Attorneys present closing arguments in Massena murder case; jury deliberations underway
CANTON -- With closing statements wrapped up, the jury will now deliberate Christopher Hebert's fate.
The 47-year-old is being tried in St. Lawrence County Court for second-degree murder for allegedly killing Lacey Yekel, who died at age 25 around June 7, 2014. Prosecutors say Hebert severely beat her and then choked her. Yekel's skeletal remains were recovered in woods near the Massena Industrial Park on Aug. 29, 2014.Judge Jerome Richards said he would give the jurors an extra three hours for their deliberations, until 8 p.m.
"This is not an attempt to get you to rush to a decision," the judge told the jury of nine men and three women.
Defense Closing Statement
Defense attorney Peter Dumas told the jurors he believes the biggest piece of exonerating evidence is testimony from Dr. Michael Sikirica, who testified Monday that he examined Lacey Yekel's skeleton days after the remains were recovered.
"He told us ... there was no evidence on an assault, much less an assault that crushed or caved in or bashed in the skull of Lacey Yekel. The very thing that put Christopher Hebert here. Those statements ... Dr. Sikirca got up there and told us there's no evidence of that," Dumas said. "The statements that he choked Lacey Yekel. Dr. Sikirica got up there and told us there's no evidence of that. It's important. That is the crux of this case."
He also pointed to testimony on Tuesday from Dr. Lowell Levine, a dental expert who identified Yekel's skull by her teeth.
"He testified he didn't notice any trauma," Dumas said.
He also noted the testimony of several state police investigators who helped retrieve Yekel's body and document the scene.
"These pieces of the evidence that they testified about, they don't tell you who did this. They don't tell you how it happened. And that's the real question here," Dumas said.
Dumas also pointed to the testimony of Justin Lashomb and Jason Smith. They each testified to knowing Hebert for years and both said they all bought and sold drugs from each other.
Lashomb testified that Hebert went to his house the night of the murder and said he killed Yekel. On the witness stand, Hebert said Yekel died of an overdose and he made up the story that he murdered her so he would appear tougher to his criminal associates.
"'Why did I tell him that? I wanted drugs,'" Dumas quoted his client during the closing statement. "At that point in time, he was doing cocaine every day. He was going to Justin Lashomb every three days and getting more coke. He told us he was an addict. That was his priority that night, getting more drugs."
In his mind, if he told Justin Lashomb that, Justin Lashomb would tell him 'get out of here. I'm not giving you anymore drugs.'"
Smith testified that Hebert went to his house the night Yekel died and confessed to the murder. Smith and Lashomb, while in the Oswego County Jail, also alerted police to where Yekel's body because they wanted to cut a deal and get out. It worked, they both testified, and they also avoided facing theft charges in St. Lawrence County as a result.
"They got the charges dumped," Dumas said.
He also pointed to the testimony of James Waite, who served time in the St. Lawrence County jail with Hebert in the fall of 2018.
"James Waite didn't really tell us much. He was in the jail with Chris. He said he's known Chris for 20-plus years," Dumas said. "[Hebert] told you he doesn't know James Waite. He also told you he wouldn't have talked to James Waite."
Dumas also pointed to Hebert's testimony that he told his ex-girlfriend, Brandy Bressard, that he killed Yekel. Hebert said he told Bressard he killed a man, not a woman, because she would have been jealous if he had said he'd been with a woman. And Hebert said he kept up the ruse of the murder, instead of telling Bressard Yekel overdosed, because she had a "morbid curiosity" and liked his bad-boy image.
"Even in 2017 he still wants Brandy back. He tells her he killed a man. Different story than what he told Jason and Justin. Different, in the extent of gender. Maintains that story with Brandy until Brandy finds out it's a woman," Dumas said. "It wasn't until she found out it's a woman, that's when she called the police. Months later. Brandy also told us she was with Chris for four years. That's how she knew him."
"She told you Chris is a bullsh***er. That was her testimony, those were her words ... 'He would try to tell me what I wanted to hear ... that he would pull quotes from books and use them," Dumas said. "She told us that Chris would spin s**t. She told us what that means. He'd tell her stories to get what he wants."
