WATERLOO — County prosecutors continued a hard push Monday to establish Theresa "Terri" Supino's motive to kill her estranged husband, 20-year-old Steven Fisher, and his girlfriend, 17-year-old, at the Copper Dollar Ranch 32 years ago.
Witnesses at the Black Hawk County Courthouse in Waterloo testified to multiple verbal and physical altercations between Fisher and Supino which the state hopes will convince jurors the defendant had the anger and will to kill the victims.
The state did not shy away from painting Fisher's actions in both relationships as questionable at best. Sandra Cupples is a Gregory family friend who looked at Melisa like a "little sister." She testified Monday to witnessing a fight between Gregory and Supino outside a Newton bar in 1982. She said Fisher arrived at the bar with his then-wife Supino and persisted in "encouraging" or antagonizing a fight between the defendant and Gregory. Cupples said Fisher fought onlookers back with a crowbar allowing the fight between the women to continue.
"You could tell that Stevie was egging Terri on to start a fight with Melisa, and you could tell she didn't want to." Cupples said. "From past experience she had been on the worst end of the fights and basically Stevie was make (Terri) start the fight."
The defense referenced the brutality of the fight, with co-defense counsel Jill Eimermann asking Cupples if Gregory in fact "beat the hell out of" Supino during the 1982 fight. The defense was presumably alluding to Gregory's ability to defend herself against the defendant.
State's witness Shelly Audas testified that she remembers watching Supino say to a Ouija Board while the two were neighbors in the early 90s "son of a [expletive] if I can't have him, nobody will." This comment referenced earlier testimony by Supino co-worker Brenda Eilander who heard a similar statement from the defendant prior to the murders.
Audas also knew with both victims well prior to their 1983 deaths, and testified they appeared "very close" while in public together. The defense reference a "gathering" the witness attended two days before the murders where Fisher was alleging distributing drugs and possessed cocaine. The witness told attorneys without jurors present, she had no first-hand knowledge of Fisher's drug activities or who told her the information.
"When you spoke with the officers, you indicated that at that gathering Steven Fisher was supplying drugs and that he had lots of cocaine," Eimermann said. "Do you recall saying that?"
"I said that I had heard that at the party," Audas said. "I never saw it. I never used it. I heard about it."
"So your testimony today is that you did not tell law enforcement in your prior interview that you had seen Steven Fisher two nights before (his murder) supplying drugs and having lots of cocaine?" Eimermann said.
"I didn't see him supply it, no," Audas said.
Iowa 5th District Court Judge Terry Rickers ruled the testimony was based on hearsay and would not be admissible for jurors' consideration. But Judge Rickers did reference his pretrial motion stating evidence supporting an alleged drug-related hit on the victims would be admissible if the defense could provide prior proof to the court. He also indicated the court did not specify as to the type of drugs allowed for discussion during the trial — whether marijuana or cocaine is mentioned.
This was not the defense's first attempt to raises question Monday of drug activity at the former CDR. After state's witness Pam DeBruyn — former wife of CDR employee Jeff Illingworth — recalled an event where Supino allegedly threatened Fisher and Gregory from outside DeBruyn and Illingworths' apartment in 1982, the defense attempted to question DeBruyn about now-deceased Illingworth's involvement in Hal Snedeker's alleged drug running from the CDR.
The court sustained the state's objection to the line of questioning, but Judge Rickers did allow DeBruyn to answer the defense when asked regarding her family's safety in the two weeks following the CDR murders. The witness said her family stayed with Hal and Linda Snedeker for protection during that time.
Following the noon recess, the state called Supino's former softball teammate Julie McPherren who an allegedly witness to an incident in 1979 — while Fisher and Supino were dating — in which the defendant chased Fisher with a car, forcing him to climb a softball diamond backstop to avoid getting hit.
The state attempted to draw parallels between this incident and a separate event referenced in testimony Friday from former CDR co-owner Linda Snedeker who claims to have been an eye witness to another fight between the defendant and Fisher involving a car in February 1983. She testified that Supino pulled Fisher down a gravel driveway with his arm rolled up in the car's window. Multiple witnesses have testified to seeing the victim in a cast or sling following the alleged incident — including DeBruyn — although the timeline from each witness has varied between Feb. 1983 and fall of 1982.
McPherren testified first without jurors present. The defense objected to the witness's testimony claiming county prosecutors were attempting to paint the defendant's character negatively. The defense also stated a 1979 event prior to Fisher and Supino's marriage was too far out from the murders and should not be used to establish motive.
Ultimately, jurors heard McPherren's account, as Judge Rickers ruled in favor of the state deciding the incident did align with his pretrial motion of these "prior bad acts" to establish "animus" between the defendant and the victim.
Former Jasper County Attorney John Billingsley took the stand and provided details of an unsolicited 1987 interview request from Supino. The witness said the defendant was interested in the autopsy report. It wasn't uncommon, Billingsley said, for Supino to ask to meet with investigators and the county attorney's office on anniversaries of the murders.
Billingsley said he used crime scene photos as "props" during the interview, hoping to illicit a response, confession or piece of information from Supino to further the case. The former county attorney testified that Supino appeared more interested in a photo of a tire track taken at the scene in 1983 and only skimmed the autopsy report. Supino met with Billingsley and then-deputy sheriff Mike Balmer from nearly six hours.
The defense questioned why Billingsley did not file charges in the case before he left the county attorney's office in 1988. He said without a statute of limitations, he felt more investigation was in order.
"In a case of this nature there is no time limit of filing charges," Billingsley said. "I just felt like there was more to know, more to be learned, so I felt that additional research and study was necessary."
Due to an unexpected death within a juror's family, the court ruled to extend adjournment through Tuesday. Proceedings and witness testimony will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Black Hawk County Courthouse.
For updates and archived stories on the Copper Dollar Ranch murders, go to newtondailynews.com, follow @NewtonDNews on Twitter and Facebook and see full recaps off Friday's trail-related events from Waterloo in Monday's print edition.
Contact Mike Mendenhall at firstname.lastname@example.org