bThe attorneys presenting closing arguments Monday in the Sierah Joughin capital murder trial in Fulton County Common Pleas Court squared off over evidentiary DNA and whether there is enough of it to convict defendant James Worley.
County Prosecutor Scott Haselman opened the proceedings by telling the jurors that looking at all of the facts individually “establishes the defendant’s guilt in every case beyond a reasonable doubt.” He went on to revisit in detail the events that began July 19, 2016, when 20-year-old Joughin disappeared while riding her bicycle from her boyfriend’s home.
Following a massive search involving state and local law enforcement officers, Joughin’s bound body was found buried in a grave on County Road 7 three days later. A Lucas County coroner later ruled her death due to asphyxiation, although she also suffered a laceration on her face and a hairline skull fracture at the back of her head.
Worley, who authorities had already placed under suspicion, was arrested at his home at 10627 County Road 6. He was later indicted on 19 counts, including murder, aggravated murder, abduction, kidnapping, felonious assault, and abuse of a corpse.
Haselman also spent time discussing the exhibits entered into the case, and DNA evidence from Joughin found on some items. They included a motorcycle helmet owned by Worley, corn stalks at the scenes of Joughin’s alleged abduction and burial, bloody paper towels, an inflatable mattress, and panties found in a north barn on Worley’s property.
“The evidence is the argument,” Haselman told the jurors.
He reminded the jury that evidence showed Worley watched pornography in the hours prior to Joughin’s disappearance, and that the victim’s and defendant’s cell phone records place them in the same area July 19, 2016, at 7:43 p.m. He also reminded them that Worley admitted to driving his green 1995 Dodge Dakota pickup truck to the alleged kidnap scene after 10 p.m., after first saying he was home at the time.
“He lied. Why? That’s what guilty people do,” Haselman said.
He said from the moment Worley attacked Joughin on County Road 6 “he was going to have to kill her if he was going to get away with it…Sierah is buried in a cornfield where he thinks nobody will ever find her.”
He said when it came time to suffocate Joughin, Worley needed something larger than a ball gag to prolong her death.
“He wanted to watch Sierah die. That’s why he used a dog toy,” Haselman said.
Noting that Joughin’s DNA was found at the alleged abduction site, in Worley’s barn, and at her gravesite, Haselman told the jurors, “Now is the time for justice. And without you there can be no justice.”
Defense attorney Merle Dech wasted no time in telling the jurors to “focus on what the State doesn’t have. That is reasonable doubt. The State of Ohio has not proven each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt.”
ing the jury to base their findings on common sense and life experience, Dech reiterated items collected at the alleged crime scenes which didn’t carry Worley’s DNA. They included the Joughin’s bicycle seat and handles, a towel, the exterior of Worley’s motorcycle helmet, handcuffs.
He also said there is no substantial evidence that Joughin was transported to Worley’s barn.
“Any theory that James Worley kidnapped and abducted Sierah Joughin,.. and came into contact with her in any way…is not supported by DNA evidence,” Dech said. “And there’s a simple explanation for that. Because James Worley did not come into contact with Sierah Joughin that night.”
Regarding a dog toy found lodged in Joughin’s throat that caused her death, Dech said, “There’s a simple reason his DNA isn’t on it. He didn’t do it.”
Dech argued testimony provided by a witness who said on the evening of July 19, 2016, she saw a man wearing red shorts leaning over in a cornfield around the time and in the area of the alleged abduction on County Road 6.
“What don’t we have? We don’t have red shorts for James Worley,” he said. “Once again, reasonable doubt. She does not identify James Worley.”
He also criticized the prosecution’s introduction of items found in Worley’s home and barn that were not used as evidence.
And he disputed images on an exterior surveillance camera at Evergreen Local Schools that show a motorcycle and a pickup truck allegedly driven by Worley at different times. Dech said the images are not clear enough to determine Worley is the driver. “It’s a rural area with a lot of trucks,” he said.
And while conceded that Worley watched pornography, he said, “It’s fantasy, not reality.”
Dech concluded his statements by saying, “They’re trying to bolster their case with all these smokescreens here, but there’s not relevance. Proof beyond reasonable doubt is not met. Nothing shows James Worley committed the act – nothing whatsoever…There is nothing presented before you to show that there was purposefulness in Mr. Worley’s mind to kill Miss Joughin.”
In a rebuttal, Haselman reminded jurors that Worley’s DNA was found at every alleged crime scene involved in the case, along with rubber gloves he could have used in commission of the crimes. He also noted bleach found in the barn could have been used to eliminate DNA.
“DNA is powerful evidence. It’s not the only evidence,” he said.
In regard to other prosecution evidence Dech criticized, Haselman said, “It’s the context that gives it meaning. Follow the trail of evidence.”
Following lengthy instructions given by Judge Jeffrey Robinson for its deliberations, the jury was given the case at 2:50 p.m.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.