Opening statements set tone for murder trial

Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2006

Jurors listened to a gripping recording on Wednesday of the 911 call Betsy M. Hester made to report she had shot her boyfriend, on their first day of hearing evidence in the Kenai courtroom where Hester is on trial for murder.

“My old man was beating the s—- out of me and I just shot him,” Hester is heard saying in the recording. “I didn’t want to kill him, I just wanted him to stop hitting me.”

Hester, 53, is charged with one count of second-degree murder for allegedly killing John E. Clark, 49, of Kasilof, on Oct. 4, 2003.

Hester made the 911 call reporting the shooting at 1:47 a.m., Oct. 4, and investigators later determined her blood-alcohol level was .156 and that her boyfriend, John E. Clark, 49, of Kasilof had a blood alcohol level of .231 — nearly four times the the level considered to be legally intoxicated in Alaska.

Hester’s attorneys, public defender Brooke Browning and Anchorage-based attorney Jim McComas, contend the shooting was made in self-defense and, therefore, not murder.

In an opening statement, however, the prosecution said the evidence did not support the defense’s claim.

“This is a shooting fueled not by fear, but by alcohol,” said Assistant District Attorney Jean Seaton.

Central to arguments about whether the shots were fired in self-defense is what the bullet wounds indicate about Clark’s position relative to Hester when she fired at him.

According to former state medical examiner Dr. Susan Klingler, who testified Wednesday, one bullet struck Clark in the arm and exited through his upper left back and a second entered his upper left back, struck the bottom half of his heart, went through his lung, exited the left side of his abdomen and probably continued from his abdomen to nick his left thigh, where a third minor bullet wound was discovered.

The fatal shot, the bullet that entered through Clark’s back and exited through his abdomen near his bellybutton, could only continue on to nick Clark’s left thigh if his left leg had been bent relative to his abdomen, Klingler said.

The prosecution argues the bullet wounds show Clark was most likely on his hands and knees when the fatal shot was fired, indicating Hester was not defending herself from an attack when she fired the bullet that caused Clark’s death.

The defense team, on the other hand, argues the shots likely were to have occurred while he was bent forward in a lunging position and facing Hester.

Klingler said there were no obvious signs of blood on Clark’s hands or knees when she examined him for autopsy and that she was certain their had been no evidence on his skin indicating the shots had been fired at close range, although she was less certain about evidence found on his jeans.

During a 2003 bail hearing, former Kenai District Attorney Dwayne McConnell said that on Oct. 3, Clark and Hester had been drinking and arguing at the Decanter Inn in Kasilof. They went to the home they shared for seven years in the vicinity of Pollard Loop Road, where the argument continued.

Clark reportedly slapped Hester numerous times in the face and struck her with his fist.

He then went to the kitchen, and as he returned, continuing to threaten bodily harm, she allegedly shot him twice with a 9mm pistol.



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