GREENFIELD – A murder suspect’s DNA was found under the fingernails of the woman prosecutors are working this week to prove he killed, a crime lab expert told a jury Wednesday
Testimony on Wednesday — the third day of the trial against 21-year-old Spencer Spielman, the man investigators say strangled Patricia Dresser, 52, of Greenfield, last year — focused on the police investigation that ensued after Dresser was found dead inside her home in Greenfield’s Cricket Reel subdivision.
Police said they believe Spielman — a friend of Dresser’s son whom she’d hired as a handyman — used the sash of the bathrobe to strangle her to death, according to court documents. A panel of 12 Hancock County residents is hearing testimony this week in Hancock County Superior Court 1, weighing charges of murder and robbery.
On Wednesday, Greenfield Police Department officers showed jurors every piece of evidence they collected from Dresser’s home in the hours after friends found her dead Oct. 13. They included swabs from the victim’s body that were later tested for DNA at the state’s forensic crime laboratory.
A scientist employed by the lab presented those results to the jury Wednesday, testifying that Spielman’s DNA was found on swabs of Dresser’s body during her autopsy. A male’s DNA — although not enough to be sure whether it was also Spielman’s — was located on other areas of her body, as well, according to testimony.
Police told the jury they found Dresser’s home in disarray after her body was discovered inside.
There were items that “appeared to have been staged” around the residence and immediately stood out as odd to the officers who were called to the scene, Greenfield Police Sgt. Rodney Vawter told the jury.
Dresser, who was wearing a bathrobe, was found in the living room, lying on the couch — but pillows had been placed on her legs as if to cover her, Vawter testified.
Several purses she owned were empty of any money or electronics and had been tossed throughout the house. Two of the purses had been placed on top of her slippers, he said; one was found in living room on top of a slipper and the other was located in the dining room atop its mate.
Vawter was the lead evidence technician on scene that night. He told the jury it’s easy to come up with a tentative theory of what happened based on an immediate observation of the scene. Police officers are trained to think that way, he said; it helps them to look for other clues, helps them search for other pieces of evidence.
Though there were clear signs a struggle occurred, there was no indication anyone had forced their way into Dresser’s home, Vawter said. The victim was dressed casually, wearing only a bathrobe, so it wasn’t likely she walked in on something like a burglary, he said.
“Physical evidence will paint a picture of what happened or didn’t happen at a crime scene,” Vawter told jurors. “My theory was was that someone close to her had access to the home.”
It was friends of Dresser’s who found her dead in her home late Oct. 13. They’d visited to check on her after phone calls throughout the day went unanswered, officials said.
An autopsy confirmed Dresser’s death was a homicide. A pathologist who testified Tuesday told jurors the woman died from asphyxiation after being either smothered or strangled. He discovered marks around her neck and mouth, he told jurors.
Relatives immediately pointed police to Spielman as a suspect in the killing, according to court documents. Dresser told family she’d hired Spielman as a handyman and gave him the code to her garage. She’d voiced concern the days before she died that Spielman might have broken into the house because she’d come home one evening and found the place ransacked, court documents state.
Spielman was caught driving Dresser’s car a day after her body was discovered, police said. In an interview with police — a tape of which was watched by jurors earlier this week — shows Spielman admitting to killing the woman, though the man’s defense attorney said that admission was coerced.
Spielman faces a murder charge in addition to one Level 5 felony count of robbery and one Class A misdemeanor of driving with a suspended license. He is being held in the Hancock County Jail on $250,000 cash bond.
Proceedings resume at 8:30 a.m. today in Hancock County Superior Court 1. Testimony is open to the public.