The forensics expert for the defense said he ran a series of simulations based on certain evidence. His results, he testified, effectively ruled Susan Van Note out of the equation based on his theories of how the attack occurred. However, with no gun residue or soot deposits uncovered on any of the evidence, that opinion was in conflict with that of pathologists and criminalists called by the prosecution. Then a long-time family friend Nancy Wilhite testified about family dynamics and William Van Note's Durable Power of Attorney. She described William as a man with a temper who was "loud, raunchy, inappropriate with women. His vocabulary was less than desirable. We saw the good, bad and ugly. He was kind to us; we saw the heart. He was a good man who needed some control management.”
The defense for Susan Van Note rested its case Monday evening after 6:30 p.m. following tense testimony from its expert forensic criminalist that lasted over five hours. The prosecution took exception to the witness’ conclusive tone and wording which previous prior experts and law enforcement officials have shied away from when either directly or cross-examined.
The defendant and daughter, charged with killing her father William Van Note and long-time girlfriend Sharon Dickson on Oct. 2, 2010 has exercised her constitutional right to remain silent. Her mother and William Van Note’s ex-wife, Barbara Van Note, nor any members of the Dickson family were called to testify by either side in the trial soon to be in the hands of the 12-person Laclede County jury.
John Wilson, a private crime scene investigator with a degree in biology and chemistry as well as over 30 years experience at Kansas City’s regional crime lab, was hired on Nov. 29, 2010 by the defense team of Tom and Trisha Bath to examine the crime and reviewed the State’s evidence in 2014.
Wilson offered his findings in four reports that essentially concluded Susan Van Note could not have pulled the trigger on the fatal bullet delivered to her father William Van Note’s head. Based on bullet trajectory, the angle of the projectile and blood evidence, the attacker would have been tall, even as tall as 6’9”, Wilson testified based on his mathematical equations, which he said were founded in the latest evidence-based research studies on the subject matter.
Wilson said he ran a series of equations, effectively simulations, based on the entry wounds, casing locations and blood splatter evidence, taking into account Van Note’s height and arm length, as well as the distance from the attack to the victim. His results, he testified, effectively ruled Susan Van Note out of the equation based on his theories of how the attack occurred.
However, no gun residue or soot deposits were uncovered on any of the evidence, including the bodies of Van Note and Dickson, which pathologists and criminalists had earlier testified made it impossible to determine a conclusive distance from which the gun was fired from.
Wilson said given defense wounds exhibited by Dickson, blood splatter and luminal testing done at the scene, which illuminates blood that cannot be seen by the human eye, a physical encounter by the assailant and Dickson was painfully apparent, he said.
The confrontation, he believed, caused the live round found at the scene to be ejected from the handgun based on Dickson’s self-defense attempts applying pressure to the switch, but nonetheless, resulted in her being shot three times and stabbed 18 stab times. The attacker couldn’t have left the scene without taking some blood and other evidence with them, and probably a lot given the amount of blood and brutal nature of the attacks, he said positively.
Wilson’s theory is that the attack was a crime of opportunity spoiled by William Van Note getting up to let a dog in that was barking on a lower level of the house. Wilson said he believed the attacker had a robbery, rape or some other time of crime in mind when he saw or heard Van Note leave the master bedroom and begin walking down the hallway toward the stairs.
Wilson said he believed the attacker shot William Van Note in the back first, and then the head, and then the shoulder before he was stabbed. The shot to the head rendered him unconscious in the hallway, unbeknownst to Dickson who was sleeping in the master bedroom, he said.
The attacker then entered the bedroom and fired three shots into Dickson, before she began confronting the attacker, he said. The confrontation lead the attacker to use a knife and there was evidence in the comforter of several holes common with multiple stabbing entry and exits, Wilson said. Dickson was stabbed several times while on her stomach, Wilson concluded given blood spatter evidence.
Several pieces of evidence were not available for further DNA analysis, Wilson said, that included a white spindle from a hand railing that appeared to show a bloody fingerprint, additional materials collected from Dickson’s body including two blood droplets on one of her calves he said he was sure didn’t come from Dickson or Van Note given the time of the attacks and drip-dry pattern.
Other unavailable further evidence included a cigarette butt found outside that was never positively accounted for, as well as known matches of DNA for Susan and William Van Note, including hair to test against the unaccounted for “male, brown” hair found on the bloody yellow robe Van Note was believed to be wearing during the attacks and later took off and left in the downstairs bathroom.
Wilson said he also didn’t see any luminal reports from Camden County Sheriff’s Office which he used to map out the movements of Dickson and Van Note during the attacks.
Cross gets heated
During cross examination, Assistant Attorney General Kevin Zoellner went back-and-forth with Wilson on his choice of words, and what the prosecutor called his personal “assumptions” regarding theories as to what happened that night.
