Archive for Thursday, May 1, 2008

Jurors view grisly video of Dollar General crime scene

May 1, 2008

A graphic video of the November 2005 crime scene at a Dollar General store in Bonner Springs was shown as the trial for the first of three suspects charged with murder got under way this week.

Robert Haberlein, 20, Kansas City, Kan., is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery. The same charges were filed against John Backus, 21, Bonner Springs, and Amber Russell, 18, Lenexa.

Haberlein is the first of the three to be tried for the murder of Robin Bell, who was 44 and the manager at Dollar General, formerly at 612 N. 130th St.

The trial began Monday. Tuesday morning, the Wyandotte County District courtroom where the trial was taking place was quiet as a tomb as the jury and friends and family in attendance watched the video taken by Lisa Beardsley, a crime scene investigator with the Kansas City, Kan. Police Department.

Haberlein sat with his attorney, Ki Ann McBratney, just to the left of the jury to see the same screen the jury was watching.

The half-hour video began with a panning of the store's parking lot, looking inside a pickup truck belonging to Robin Bell's husband, Don, who had gone to the store after his wife hadn't come home, and inside the car of Robin Bell, before heading inside the store.

The video showed two shopping bags full of what appeared to be store merchandise and an empty shopping cart near a cash register, which still had a receipt sticking out of it and a purchase total on its display.

The camera moved slowly to the rear of the store. After several minutes, a pair of legs and feet could be seen on the floor sticking out of a doorway.

Small yellow, numbered placards could be seen on the video, marking pieces of evidence that had been placed throughout the crime scene. Among the marked evidence were drops of blood on various objects, including a drinking fountain and the rear door to the store leading outside.

Throughout the video's showing, friends and family of Bell repeatedly glanced at Haberlein, especially when the screen showed Robin Bell's body on the floor facing up, bloody and disfigured.

Haberlein, pale, with a buzz cut, and dressed in a plaid button-up shirt and dark slacks, evinced little reaction to the video but did seem to notice at times when members of the audience were scrutinizing him and bent down in his chair with his head down.

Haberlein is being tried as an adult, although he was 17 at the time of the crime.

In her opening statement, Wyandotte County Deputy District Attorney Sheryl Lidtke told the jury "Robin Bell was at a point in life when things were beginning to look up for her."

A few hours before her death, Bell had seen a sonogram of her grandson, and Bell was "in the prime of her life," Lidtke said.

The night of that Veterans Day 2005, her life came to a tragic end, Lidtke said.

McBratney, attorney for Haberlein, kept her opening statement short, telling the jury of Bell, "there's no contest that she died a gruesome death." But, McBratney said, all prosecutors have are inconsistent witness statements.

In those statements, she said, "there are so many inconsistencies that they cannot support the claim" of Haberlein's guilt.

The first witness was Don Bell, 49, Robin Bell's husband of nine years.

Don Bell described the night in question, with the last communication from his wife a phone call that she would be later than usual in closing the store, to prepare for a visit to the store the next day by a district manager.

Bell said he went to bed around 9 that night, because he worked early in his job as a casino security officer. He woke up about 1 a.m., he said, and noticed his wife wasn't in bed. Not finding her in the house they lived in with her mother in Tonganoxie, Bell drove to the store, taking the same route he knew Robin took.

When he got there he found her gray 1998 Mustang in the front of the store. He knocked on the front door and then tried the back door.

The lights were on like usual after closing, Bell said. "Nothing was out of place."

When no answer came to his knocking and yelling at the back door, he went to the gasoline station across Kansas Avenue from the store and called 911.

The police came "fairly quickly," Bell said, and forced entry into the store.

The trial is expected to continue through Friday, Lidtke told Bell's family and friend before the trial began. If it goes beyond Friday, a break will be taken Monday and the trial will resume Tuesday.

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