Investigator called to stand
Becky Sittig took the stand Monday in the murder trial of Sessions Harper in Storm Lake. The 22-year-old friend of victim Holly Michael gave her version of the night before Michael was attacked, bound and set on fire.
"We met at Holly's house and we did drink, smoke some weed and did cocaine," Sittig said on the stand.
The accused, Sessions Harper, along with Sittig and another friend, Ashligh Attig, met at Michael's home, where the victim's mother and her child were away.
After drinking and using some drugs, they visited a bar called Billiards to dance and drink. The group returned to Michael's house later, where a few more acquaintances showed up.
Sittig left in the early morning hours and returned to the home she shared with Attig, who has a son with Harper. Harper left the Michael home at the same time.
Sittig said she was upset with Harper touching her during the evening and left for her mother's house.
Attig took the stand, remembering similar events. She said she had intercourse with Harper that day, January 7. He is accused of raping Michael and attempting to kill her and burn the home to cover up the crime the next day. Attig said that Harper had dropped off his video game system at her house early on the 8th and then left right away, but she was unable to place the exact time or his whereabouts at the time leading up to the crime.
Tracy Marnao of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation took the stand to discuss her findings during the investigation. She and her partner photographed the scene and collected evidence over a period of two days.
One of the items found was a white cap believed to be part of a paint thinner bottle used to douse Michael in the basement of the home. A knife was found in a hallway. In the basement besides the comforter where Michael was bound, they removed a pair of sunglasses with evidence believed to tie them to Harper.
Mike Williams of the defense asked why a footprint that was found near the cap was not presented as evidence, and Marnao said that it was decided not to be important.
Marnao described a kitchen stove that had been knocked over with burner gas turned on. The range surface was checked for fingerprints, but not the side that would have been handled to pull the appliance over.
Jesse Dunn, an arson investigator for the DCI, tested the comforter that had been thrown over Michael and set ablaze. Gasoline and a medium petroleum base product were found on the comforter. Paint thinner is such a product.
Dunn was also asked to check a black leather coat with a hood for signs that it had been near a fire, but admitted that there is no scientific way to test for the byproduct of fires.
Eugene Czarenca, a fingerprint expert for the DCI, testified for the late Frank Tracy, the original investigator on the case, who passed away in September from a heart attack.
Czarenca studied Frank's findings and performed some test of his own. He explained that there are different type of fingerprints and that touching a surface does not necessarily mean that a print will be left behind.
Czernaca said a positive print was found on the sunglasses located in the basement.
"The print found on the glasses match records that have the name of Sessions Harper," Czernaca said.
Sergeant Joe Bates of the Fort Dodge Police Department was one of the detectives called onto the case and conducted interviews as well as served search warrants for Harper's house and a car belonging to Harper's mother-in-law. Bates also did interviews with witnesses who placed Harper near the scene of the crime.
Jimmy Parker, a former employee of Harper, said Harper would have access to black twist ties that he said were in Harper's home. Such ties were reportedly found in the bedroom of Holly Michael, along with sheets and a condom. The room had been set on fire, but those items were not destroyed.
Parker said he remembered seeing Harper on January 7, 2006 and said he didn't report in to work on the Monday afterward. Harper was arrested in Des Moines a few days after the crime.
The trial will resume today and the state plans to call more witnesses, including people who have placed Harper near Michael's house.