The aggressive, voice-escalating question and response drew several sustained objections from defense attorney Tom Bath over the misuse of the defendant’s name when describing the attacker while posing theories, which Zoellner was always quick to apologize for as misspeaking.
Judge Hayden also allowed both attorneys to approach the podium to straighten out the line of questioning. He issued two reminders to both Zoellner and Wilson to let each other finish each other’s questions and responses, and to slow down their pace for the court reporter’s sake.
Zoellner posed alternative theories seemingly backed up by Missouri State Highway Patrol criminalists who testified yesterday that there wasn’t enough DNA evidence available to make full conclusions about when certain wounds occurred and the validity of insignificant DNA findings in regards to attacker location and victim movements.
The prosecution attorney particularly took issue with how Wilson described the attacks and what was theoretically and physically possible given the evidence examined and presented in this trial.
Ultimately, Zoellner was able to get Wilson to admit that alternate theories and assumptions the prosecutor posed regarding movements, wound entry times and details of the night of the attack were plausible, while others simply weren’t. Wilson has received approximately $40,000 in payments from the defense and would likely collect more after the conclusion of his testimony, he confirmed.
During re-direct examination Bath effectively told the jury through a series of questions to Wilson about the DNA collected from the scene by investigators, that if the prosecution had any solid physical evidence they would have presented it so far in trial.
It’s unclear what the jury thought of the nearly five-hour testimony who at times looked frustrated at the seemingly semantical arguing and contested conclusions.
Near life-long friend of William Van Note testifies to his last will
Nancy Wilhite said she met “Bill” Van Note in 1970 or 1971. He was a college buddy of her husband — who has since passed — and the four of them, including Barbara, spent the next four decades together.
“They were very dear people,” she told the jury, adding they spent Thanksgivings, Fourth of Julys, Halloweens, birthdays, anniversaries, and life and death together. While Susan was growing up she called Wilhite “Aunt Nancy” and her kids called Barbara and William, “Uncle Bill and Aunt Barb.”
Wilhite said the Van Note’s had a son who died in the mid-1980’s, Brad Van Note — not to be confused with Susan’s son Brad Parker — who was “always in a vegetative state” from a young age suffering from multiple illnesses. Wilhite said she remembered Brad had passed when Susan was 15 and heading into high school and that Brad Van Note must have been 16-years-old when he passed.
Wilhite said she and her husband made a conscious decision “not to pick sides” when Barbara and William divorced sometime afterward and all four remained active parts of each other’s and their kids’ lives.
In the defense’s favor, Wilhite backed up several allegations made by Susan Van Note in her conversations with police following the attacks on Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 4 and 5 while at University Hospital in Columbia.
“He did have a temper; we saw fits,” Wilhite said, adding that it was in front of both sets of kids. “He was loud, raunchy, inappropriate with women. His vocabulary was less than desirable. We saw the good, bad and ugly. He was kind to us; we saw the heart. He was a good man who needed some control management.”
Wilhite, who worked for William at his accounting firm in Liberty for a short period, said William was incredibly accommodating to her while she was employed and also taking care of her husband who was in declining health. She said he had a reputation around the office and several people would call in if they knew he would be there as this was during the time he spent six months a year in Florida.
“People really disliked him,” she told the jury.
William and Susan were “quite alike,” Wilhite said in the sense that they were both stubborn and hard-headed, which made them clash. She admitted they had a “rocky relationship,” but “nothing abnormal,” especially for a teenager going through a divorce, she said.
She said as Susan did to investigators that their relationship seemed to improve around the time her son Brad Parker was born. Wilhite said William and Brad were “kindred spirits” who could pass hours playing video games or doing whatever Brad wanted.
Wilhite said things also seemed to be getting less “contentious” when William finally realized Susan wasn’t going to work for him and eventually sold his business.
When William was still on life support on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2010, Wilhite met Van Note at the hospital as she was in town for the birth of a grandson. She testified she’ll never forget doctors squeezing his broken big toe and William showing no reaction or movement whatsoever.
“It felt like he was dead,” she said.
During cross examination, Zoellner questioned whether or not Wilhite knew the Durable Power of Attorney health directives document presented by Susan to the doctors for her father had been a forgery and a separate, different version from 2004 was never presented. Wilhite said she didn’t question the document because “I knew that’s what he wanted.”
Wilhite said she didn’t recall whether or not Susan told her that the doctors wanted to wait an extra day to run additional tests and see if his condition had improved, as Susan referenced in her talks with investigators.
Wilhite said she had a memorable conversation on the topic of last wills at Van Note’s residence at the Lake of the Ozarks in the summer of 2007.
“He was adamant he did not want to live if he could not maintain his current quality of life,” she told the jury, adding that meant his current level of full functioning at the time. “His dad had died in a nursing home; Bill was not that type of person.”
“Whether it was signed or not,” Wilhite said. “I felt it (DPOA health directives) reflected his views.”