GREENFIELD — As the police and prosecutors descended the courthouse steps, Patricia Dresser’s friends and family applauded.
These were the men and women who brought their loved one’s killer to justice. Months of investigating, hours of interviewing, seven days before a Hancock County jury.
And just like that, Wednesday afternoon, it was over: Spencer Spielman is guilty of murder.
Investigators said the 21-year-old from Greenfield strangled Dresser — his friend’s mother, the woman who had invited him into her home and helped when he was down and out. He used the code to her garage door to sneak into her home. There was a struggle; he wrapped the sash of her bathrobe around her neck and pulled it tight, they said.
Over the seven-day trial, prosecutors and Spielman’s defense attorney presented hundreds of pieces of evidence and called nearly 30 witnesses, all of whom told the panel about Dresser, her life and her death, about Spielman and his actions before and after the murder.
But Dresser’s own voice should be the one given the most weight, Deputy Prosecutor John Keiffner told jurors — who deliberated for more than three hours — during his closing arguments Wednesday morning.
Text messages from the night Dresser was killed showed the woman believed Spielman, whom she’d hired to do some handy work, had broken into her home the day before. She sent Spielman texts, threatening to go to the police, warning him to stay away from her.
She had told her friends and family — and this week, the jury, Keiffner said — about Spielman, saying she feared him. With her own words, she convicts the young man of her murder, Keiffner said.
“These are her thoughts, and they are powerful,” Keiffner said to the jury. “How do you set that all aside?”
Dresser was a single mom settling into life as an empty-nester, Keiffner said. Her two boys were finally grown; her youngest had just left Greenfield to join the military, and she was eager to begin the next phase of her life.
She was building a new career as an advertising representative after having worked in real estate for many years, and she had a loving group of friends who were always ready to support her, he said.
But Spielman took that all away, Keiffner said.
The investigation into Dresser’s death dates back to last fall.
Friends of Dresser came to check on her at her home in the Cricket Reel subdivision in Greenfield around 10:15 p.m. Oct. 13 after phone calls to her went unanswered throughout the day.
Dresser’s body lay on a couch in the living room with pillows propped up against her legs. The sash of her bathrobe — which investigators say was used to strangle her to death — was discarded on the floor.
Investigators quickly suspected foul play: the house was in disarray, a TV had been stolen, and Dresser’s car was gone.
And it was clear there had been a struggle, as marks on Dresser’s body proved, prosecutors said.
A pathologist who testified during trial told jurors Dresser was either smothered or strangled. He discovered marks around her neck and mouth, he told jurors.
The doctor said Dresser had scrapes on her chin and imprints inside her mouth that were caused by her lips being pressed hard against her teeth.
Three band-like bruises that matched the width of Dresser’s bathrobe sash suggested the fabric had been wrapped around her neck and used to strangle her, he said.
Spielman’s DNA was found on Dresser’s body: swabs of the victim’s fingertips were taken at her autopsy and later tested at the Indiana State Police Crime Lab.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Marie Castetter told jurors during closing arguments that Dresser’s text messages and Spielman’s DNA should be enough to convince them of his guilt. But if they needed something more, Castetter told the jury they should consider Spielman’s own words.
A day after Dresser’s body was found, Spielman was found driving her stolen car. He was taken into custody and questioned by detectives from the Greenfield Police Department for more than three hours.
During that interrogation — video of which was played for the jury during the first days of the trial — Spielman admitted to harming Dresser, telling officers he’d wrapped the sash of the her bathrobe around her neck, Castetter reminded the panel.
But Spielman’s defense attorney, John Merlau of New Palestine, tried to convince jurors that any admission his client gave was coerced by police.
Throughout testimony, Merlau asked detectives about their tactics and decision-making during investigations.
He pointed to the lateness of the hour, the cold temperature in the interview room at the police department and the manner in which officers phrased their questions as factors that might have agitated his client — who a psychologist testified has several anxiety and cognitive disorders — until Spielman admitted to a crime he didn’t commit.
A tense silence hung in the courtroom just before the judge read the verdict. His announcement — that Spielman was guilty of robbery and murder, as well as driving with a suspended license — was followed almost immediately by tears from the victim’s and defendant’s friends and family.
But Spielman, who faces 65 years for murder charge alone, showed no emotion.
Seated at the defendant’s table, he hardly moved as his fate was read aloud. When bailiffs led him away from the courtroom in handcuffs, he whispered to a nearby friend, “I’ll call you.”
Spielman returns to Hancock County Superior Court 1 for sentencing at 2 p.m. Aug. 30.