GREENFIELD — Spencer Spielman admits he lied.
He lied to police officers when they interrogated him in October, asking if he knew how Patricia Dresser died, he said. He lied to a friend during a phone call from jail when asked if he knew anything about the Greenfield woman’s death.
But from the witness stand in Hancock Superior Court 1 no Tuesday — testifying in his own defense while on trial, accused of murder — the 21-year-old Greenfield man assured a panel of jurors he is telling the truth now. When he found Dresser on the morning of Oct. 13, she was already dead; he didn’t kill her, he said.
After six days of testimony, prosecutors and Spielman’s defense attorney concluded their evidence presentation with the defendant taking the stand to tell his side of a story that ends with a 52-year-old mother of two found dead in her home.
Spielman faces murder and robbery charges, accusing him of strangling Dresser to death last year and stealing a television from her home. He was arrested in October after police found him driving Dresser’s missing car.
A pathologist ruled the death a homicide and testified earlier this week Dresser suffocated, either by being smothered or strangled.
While answering questions from his attorney, John Merlau of New Palestine, Spielman told the jury that he was friends with Dresser’s son, that she was a mother figure to him, always willing to help him out when he needed money or a place to stay. He often helped her with housework and repaired her car a few times.
He respected her, he told the jury. He had no reason to harm her.
Spielman told jurors he took Dresser’s TV and car in the hours before she died but did so with her permission.
She’d given him the TV as payment for housework he’d done Oct. 12. He’d visited her house on Morningside Drive in Greenfield between 7 and 9 p.m. that day, he said. He’d asked to borrow her car — as he did often — and she obliged, asking only that he return it by 8 a.m. the following day, Spielman testified.
When he left, Dresser was alive — she was sitting at her kitchen counter drinking a glass of wine, he told the jury.
Spielman said he drove Dresser’s blue sedan all over Greenfield that night but he was at a friend’s house between midnight and 2 a.m. Oct. 13 — the timeframe during which investigators said they believe Dresser was killed.
He left the friend’s home just after 2 a.m., drove Dresser’s car along a few county roads while smoking marijuana, he said. He visited a few other friends’ homes in the early morning hours and returned to Dresser’s around 7 a.m.
Spielman testified that he had the code to Dresser’s garage door and used it that morning to return the car. But the door from the garage into Dresser’s home was locked, which he thought was odd. He found an open window on the first floor, and climbed through it to check on her, he said.
That’s when he spotted Dresser’s body lying on the kitchen floor, he testified. The sash of her bathroom was wrapped around her neck. He removed it and ran from the home, he said.
He didn’t contact police or call 911. He climbed back into Dresser’s car and drove away in a panic, he said.
“I was freaking out,” Spielman told the jury. “I knew I was probably going to be a suspect. There was a lot of things I didn’t do right.”
Jurors took issue with those statements, asking the suspect why he didn’t seek help and why he kept driving a dead woman’s car.
They submitted their questions to the judge, who read them aloud.
“I wasn’t thinking right,” Spielman said.
During the state’s turn questioning Spielman, Deputy Prosecutor John Keiffner asked Spielman about inconsistencies in his testimony compared to the evidence presented by prosecutors over the course of the trial.
On the first two days of the proceedings, the panel watched a recording of Spielman’s more than three-hour interview with police. At first, Spielman repeatedly denies harming Dresser, seeing her before she died or knowing anything about her death. Then, at the very end of the interrogation, he admits to killing Dresser and tells detectives he wrapped the sash of the woman’s bathrobe around her neck several times and pulled it tight.
That was a lie, Spielman told Keiffner on Tuesday. He was nervous and afraid, and he admitted to something he knew wasn’t true, he said.
Keiffner pressed on, asking Spielman about a phone call jurors heard Thursday during which, from the Hancock County Jail, Spielman answered a friend’s questions about the case.
The friend had asked Spielman if “anyone else was there” on the night Dresser died or if someone else was responsible, to which Spielman answered, “no.”
“Shouldn’t your answer have been, ‘I don’t know. I didn’t do it’?” Keiffner asked.
Spielman responded that he wasn’t sure why he answered his friend that way.
Keiffner then asked Spielman about the series of text messages prosecutors showed jurors Monday, in which Dresser — hours before she was killed — accused Spielman of breaking into her home and ransacking the place. In the notes, she told friends she was frustrated with the young man, even afraid of him and what else he might do, the texts showed.
Keiffner pointed to the timing of those messages, asking Spielman to confirm whether they were sent when Spielman now says he was at Dresser’s home doing housework.
Spielman agreed and told Keiffner he wasn’t sure why Dresser had said those things about him.
After more than three hours, Spielman stepped down from the stand.
Judge Terry Snow sent the jury home, telling the panel the trial would pick up this morning with closing arguments from both sides. Proceedings begin at 8:30 a.m. and are open to the public.