidence will show that alleged killer James Worley “kidnapped her, he murdered her, and he buried her in a cornfield.”
Following the final selection Monday morning of 12 jury members and six alternates, Haselman used his opening statements to recap the alleged events surrounding Joughin’s murder and Worley’s suspected involvement.
In his lengthier opening statement, Haselman told the jurors that Fulton County Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Simon initially searched for Joughin in the late hours of July 19, 2016, just shortly after she was reported missing during a bicycle ride. Simon found the Metamora resident’s sunglasses and blue bicycle just within a cornfield on County Road 6. He also retrieved a green sock identified as one Joughin had been wearing, ear buds, and a towel.
Along with items identified as Joughin’s, Simon and crime scene specialists called to the scene recovered a box of automotive fuses, a pair of male sunglasses, and an orange-handled screwdriver.
Simon reported tire tracks running perpendicular to the roadway in the northwest portion of the cornfield, and and signs of a struggle that included blood on some corn. Impressions of the tire tracks proved to match the make and model of two tires on a green pickup truck owned by Worley.
Haselman said a motorcycle helmet was found on the road and taken by Troy Vandenbusche near the scene that same day. The Jaspar, Mich., farmer, who farms in Fulton County, surrendered the helmet to the county’s authorities the following day after hearing of Joughin’s disappearance.
The helmet was covered in blood that was later determined to be Jougin’s, and authorities allege Worley used it to strike her on the head.
The University of Toledo student was found by a volunteer searcher in a shallow grave on County Road 7 three days after disappearing.
According to reports, reddish brown stains on nearby corn stalks were determined to be blood mixed with both Joughin’s and Worley’s DNA.
“He had to kill her if he was going to get away with it,” Haselman told the jurors.
He said DNA from both subjects was found at three county sites specifically targeted in the investigation.
A search of Worley’s property at 10627 County Road 6 revealed a barn with blacked-out windows and a makeshift U-shaped room inside made of hay bales. Authorities also found a mattress, bags of women’s lingerie, sex toys, sex bondage restraints, duct tape, rubber gloves, clothesline, blood-stained women’s panties, and blood-stained paper towels found to contain both Joughin’s and Worley’s DNA.
A further search revealed a freezer buried in the barn floor that one investigator said smelled of bleach.
An examination of Worley’s trucks found pepper spray, duct tape, and zip ties.
Authorities also found guns hidden in a shop on Worley’s property, a criminal violation due to a previous felony charge against him.
In a much briefer, more concise opening statement, Worley defense team member Merle Beck asked the jury to carefully examine each of the 400 exhibits to be presented during the trial.
“The evidence in this case will come from the exhibits presented to you,” he said. “Focus on what’s not there, because that’s important, too.”
Beck reminded the jurors that Worley cannot be found guilty of a crime until the State of Ohio “has established each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Hasleman then led a quick succession of prosecution witnesses to the stand, including Sheila Vaculik, Joughin’s mother; Joshua Kolasinski, Joughin’s boyfriend; and Lisa Stirn, a County Road 6 resident who witnessed Joughin biking past her home July 19 sometime after 7 p.m. All were questioned to establish the timeline of Joughin’s evening ride and subsequent disappearance.
But the witnesses also included Delta resident Mary Steine, who returned to Fulton County the evening of July 19 after visiting a friend in Blissfield, Mich. After a road blockage led her to decide to take a more scenic route home, Steine traveled south on County Road 6 between County Road T and U.S. 120. There, at about 7:20 p.m., she noticed a bicycle lying alongside the road, along with what appeared to be a light-colored garment.
After slowing to drive around the obstacles she looked right and spotted a male figure wearing red shorts and a possible white shirt crouched within several rows of corn. Steine said she didn’t know what the male was doing, and saw him for just a few seconds before passing the scene.
In cross-examination, she said she couldn’t readily identify the male or what he wore on his upper body, “but he wasn’t that far into the corn, so I saw the red shorts.”
The trial continues on Tuesday.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.
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