WATERLOO — The question of whether or not Theresa "Terri" Supino would take the stand in her own defense was answered Tuesday.
The 54-year-old, charged in the March 3, 1983 murders of her estranged husband Steven Fisher and his girlfriend Melisa Gregory, refuted nine days of witness testimony detailing acts of aggression toward the victims, unemotional behavior following Fisher's brutal murder and alleged confessions in the 32 years since the killings.
Gregory, 17, and Fisher, 20, were founded murdered at the former Copper Dollar Ranch northwest of Newton.
During her testimony, Supino called an alleged jailhouse confession, a "sarcastic" remark in reference to charge documents she received for Jasper County Sheriff's Deputy John Halferty following her arrest. The comment was recorded at the Jasper County Jail during a March 4, 2014 from a phone call between the defendant and her twin brother Tim Supino.
In the recording played Monday for jurors, Supino can be heard saying "I killed Steve Fisher, I didn't kill anyone else." The defendant said the document only indicated charges for Fisher, and she was sarcastically referring to the incomplete documentation.
But Jasper County Attorney Mike Jacobsen said the statement of probable cause document attached to the charges mentioned Melisa Gregory more than 20 times, and argued Supino would have easily known she was being charged with both murders. Supino claimed she only read the first page of the charges.
Two events meant to establish prior aggression by Supino toward Fisher were also refuted by the defendant. Supino said testimony alleging she attacked Fisher twice with a car — once at a league softball diamond in 1979 and once in February 1983 dragging Fisher caught in a car window resulting in his broken arm — was false. During direct examination, Supino claimed she first heard of the 1979 event only after her arrest. She altered one account claiming Gregory was the driver in the February 1983 incident.
Supino's denial of these events prompted an exchange between the defendant and Jacobsen containing a string of repudiation by the accused.
"So as you testify here today, the statement by Lori French about if you catch (Fisher and Gregory) again together Melisa 'will never walk and talk again,' you say that's not true?" Jacobsen asked.
"I don't ever remember saying that to her, no," Supino said.
"The statement of Pam DeBruyn — the yelling that she heard at Melisa — you say that didn't happen either?" Jacobsen asked.
"I don't recall it, no." Supino said.
"You say the statement that Tyron Jordan heard from you, that you 'got away with murder once, you could do it again,' you say that didn't happen?" Jacobsen asked.
"That didn't happen," Supino said.
"And the statement to Allison Simmons (saying) 'my brother and I killed someone once, you say that didn't happen?" Jacobsen asked.
"No, that didn't happen," Supino said.
"So, all these people have heard things you say just didn't happen?" Jacobsen asked.
In the nearly two hours Supino was on the stand, there was at least one possibly incriminating account which Supino did not refute. Testimony from Fisher's sister Darlene Illingworth Feb. 6 detailed an exchanged between the witness and Supino before Fisher's funeral. Illingworth said to Supino, "at least Steve (Fisher) died with someone he loved." Supino admitted Tuesday to responding with "he got what he got for what he was doing."
Supino claims the comment was referring to Fisher's role as a drug informant for local law enforcement, "ripping off friends" and stealing small amounts of drugs and money from the CDR — disputing prosecutors' claim that Supino was referring to Fisher's infidelity.
Illingworth also testified that Supino was carrying Fisher's Social Security card at the funeral home following the murders — a fact which Supino also denied Tuesday. Illingworth said Fisher always kept the card in his wallet which he never left home without. The wallet was missing after Fisher's murder and investigators never found the pocketbook.
Supino said she produced a paper with Fisher's Social Security number written on it, not the physical card. The defendant testified to placing an ad in 1983 asking for the public's helping finding Fisher's wallet.
Supino also admitted to returning to the crime scene March 8, 1983 with Tim Supino to put the top on the Chevy Blazer owned by Fisher. Tim Supino testified that his sister pointed to where Fisher's body was lying after his death, and the defendant claimed she had heard the information from rumors and police statements and not first-hand knowledge.
The defense also put Whitney Wilcox —mother of two of Supino's grandchildren — on the stand to refute former boyfriend Tyron Jordan's testimony, stating Supino threatened him while providing the former couple with transportation during a 2005 incident of car trouble. Wilcox said she did not hear Supino's threat, but admitted in her deposition that prior drug use has affected her memory.
Before Supino's testimony, Iowa 5th District Court Judge Terry Rickers denied a motion by her attorneys for acquittal, stating he believes county prosecutors have presented insufficient evidence to allow jurors to decide Supino's fate.
Judge Rickers ruled that one common thread was missing throughout the court cases cited by the defense as precedent for acquittal — evidence of incriminating statements by the defendant.
The court referenced two statements by state witnesses considered by county prosecutors as alleged confessions. Witness Tyron Jordan, father of the defendant's grandchildren, claimed Supino threatened him in 2005 stating "I got away with murder once, I can get away with it again." The second witness cited by Judge Rickers is Supino's former coworker Allison Simmons, who testified she heard the defendant say "my brother and I killed somebody."
"Because of those statements, whether you characterize them as admissions against interest or however you want to characterize them, I believe that evidence is sufficient to provide a prima facie case that is required by the state to allow this case to be decided by the jury and not the court as a matter of law."
Jasper County Attorney Mike Jacobsen and First Assistant County Attorney Scott Nicholson rested their case Tuesday, handing the floor to the defense.
Following nine days of testimony at the Black Hawk County Courthouse, prosecutors presented their final piece of evidence Tuesday morning — the actually camper trailer in which Gregory was brutally murdered with Fisher lying in a similar condition outside.
The state secured and transported the trailer to Waterloo. Jurors walked to a location near the Black Hawk County Courthouse, and had the opportunity to examine the outside and inside of the murder scene. Jurors spent approximately 20 minutes inside the garage which housed the trailer in Waterloo with Supino, attorneys, Judge Rickers and sheriff deputies present.
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 January 2014 —purchased by the department for $250.
Judge 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. The state called nearly 40 witnesses to the stand, ranging from Iowa DCI agents to forensic specialists to family and friends of the victims and defendant.
Approximately eight additional witnesses are expected to take the stand on Supino's behalf, including her brother Carlo Supino Jr. — the family member with whom she was staying at the time of the 1983 murders.
Prior to court proceedings, attorneys estimated the case would be sent to the jury for deliberation by Friday.
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