Police: Man admitted to slaying

Jury hears defendant describe strangling woman during taped interview with officers

By Caitlin VanOverberghe | Daily Reporter

GREENFIELD — Flanked by officers, chatting with them casually, Spencer Spielman took drags from the cigarette clutched in his steel-cuffed hands.

It was late last year, when officers had agreed to let the man they suspected of murder step outside for a smoke in the middle of their more than three-hour interrogation, during which he’d said over and over again he didn’t kill 52-year-old Patricia Dresser of Greenfield.

Spielman stood outside for just five minutes that early fall morning — all caught on an officer’s body camera. Then, he returned to the interview room, slouched into his seat and announced: “I’m ready to tell you what happened now.”

It was the first in a series of moments prosecutors say changed the course of the investigation into Dresser’s death, for which Spielman is standing trial this week.

The woman was found dead inside her Greenfield home in October after she was strangled to death with the sash of her bathrobe, according to police. Investigators say Spielman admitted to the slaying; the 21-year-old is standing trial this week in Hancock County Superior Court 1 on charges of murder and robbery.

Testimony Tuesday — the second day of the proceedings — picked up with jurors watching a tape of Spielman’s interview with Greenfield Police Department detectives the day he was found driving Dresser’s missing car.

On Monday, the panel of 12 Hancock County residents saw the first half of the conversation, during which Spielman angrily denied harming Dresser. Jurors were also provided a transcript of the conversation.

But his tenor changed during the second half of the interview, the video shows, when Spielman calmly mimicked for officers how he wrapped the sash of Dresser’s bathrobe around her neck, causing the injury a pathologist later testified likely caused her death.

Officers then swabbed the inside of Spielman’s mouth for DNA evidence, photographed his arms and hands, then booked him into the county jail.

Dresser had hired Spielman, a friend of her son’s, to do odd jobs around the house. He knew the garage code to get inside, her family told police at the time of her death.

Spielman was arrested in the days after Dresser’s body was found inside her home in Greenfield’s Cricket Reel subdivision.

Coroners ruled her death a homicide after an autopsy was performed, telling investigators Dresser died from asphyxiation after being either smothered or strangled, according to testimony.

Forensic pathologist Dr. John Cavanaugh took the stand Tuesday to tell jurors he found a series of marks on Dresser’s neck, chin, arms and wrists.

Using photographs that showed the jury each injury, Cavanaugh said the marks indicated Dresser was held down and strangled at the time of her death.

A scrape to her chin and marks inside her mouth — caused by her teeth been pressed hard against her inner lips — are proof of smothering, he said. Three band-like bruises matching the width of Dresser’s bathrobe sash were found on either side of the woman’s neck, indicating she was strangled, he said.

Those injuries “overlap too much” to know which finally killed her, Cavanaugh said.

The impressions on Dresser’s wrists made it appear as though the woman had been held down, perhaps against a piece of furniture, Cavanaugh told jurors. Markings on either arm looked as though they’d been caused by fingers, he said.

Throughout the day’s testimony, Spielman’s defense attorney, John Merlau of New Palestine, tried to poke holes in the state’s case, asking experts if they were certain about the victim’s time of death.

Cavanaugh testified the injuries that killed Dresser occurred 24 to 36 hours before her body was found; a coroner’s report puts the time of death several hours later, a discrepancy Merlau focused on during questioning Tuesday.

Spielman says he was with friends when Dresser died, court records state.

Proceedings resume at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in Hancock County Superior Court 1. Testimony is open to the public.