Day 2 of trial focuses on location

GREENFIELD — The trial of an Indianapolis woman accused of conspiring to kill her romantic rival continued Tuesday, with jurors hearing testimony from members of law enforcement entrusted with investigating the murder and two employees of a hotel where the defendant was living.

Amanda Gonzales, 28, is charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder. Her case is being heard this week in Hancock County Superior Court 1.

Investigators said they believe Gonzales helped plan the slaying of 23-year-old Katrina Miller, who was found dead in a Hancock County cornfield in July 2014. Miller was killed by a single gunshot to the head, investigators said. Two others — Joe Meyers, the accused shooter, and Ronnie Westbrook, Gonzales’ former boyfriend — are already serving time for their involvement in the crime.

On the second day of Gonzales’ trial, testimony focused on two key locations: the cornfield where Miller’s body was found and the hotel were Gonzales, Miller, Meyers and Westbrook were living at the time Miller was killed.

Three Hancock County Sheriff’s deputies testified that they spent hours July 24, 2014, surveying a cornfield near county roads 800W and 350N after two teenage boys reported finding a woman’s body there.

The woman’s remains — clothed in a pink-and-black-striped shirt that was easily identifiable — were discovered four or five cornrows into the field, Deputy Don Stegman told jurors.

Stegman was one of the first officers to arrive at the scene that night, and he in charge of photographing the area. Jurors were shown a video Stegman took that evening, which showed where the body was located inside the field. It could be seen from the road at the proper angle, he said, but passing cars would have missed it.

When Miller’s remains were first collected, investigators could not determine how she had been killed because the body had already started to decompose, testified Deputy Gary Stanley, a crime scene technician for the sheriff’s department.

It was only after an autopsy was performed July 25, 2014, and a bullet was removed from Miller’s skull that police listed her as a gunshot victim, he said.

Stanley said he returned with another officer to the crime scene and discovered a shell casing there, not far from where Miller’s body had been found. The bullet, the casing and DNA swabs from Miller’s body were all sent to specialty crime labs for further examination, he said.

Bob Beymer of Portland, Gonzales’ defense attorney, started his cross-questioning of each deputy with the same inquiry: “Were you there when Katrina Miller was shot?”

Each witness answered that they were not, and Beymer argued that while the evidence collected at the scene was important in determining how Miller died and what weapon was used, it did nothing to determine who pulled the trigger.

In the afternoon, jurors heard from Anna Sosa and Debra Buckner; both woman were employed by the Always Inn, located in the 7400 block of East 21st Street in Indianapolis.

Buckner testified that Gonzales, Miller, Meyers and Westbrook all were living at the hotel and sometimes could be seen interacting with one another.

Prosecutors showed Sosa video footage from security cameras at the Always Inn, in which she identified Gonzales, Meyers and Westbrook walking around the property.

Investigators said they believe Gonzales became angry when she learned Westbrook and Miller were staying at the hotel together. Witnesses Monday testified that Gonzales stole heroin and other drugs from Westbrook’s room, and Westbrook threatened to kill both Gonzales and Miller if the drugs were not returned.

Police said Gonzales then went with Meyers and Miller to a cornfield, located in western Hancock County, where Meyers shot Miller.

Westbrook was on parole and wearing a Department of Correction-issued ankle bracelet that tracked his movements at the time of the murder. GPS data presented to jurors on Tuesday showed Westbrook was dropped off in Marion County near the Hancock County line, shortly before the shooting, then picked up as his co-defendants returned from the scene, investigators said.

The same evidence was presented during Meyers’ trial late last year.

Twelve Hancock County residents have been selected to hear the proceedings and determine whether Gonzales is guilty. On Tuesday, one of three alternate jurors was recused after the court learned she had spoken with a witness, who testified Monday, after the case had recessed for the day.

Testimony was scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. today, and is expected to continue into next week.

SHARE
Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.