Dumas closed his remarks by acknowledging that the jury has a difficult job, but he believes they should deliver a not guilty verdict.
"Follow the law about corroboration of statements. Look at the evidence and decide is there any evidence Chris did what he said he did, or does it match up with someone who might have overdosed ... something unforgivable, putting her in the woods like that, but it's not murder in the second," Dumas said. "You've got two stories ... it's probable he did this, it's just as probable she overdosed. That is a reasonable doubt ... I'm going to ask you to find Christopher Hebert not guilty, even if it's the hardest thing you'll do."
Prosecution Closing Statement
District Attorney Gary Pasqua in his summation said the jury needs to look no further than the defendant's own words for the truth of what happened to Lacey Yekel.
"Admit what you can't deny and deny what you can't admit. That was the defendant's strategy when he went on the stand today," Pasqua said. "You know what happened. You know how it happened. The defendant told you how it happened and now he wants to come in and say 'Just kidding.'"
Pasqua pointed to Hebert's claim that he told Justin Lashomb about a homicide only to be able to continue buying cocaine.
"He told Justin he murdered LaceyYekel so he'd keep giving him drugs ... He's working for Justin. Of course he's going to keep giving him drugs," Pasqua said. "Do you think Justin Lashomb cares if Lacey Yekel overdosed on his product? Honestly? With the rap sheet you heard ... if this defendant goes to him and says 'somebody OD'd on his product.' 'Yeah? I'm a drug dealer.'"
Pasqua also questioned Hebert's claim from the witness stand that a rock, the purported murder weapon, was a prop. Hebert said he took the rock from a gas station on the way to Lashomb's house so he'd believe he actually committed a murder.
"Did he get the rock from Twin Leaf, or did he get the rock from the rock wall where the guns were and when they weren't there, he hit her in the head with it?" Pasqua said.
Hebert testified that he was with Yekel when she tried to retrieve guns she was supposed to give him as payment for cocaine. He said she told him the guns were hidden behind a rock wall in woods near the Massena Industrial Park.
Pasqua hit on testimony from witnesses and Hebert himself where he told Lashomb, Smith and Bressard he "crushed her skull" or "caved her skull in" or "bashed her" with the rock.
"Maybe he did think he crushed her skull. He'd been doing coke all day," Pasqua said. "Because I didn't crack her skull like I thought I did, it just didn't happen."
"You just beat her to the point where you thought it was. That's what that means."
Pasqua also reminded the jurors that Dr. Sikirica testified that Yekel's skeleton may not have shown signs of trauma from beating or strangulation.
"You can't find evidence of a beating. There's no tissue, no muscle. There's nothing left ... nothing inconsistent with strangulation, that's what the doctor told you. In young people that bone's not going to break," Pasqua said. Dr. Sikirica on the witness stand, looking at a photo of Yekel's hyoid bone, testified that she was young enough that the bone would not be completely fused and plyable, therefore resistant to being crushed during choking.
Pasqua also pointed to Hebert's claim that he told Bressard a fib about killing Yekel because she liked to hear morbid details.
"Did the woman on this stand seem like she enjoyed the details, like she enjoyed repeating what Lacey Yekel's last words were?" Pasqua said. When Bressard was on the witness stand and asked what Hebert told her were Yekel's last words, she began to choke up and took about a minute to regain her composure before she was able to speak.
"The defendant goes to two people he's known for over 20 years ... and the woman he knows more than anything, trusts more than anyone in the world, and he lies to them, makes up a story. Or he comes in here, on trial for murder, in front of people he doesn't know and says 'No, I was just kidding when I was talking to those other people,'" Pasqua said. "This defendant murdered Lacey Yekel. That's what all the evidence points to. No reasonable doubt about it. I'm going to ask you to go back and do what you promised me you would. Convict the defendant. Don't be distracted, don't be fooled. He couldn't have laid it out for you any better than he did."