WATERLOO —Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty took the stand Monday afternoon in the double murder trial of Theresa "Terri" Supino, detailing his personal stake in the Copper Dollar Ranch cold case, as well as the amount of time and effort he's invested in the investigation.
Attorneys for Supino tried to show what they've characterized as theatrics and staging in some of the decisions leading to Supino's March 3, 2014 arrest.
Supino is facing two counts of first-degree murder in the March 3, 1983 killings of her estranged husband Steven Fisher, 20, and his girlfriend, 17-year-old Melisa Gregory, at the Copper Dollar Ranch northwest of Newton.
Co-defense counsel Steve Addington appeared to criticize Halferty for coordinating the CDR investigation with the TNT television program "Cold Justice." Halferty said "Cold Justice" producers provided resources to his department similar to that of a traditional cold case police unit. He testified that in 2009 one-time state funding was allocated to the CDR cold case to provide similar resources, but Halferty said the money quickly dried up. He contacted "Cold Justice" in 2012, and the show did not arrive in Jasper County until 2014.
Halferty said more than 400 people were interviewed while investigating Fisher and Gregory's murders. As chief deputy sheriff, Halferty reviewed the case in 2003, and he officially reopened the investigation in 2008 — personally interviewing the defendant three times and holding more than one phone conversation with the defendant.
Addington produced emails between the sheriff and "Cold Justice" producers alluding that Halferty decided to charge Supino directly following the show's departure from Newton. Halferty said in deposition and reiterated Monday that he did not want to rush charging Supino, testifying he would not have presented a "case of this magnitude" to a prosecutor with such a short time frame.
Addington also called into question the date they arrested Supino — 31 years to the day that Fisher and Gregory were found murdered. Addington claimed "Cold Justice" was the motive behind the timing of the warrant's execution.
"That's my point. You then held that warrant until March 3 — until the anniversary," Addington said. "You had it the Friday before ... It makes good television to do it on the anniversary."
Jasper County Attorney Mike Jacobsen argued that prior to 2014, the families of Fisher and Gregory "had many bad March 3rds."
"This was an open, unsolved cold case. I had the opportunity to start it early in my career," Halferty said. " ... I think any family that is the family of a victim of this type of case deserves my attention."
Items seized while officers executed the search warrant of Supino's Altoona apartment included notebooks full of Supino's hand-written poems, letters and stories. Halferty read several versus of one poem aloud in court entitled "Running out of time."
"Do you even wonder how I feel when I look at what I've done —what I created years ago that no one else could ever know," Supino wrote. "Shut out by the silence and driven by fear, surrounded by doubt and shame that called my name."
DCI Special Agent Testimony
County prosecutors put the inconsistency of Supino's statements on display Monday, as Iowa DCI Special Agent Adam DeCamp recounted interviews he conducted with the defendant in 2009, 2013 and 2014.
The DCI special agent told Jacobsen that Supino never made what he would consider a confession during their three interviews, put he testified her changing statements were evident.
DeCamp informed Supino through a March 2009 phone call that the Jasper County Sheriff's Office had reopened the case and arranged a May 2009 interview with the suspect. Supino met with DeCamp and then-Jasper County Chief Sheriff's Deputy John Halferty. The interview at the sheriff's office lasted five hours, and the investigators noted Supino changed her story from her 1983 testimony in regard to her reason for going out to the ranch March 2, her duration at the scene and whether she or her twin brother, Tim Supino, went to the trailer door.
In the video, Supino first claims Fisher's DNA would not be on her clothes through semen, but later stated that she and Fisher were intimate inside the trailer in the weeks leading to the killings. She said she did not believe the jeans she claimed to wear to the CDR March 2 were laundered after their sexual encounter. Supino told DeCamp this could also explain any of her DNA or fingerprints investigators might have found at the scene.
She also discussed a now-closed well in the 2009 video that was present at the CDR in 1983. Supino offered a scenario where a potential killer(s) could have thrown the missing murder weapon and blood clothing down the well culvert.
Extended versions of Supino's Feb. 2014 "Cold Justice" interview conducted by DeCamp with retired Houston Police Department investigator Johnny Bonds was presented by prosecutors. The investigators were openly calling many of Supino's claims into questions including a fight between her and Melisa Gregory in the weeks leading to the murders.
Lisa and Scott Gregory — the victim's siblings — previously testified Supino had come to their house looking for Fisher when Melisa Gregory ran outside and forced the defendant to the ground in a snowbank. Supino refuted this story claiming the fight did not end physically on the ground.
"So then everybody else is lying?" Bond said.
"I was afraid of him," Supino said.
She claimed she went out to the CDR not to get into a fight, but to talk about shoes for their son Rocky Supino. DeCamp pointed out that this was inconsistent with her 1983 statement that she went out to the ranch to see about getting an apartment and getting back together. Bonds reminded Supino what she said in previous interviews with DeCamp — that she hoped to get a rise out of Fisher when she went to the ranch March 2.
"Since (Fisher) was being a prick, I decided to go out there, be a [expletive] and piss him off some more," she said in the "Cold Justice" tapes.
DeCamp said that he couldn't understand why Supino would want to anger Fisher if she feared for her safety.
"All of the sudden there were all these coincidences, and all hell breaks loose," Supino said.
The extended "Cold Justice" interview also showed Supino contradicting previous testimony by Gregory's family members about the location of Fisher's social security cards after the murder. Lisa Gregory testified that Supino had the card before Fisher's funeral and presented it to funeral home staff. Supino told DeCamp and Bonds she did not have the card, and it was in Fisher's wallet which was never found — a sticking point for investigators in 1983.
But DeCamp did concede in his cross examination with defense co-counsel Jill Eimermann that there was still no physical evidence tying Terri Supino to the scene of the murders. The defense hoped to explain the defendant's inconsistencies with the 21-year gap between her 1987 interview with former Jasper County Attorney John Billingsley and her meeting with DeCamp and Halferty in May 2009.
Eimermann also highlighted the unpreparedness Supino could have felt during a surprise two-hour DeCamp interview in 2013 at a Waukee Pizza Ranch where she worked. The defense contrasted that with Supino's willingness and desire to speak with police in 2009, where the suspect came prepared with a supposed homemade case file and talking points.
Jury view Tuesday
Jurors were not able to see a key piece of the crime scene Monday afternoon as originally scheduled. The state has secured and transported the trailer where Melisa Gregory was killed to Waterloo. The view is now scheduled for Tuesday. Jurors will walk to a location near the Black Hawk County Courthouse, and have the opportunity to examine the outside and inside of the murder scene.
Halferty said during testimony Monday investigators in 1983 returned the trailer to former CDR owner Hal Snedeker. After he began reviewing the case in 2003, Halferty and then-Jasper County Sheriff Mike Balmer tracked the trailer to a new owner in southern Iowa. The camper was still in use and had been altered since the murders. Cabinets hanging over the bench where Gregory was found were replaced with a metal deck hanging 4 inches lower than the removed interior. It was not seized from the new owner until Jan. 2014 —purchased by the department for $250.
Iowa 5th District Court Judge Terry Rickers said Friday the trailer has been cleaned since the 1983 murders, but prosecutors hope to give the jury a sense of the size and space the killer would have been forced to navigate during the attacks.
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 of trial-related events from Waterloo in the Newton Daily News print edition.
Contact Mike Mendenhall at firstname.lastname@example.org