“When you boil it down, you have a father's fortune at stake, favorable expiring estate tax laws and defendant's phone call at the scene,” Gilley concluded. “Follow the money. An intelligent, but bankrupt child, who despised her father.” Bath said police never investigated a man with a violent past whom William allegedly made a loan to and was the last person William made contact with before the attacks.
The disputed relationship, or lack thereof, between Susan Van Note and her father William Van Note was the subject of opening statements by the prosecution and defense team Tuesday morning in the second day of the double-homicide trial.
Prosecuting Attorney Michael Gilley and lead defense attorney Tom Bath each spoke for about a half hour explaining to members of the jury the type of evidence they would be presenting and their theories to what happened on the night of Oct. 2, 2010 at William Van Note’s lakefront home in Sunrise Beach.
Judge Kenneth Hayden reminded the jury that opening statements were not evidence and also invoked the witness rule per defendant’s request. Yesterday, Hayden sequestered the 12-person jury, including three alternates for the length of the two-week trial.
Gilley described William Van Note as a wealthy businessman and someone Susan did not get along with. He described their relationship as “volatile” and said the jury would hear conversations between Susan and investigators where she referred to her father as an “asshole, jerk, and obnoxious” and that she “actively avoided” him.
The Camden County prosecutor spoke of a phone call made at 6:40 p.m. the night of the murder between Susan and William Van Note as well as a phone call to a neighbor and 911 around the time of the attacks roughly at 11:09 p.m. Gilley said there were no signs of forced entry and Sharon Dickson’s purse was left unattended with $1,000 of cash. Gilley also referenced a phone call from Van Note to her mother in Lee’s Summit that lasted approximately 13 seconds that occurred around the time of the attacks that would leave Dickson dead and William Van Note fighting on life support, both suffering from multiple gun shot and stab wounds.
Gilley said expert testimony from an FBI agent would confirm the phone call to Lee’s Summit was pinged on a Sunrise Beach cellular tower. Gilley admitted that no weapons were recovered in the attack. Van Note collected $2.8 million in non-probate transfers from her father’s estate at the time of death, Gilley stated.
“When you boil it down, you have a father’s fortune at stake, favorable expiring estate tax laws and defendant’s phone call at the scene,” Gilley concluded. “Follow the money. An intelligent, but bankrupt child, who despised her father.”
Defense attorney Tom Bath described the relationship much differently and said investigators failed to track down additional leads, while focusing their investigation on Susan.
Bath reminded the jury the burden of proof fell on prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had committed the crimes.
“None of their evidence supports their allegations” Bath said. “Not the hair, fiber, DNA, blood, escape route. Nobody saw her or her car. The physical evidence excludes Susan Van Note.”
Bath said there was a cigarette that had DNA on it at the scene that still has never been tested and the phone allegedly used by Susan did not have any blood on it, which he said should raise concerns because of the bloody crime scene and defense wounds exhibited on Dickson.
Van Note did not have any cuts or bruises that were present when she met with investigators following the attacks and none of her clothes had any traces of blood, Bath said.
Bath did say that although Susan’s relationship with her father was not the best, they still maintained an active relationship, evidenced by recent visits and emails supposedly scheduling more visits with Susan and her son. Bath said William could be a difficult man to work with and wanted his daughter to take over the family accounting business, but Susan chose law school instead.
Nonetheless, Bath said, William still had Susan work on various legal documents throughout the years and that Susan wouldn’t have been upset by talk of the couple marrying because it had been discussed in previous years, including a pre-nuptial agreement.
Bath said, according to the gun shot wound to William’s head, the shooter would have to have been aiming straight ahead given the bullet’s trajectory. With William at about 6-feet tall and Susan at about 5’6”, Bath said expert testimony will show Susan didn’t pull the trigger.
William was involved in giving out loans to people who normally wouldn’t qualify through a bank, Bath said. He said Susan felt bad about this and saw her father as sort of a “loan shark” who was taking advantage of people. Bath said police never investigated a man with a violent past whom William allegedly made a loan to and was the last person William made contact with before the attacks.
He concluded that Susan was already entitled to a substantial amount of inheritance from her father, despite the conflicts regarding the estate.
The first witness called by the state was William’s neighbor, friend and handyman, David Ayers, of Sunrise Beach. Ayers was out of town when the crimes were committed, but William did place a distressed phone call to Ayers’ home, which investigators were able to copy with his permission.
Having served as the construction supervisor for the house and regular handyman, Ayers was consistently over at the residence to build things, fix things and winterize boats. A blood smear found on the basement door which leads to the lake front, and that prosecutors believe was used to enter the home during the attacks, was confirmed to be that of Ayers who consented to a buccal swab.
The next witness called by the state was Chris Moehle, a detective with the Camden County Sheriff’s Office at the time. Moehle testified that the blood smear on the door was that of Ayers and did not fit the rest of the brutal crime scene. Moehle is a unique witness in the sense that he was living just about 10 homes down from Van Note at the time. He said he did not hear any gun shots, screams or cars, but due to the rough geography of the area, his house was sitting well below the Van Note residence.
During the defense’s cross-examination, Bath tried to nail down specific details about the night of the attacks, including what the temperature was like, whether it was raining, which lights were on and which doors were opened or unlocked by investigators.
Bath produced a police report that showed Moehle had reached out to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in 2015 to locate the individual whom William had allegedly made a loan to and recently contacted. Moehle said the man was never located.
During Moehle’s testimony, the state played an approximately 25-minute video of the crime scene which showed Dickson covered in blood and wounds lying next to the master bedroom. Prosecutors believe Dickson was in bed, under a comforter, when she was attacked with gunshots and stabbing motions. One bullet casing found in the master bedroom was not discharged, which prosecutors said was a misfire.
Both sides spent a majority of day two going over the layout of the property as well as dozens of crime scene photographs taken by CCSO and Missouri State Highway Patrol. The third witness called was retired former MSHP Sgt. Kurt Mueller, who was one of the initial investigators called to assist CCSO. Mueller’s testimony, which was continuing into the late afternoon, focused on diagrams of the house and floor layouts and MSHP’s role in the investigation.