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Opening arguments by Defense Attorney Horton Lance

State of Missouri v. Byron Case


April 29, 2002
Pages 404-420
Page 404

THE COURT:

Mr. Lance, are you ready to proceed with your opening statement?

MR. LANCE:

Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT:

You may do so.

MR. LANCE:

Good morning, members of the jury. This is the part of the trial called opening statement. It's an
opportunity for the attorneys to give a brief description of what they think the evidence will be in the case,
basically, a brief outline of the evidence we anticipate in the case.

Of course, there are two sides to every story. You heard that comment while we were picking the
jury. There are two sides to every story. This is, basically, the chance for Byron Case to have his side of the
story brought out.

Page 405

So let's talk about the evidence we think the jury will hear. In this case, the evidence begins in
agreement. There are four teenagers in a car together out in Independence. The date is October 22, 1997.
Everybody agrees.

Four teenagers all in the car together that night. There were basically two couples. The couple in the
front seat is Justin and Anastasia. They had been dating on again, off again.

The couple in the back seat is the Defendant, Byron Case, my client, and his girlfriend, Kelly
Moffett. So there is four teenagers, and they split up into two couples, front seat and back seat.

Where the evidence diverges is you will hear testimony that Anastasia did, in fact, get into a loud
argument with Justin Bruton that evening, and when the car did reach the intersection of Truman Road and
1-435, Anastasia was very angry and got out of the car and slammed the door and indicated she would walk
and not ride with Justin.

It was Justin's car. She didn't want to ride with him anymore, and she walked away walking east in
the general direction of her home, Independence, and the cemeteries, which is all to the east. She walked
off walking east.

Page 406

The other three teenagers in the car, they drove on. Justin was driving and Byron Case was simply a
spectator to this incident, rear seat passenger. And what happened is Anastasia walked off east and
apparently walked up less than a mile up this hill into Lincoln Cemetery where she is found dead later and
apparently was the victim of a random act of violence from some unknown stranger. You'll hear testimony
this would have had to have happened after dark, after dusk. So she would have been -- this young teen-
ager -- alone after dark in a cemetery alone and unarmed. And if that's what happened to her, obviously
Byron Case is innocent.

Let's talk a little bit about the background of the four teenagers who were there that night, because
that helps the jury understand how this incident could arise.

Page 407

The prosecutor already touched upon some of this, so I'll try to be brief. But you heard about Justin
and Anastasia. They dated and even lived together for a time.

When this happened they were no longer living together. They had a real rocky relationship. They
were still speaking at the time. They would have contact through their mutual friends, Byron Case and his
girlfriend, Kelly. This was a group of friends, not just the four of them, but there were other friends in the
group.

They would hang out at the coffee houses down in Westport and talk over coffee and share their
problems, share their stories. Now, the main point the jury has to remember is that tumultuous relationship
between Justin and Anastasia.

It was on again, off again so much so the friends couldn't hardly keep track of when they were on
and off. They had a long running series of arguments.

Well, on the evening of October 22nd, these two people apparently agreed to try to iron out some of
their problems or at least discuss their relationship, and Justin and Anastasia had agreed to meet that
evening. They were going to meet at Mount Washington Cemetery.

Page 408

It was a private quiet place to speak. And the point there is this was really set up -- this meeting was
really at Anastasia's request. It was Anastasia pursuing Justin. She wanted to talk to Justin. It was really
Anastasia's desire to meet. But they did agree to meet at Mount Washington Cemetery.

So there is no plot to murder someone or trick them to go to the cemetery. It's a plan. Two teenagers
are going to talk there.

Now, through a miscommunication, the jury will hear that Justin believes Anastasia has no way to
get to Mount Washington Cemetery. So Justin Bruton goes off and makes plans of his own. He's running
around over in -- he doesn't live in Kansas, but he's running around over in Kansas with his friends. But
Anastasia catches a ride, and she goes to Mount Washington Cemetery to meet him.

Page 409

You'll hear testimony from the grounds keeper of the cemetery he saw her sitting at one of the
monuments, just sitting there alone, apparently waiting for someone.

Well, that only makes sense. Justin had the miscommunication. He thought she had no ride, so he
wasn't coming. He doesn't go to Independence.

Like I say, he's running around out in Kansas. So what you have is this is the opposite of a plan to
murder. Justin at that point has no plans even to go to Independence in Missouri.

