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Prosecution rests in Dunlap murder trial

April 08, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The day before Jennifer Leigh Dodson was last seen alive, she handed a co-worker a piece of paper, telling her that it was her new phone number and not to give it to anyone, especially Vernon Dunlap Sr., Annette McDonald testified Thursday.

McDonald, who worked with Dodson at Fertig Cabinet Co. in Martinsburg, W.Va., said that Dunlap "was very attentive" to Dodson, 20. Dunlap, 46, worked at Newbraugh's, an adjacent lumber supply store.

"He was in and out all day long. He called constantly. He would beat on the wall because our businesses were adjoined," McDonald testified.

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McDonald said that Dunlap would call Fertig Cabinet Co. 10 to 15 times a day, stop by four or five times a day and occasionally bring Dodson breakfast or lunch.

McDonald was one of 10 witnesses who testified during the third day of Dunlap's murder trial. He is charged with slashing Dodson's throat on either the night of Feb. 18, 2004, or early on Feb. 19, 2004, in her Charles Town apartment. Her body was found at 9 a.m. Feb. 19, 2004.

McDonald said that she became worried when Dodson, a reliable employee, failed to show up for work Feb. 19, 2004. She eventually went to Dodson's apartment, where a police officer broke the news of her friend's death by asking if she knew who might have cut the young woman's throat.

Prosecutors and police have alleged that Dunlap killed Dodson because she wanted to end their relationship.

During a lively cross-examination, Dunlap's attorney, Craig Manford, contrasted McDonald's testimony with a statement she gave to police at 10:15 a.m. the day Dodson's body was found.

At that time, McDonald was asked whether she knew of any problems Dodson had been having. She answered that Dodson had had problems with the man who had fathered Dodson's daughter.

Asked about Dunlap, McDonald told police, "He works at Newbraugh's and he was very good to her. She stated just the other day that he treats her like a queen," according to a portion of the statement that Manford read aloud.

In response, McDonald said that she was confused and upset at the time she gave the statement.

Prosecutors have relied on statements given by friends, family members and co-workers of both Dodson and Dunlap. There is no forensic evidence - fingerprints or DNA - linking Dunlap to the murder.

The state rested its case at around 4:15 p.m. and the jurors - eight men and four women - were sent home.

The defense will begin its case today.

A second co-worker of Dodson, Megan Butler, said that Dodson had discussed the relationship with her. Butler said she was concerned about the age difference between the two and suggested that Dunlap might have been the person who tampered with Dodson's car and entered her apartment, moving things around.

Another concern, she said, was that Dunlap had previously spent time in prison for trying to kill his wife.

Dunlap's ex-wife, Betty Yates, testified that in March 1994 Dunlap ran the car in which she was riding off the road, broke the passenger side window and stabbed her several times.

She said Dunlap tried to cut her throat but inadvertently had the back side of the blade against her neck.

Dunlap pleaded guilty to malicious wounding and served two years in prison.

Scott Marshall, wearing jail-issued orange clothing and shackled at his ankles, said that Dunlap confessed to the murder while the two shared a cell at Eastern Regional Jail.

Marshall said Dunlap told him he approached Dodson from behind, cut her throat and then laid her on her floor.

Dodson's body was found face-down on her living room floor. Her body was covered with a blanket and her head was on a pillow.

On cross-examination, Manford pointed out that Marshall is incarcerated because he was convicted of attempted murder, malicious wounding, unlawful possession of a firearm and domestic battery.

Marshall shot one of his wife's legs, causing it to be amputated.

Marshall's description of how the murder happened is consistent with Dodson's injuries, Dr. Zia Sabet, the state's chief medical examiner, testified.

Sabet held up an autopsy photograph of Dodson's neck, which showed the cut on her neck and well as a red mark that Sabet said was caused by someone pulling on her necklace.

Strangulation might have been a contributing factor to Dodson's death, he said.

Because no marks from the necklace were found on the back of Dodson's neck, it likely was pulled from behind by someone, Sabet said.

Before Sabet testified and while the jury was out of the courtroom, Circuit Judge Thomas Steptoe warned audience members that Sabet's testimony would be "graphic and, quite frankly, is upsetting to all of us."

Two people left the room.

Sabet testified that Dodson's jugular vein was cut and that she would have been in pain and aware of what was happening.

Death would not have been immediate. It can take 30 minutes or more for a person with such a wound to die. Survival is possible, Sabet said, if medical help is immediately received.

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