Hester jurors view photos of victim

Posted: Friday, January 13, 2006

Jurors viewed grim photographs of the scene of a Kasilof man’s death as attorneys in the murder trial of Betsy M. Hester questioned first responders in a Kenai courtroom on Thursday.

One of the photographs shows the victim sprawled out on the kitchen floor of the mobile home, where he was shot, and smeared blood on the floor above where his head lay near a dish of dog food.

Hester, 53, of Kasilof, is charged with one count of second-degree murder for allegedly killing John E. Clark, 49, of Kasilof, on Oct. 4, 2003, in the mobile home they lived in together.

In the photographs, no wall separates the kitchen where Clark’s body lay from the living room where defendant’s allege Clark slapped and hit Hester while cornering her in a chair.

Except for Clark’s body laying on the kitchen floor, the pictures show nothing unusual in the tidy home. A blue, grape-vine bordered carpet stretches from where the kitchen ends to a cushioned, yellow-green chair in the corner of the living room, and cake and ice cream found on the kitchen counter wait to be served.

Kenai police officer James Johnson, who was an Alaska State Trooper at the time of the incident, was the first person to arrive after 911 dispatch received Hester’s call reporting the shooting at 1:47 a.m., Oct. 4.

Nothing inside the mobile home had been overturned and there were no signs of a struggle, Johnson said.

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.

The defense argued that the fact that there were no signs of a struggle at the scene does not mean Hester did not suffer any violence prior to the shooting.

“If the assault took place in that sort of yellowish-green chair you wouldn’t expect things in the room to be overturned, would you?” McComas asked while questioning Johnson.

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

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

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.

Following Johnson’s testimony Thursday, jurors heard testimony from a Central Emergency Services paramedic, also dispatched to the scene of the shooting, and two criminalists.

All of Thursday’s witnesses were asked questions regarding how intoxicated Hester may have been at the time of the shooting.

Tests run on blood samples taken from Hester after the shooting measured a blood-alcohol level of .156. But trooper records and Alaska State Crime Lab records disagree on what time Hester’s blood samples were drawn, complicating efforts to determine how intoxicated Hester was at the time of the shooting.

Trooper records indicate the blood-draw took place at 4:40 a.m. nearly three hours after Hester called 911, but Crime Lab records indicate that blood samples were drawn at 4:20 a.m.

Assuming that Hester did not have any additional drinks after she called 911, Alaska State Crime Lab criminalist Jeanne Swartz, estimated Hester had a blood-alcohol level ranging anywhere from .181 to .24 at the time of the call, or the equivalent of 8.2 to 10.9 drinks in her blood stream.

However, Browning questioned the estimates on the basis that they did not take into account the fact that Hester was in shock, a factor she said could have effected the rate at which Hester absorbed alcohol, a factor that could have resulted in a higher blood-alcohol measurement.

But Swartz maintained it was highly unlikely that the rate at which Hester body was absorbing alcohol was so abnormal as to make her estimates inapplicable.

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