But finally, the evidence will show that Anastasia goes to Dairy Queen, which is across the street
from the cemetery. She makes phone calls. You'll hear testimony she uses the phone there. She is making
phone calls.
What happens is the two people finally realize what has happened. Justin realizes she has gone to
Mount Washington to meet him, and he thought the plan was off.

At this point it's Anastasia's idea or her request that they come pick her up at Dairy Queen.

Page 410

This is not some plot or plan on the part of the Defendant, Byron Case, or somebody over in Kansas
that we have to meet at Dairy Queen. It was Anastasia's request, "I'm waiting at the Dairy Queen now. Pick
me up at the Dairy Queen." That's where she's using the phone.

Now, to clarify some of this evidence, I should make it clear that you will hear some of this
testimony directly from Mr. Byron Case himself. Byron Case has already made the decision to go ahead
and testify at this trial.

You heard during jury selection he doesn't even have to do that, but he's going to testify. I think that
helps you understand where some of this evidence will be coming from. But he's one of the witnesses who
will testify.

Anastasia wants to be picked up at Dairy Queen, so they do go there. They pick her up, but they're
late, obviously. They pick her up at Dairy Queen. The three of them arrive, Kelly Justin, and Byron. They
pick up Anastasia. There is no dispute they drove through Mount Washington Cemetery.

Page 411

The point there is that Anastasia was very angry. She had two reasons to be angry at this point.
Number One, because she felt that Justin was no longer in love. Justin says he no longer loves her. But the
secondary reason she is very angry, she has missed her meeting or, in her view, he is very late for their
meeting. So she has two reasons to be very angry.

You'll hear there is a loud argument. It's mostly Anastasia yelling at Justin as they drive around the
cemetery. The grounds people will testify that cemetery closes at dusk. They don't have a set time like we
close at 10:30 or something. Cemetery closes at dusk, Mount Washington.

So the grounds people will say they drive through there, clear out anybody who is in there, even if
they happen to be just a car load of teenagers talking.

So shortly after dusk, with Justin driving, they have to leave the cemetery. They even see the
grounds keeper approach their car. So they leave Mount Washington.

Page 412

The testimony from Mr. Case will be they never went to Lincoln Cemetery at all. They drove down
Truman Road. I-435, there is a stoplight there, not a stop sign but a stoplight, where Truman hits I-435, and
that at that point the argument or discussion was Anastasia asking Justin, "Why don't you love me
anymore?"

And exact words are hard to pin down after four and a half years, but Justin's reply was something
along the lines, "I don't know why I don't love you anymore, but I don't."

And this enraged Anastasia. She got out of the car at the stoplight. Slammed the car door. Started
walking back east general direction of her home, general direction of the cemetery, back east.

And no one in that car ever saw her again -- ever saw her alive again and that's the end of the story.
Byron Case will tell you under oath on the witness stand that's the truth of what happened that
evening.

Page 413

And probably it was a vain attempt to shortcut through the cemetery and get either back to Dairy
Queen or possibly even to her home, although that's much further, but it was a vain attempt to take a
shortcut through the cemeteries and possibly back to Dairy Queen, rather than walk on busy Truman Road
with all the traffic going by after dark, busier traffic. Now, Mr. Case will testify and tell you that they drive
off. Justin is driving. It's his car.

Rather than go back to pick her up or argue anymore, Justin continues driving off in the other
direction, and they go back to Kansas. They take Kelly Moffett home, because it's a school night. She has
to be home by a certain time.

As I said, no one in their group ever saw Anastasia alive again, and no one in their group knows --
no one in that group knows what happened, but Mr. Case can testify what he knows. He will tell you he did
not have a gun that night. Never owned a gun, He certainly did not shoot Anastasia that night, and he will
tell you he certainly did not shoot her as favor for Justin Bruton.

Page 414

And you will hear testimony that, when the other passengers in the car, Kelly and Byron, hear about
the murder the next day, it's a shock and mystery to them. It's both a shock and a mystery to them as to
what happened to Anastasia.

And that's what they tell the police when they're interviewed. Anastasia's body is discovered in the
early morning house of October 23rd lying in Lincoln Cemetery.

By the 24th of October, the police interview Kelly Moffett and interview Byron Case, and both
relay the same information. It's the same information.

And as the prosecutor called it, the same story, but it's the same information Byron Case tells the
police. She got out of the car there, and she walked off east; and we don't know what happened to her.

Byron Case, in fact, was interviewed more than once by the police. He's always stood by that story.
Kelly Moffett when she is interviewed October 24th says the exact same information. It matches.

And Kelly Moffett, in the future after that, was interviewed repeatedly by the police and said the
exact same thing. So the case went unsolved.

Page 415

And as you heard three years later then, after she has broken up with Byron Case, after she is no
longer dating this young man who she once said she was in love with, three years later she turns her story
and says, "I was there. I saw something happen. Byron did it." That is the story she apparently is going to
tell the jury.

Now, the defense plans to call two witnesses who saw the two boys, Justin and Byron, in the later
evening hours. Later October 22nd, after Anastasia got out of the car in a rage and walked away, the other
three people go back to Kansas, as I mentioned. They have to drop Kelly at Kelly's house. They ran around
town and visited some other people, and they happened to stop at a place where a kid name Abraham
Kneisley lived.

They also stopped at another place where Tara McDowell lived. The defense, if the trial goes as
planned, the defense plans to put on those two young people to tell you what they saw that evening.
Page 416

Because this would have been within hours or shortly after what State says is a brutal homicide
these people saw Justin and Byron running around together.

These witnesses will say they stopped by. The witnesses saw no signs of anything unusual. They
didn't see any signs that Byron and Justin were drinking liquor or doing anything crazy. Basically, things
seemed normal is what the witnesses will say.

And those witnesses will say that they were -- received the same information. Anastasia got out at
the stoplight, and no one has told them a different story.

Now, the defense has also served a subpoena on the witness Don Rand, who the prosecutor
mentioned. Mr. Don Rand is an individual who was working in Independence that night.

He worked -- if I may use the State's little drawing here. There are some businesses right in this area
where Truman Road hits I-435.

Page 417

Mr. Don Rand worked as a mechanic at one of the gas stations right there. He will tell you he was
interviewed by the police the next day, October 24th, and he does recall he saw a young lady get out of the
car at a stoplight there, and that she started walking east, which was gradually uphill direction there.

And as he was working as a mechanic, he saw this young lady get out of the car and walk east. Mr.
Don Rand doesn't know Byron Case or any other people. He can't even recall for sure what type of a car it
was. But an independent witness saw a young lady get out of the car, and it happened shortly after dusk,
because he remembers the headlights were on in the car.

The defense plans t6 call Mr. David Hill. He's an investigator that works out of my office, the Public
Defender office. He will talk about the distance from what we'll call the murder scene to what we'll call the
gun disposal scene.

You'll hear testimony that Kelly Moffett in one of her statements says the gun was dumped in this
industrial area. She says it wasn't too far from the murder scene.

Page 418

But Mr. Dave Hill has measured the distance and time to drive from the murder scene to an area
near Lake Quivira where Kelly Moffett pointed out an area where she thinks the gun may have been
thrown, and it's actually about a 30 minute drive.

Although again, Kelly says the gun was not in the fight, and of course, there was no gun ever found.

Now, apparently the jury is going to hear two audiotapes. On the tapes, Byron Case is called by
Kelly Moffett. There is no direct confession here. I want to make that point. You will never hear Mr. Byron
Case admit he killed anyone.

So this is a case without a confession. Now, what do the tapes show? The tapes show an accusation,
an accusation and a mention of the murder followed immediately. There is no direct denial of that.

The tape -- the most important tape happened at about 11:30 p.m. at night, shortly before midnight,
Kelly calls Byron. Mr. Case will testify he was awakened from a slumber that evening, and he was also ill.

Page 419
And I believe the jury, if you listen closely to the audiotapes, you can detect this. Kelly's voice is
clearer, but Byron Case's voice is muffled and faint and at times you can barely hear him on the audiotape.

And the defense intends to produce medical records for Mr. Case that shows that the very next day,
by coincidence, he went to the doctor. He was diagnosed with basically what's called a strep throat
condition on June 6th. The main phone call I'm talking about or the tape is June 5th, late at night.

So Mr. Case will explain what really happened on the tape. He's sick. He is awakened from a
slumber. He doesn't know how to respond, and maybe he doesn't respond quickly to what Kelly is saying.
That will be up to the jury to decide what weight that has.

But at any rate, Mr. Case will testify he never had a gun. He's never owned a gun. He's never been
hunting with his father. Never took a hunting gun from his father, and certainly never fired a gun into the
face of Anastasia.

Page 420

At the end of the evidence, we believe you will see the evidence that shows that Byron Case is
innocent. Anastasia walked up that hill and was the victim of a random act of violence by an unknown
stranger.

And at the close of the evidence, we will be back up here again, and we will be asking you for a
verdict of not guilty.

Thank you for your attention.

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