GREENFIELD — The attorney for a man suspected of murder told jurors Monday his client was coerced into admitting he killed a Greenfield woman last year.
Monday kicked off testimony in the state’s trial against Spencer Spielman, 21, 1556 Prairieview Lane, Greenfield. The man faces charges of murder and robbery in the death of 52-year-old Patricia Dresser of Greenfield, who police say was strangled to death with the sash of her bathrobe late last year, according to court records.
Investigators say Spielman admitted to killing Dresser at the tail end of a more than three-hour interview with Greenfield Police Department detectives days after Dresser was found dead inside her Greenfield home.
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Spielman’s attorney, John Merlau, said a number of factors contributed to his client admitting to something he didn’t do; namely, Spielman has a number of mental health problems.
A psychologist will testify to that later this week, Merlau said.
Spielman was found driving Dresser’s car a day after her body was found, police said. He 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.
The man’s trial began Monday morning, with prosecutors and Spielman’s defense attorney choosing 12 Hancock County residents — eight women and four men along with two alternates — to serve on the jury. After hearing opening statements from prosecutors and the defense, the panel watched the first half of Spielman’s taped interview with police detectives.
During opening statements, deputy prosecutor John Keiffner said Dresser was last seen alive around 6 p.m. Oct. 12 at CVS in Greenfield, where she stopped on the way home from work to make a quick purchase, Keiffner said.
Her phone records and internet activity show she was alive until early the next morning, he said: all trackable use of technology ends just before 12:30 a.m. Oct. 13, he said.
Friends of Dresser’s 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, officials said.
They found Dresser, dead, inside. Her car was gone, and a television had also been stolen, Keiffner said.
It was Dresser’s family members who first pointed to Spielman as a suspect after coroners ruled Dresser’s death a homicide, court documents state. Dresser had given Spielman the code to her garage door so that he could do odd jobs around the house. The day before she died, she told relatives someone had broken into her home and ransacked the place — she worried it was Spielman, court documents state.
Detectives questioned Spielman for more than three hours before he admitted to strangling Dresser, describing details of the crime scene only the killer would have known, Keiffner said.
“He strangled the life out of Patty Dresser,” Keiffner said, telling jurors that the evidence will show that Dresser died after the sash of her bathrobe was wrapped around her neck twice and pulled tightly.
But the statements Spielman gave investigators were false, Merlau told jurors.
Spielman suffers from ADHD, anxiety disorders and autism, and Merlau said detectives agitated his client to the point he admitted to killing Dresser just to end the interview.
Additionally, Spielman had no motive to kill Dresser, Merlau told jurors. Dresser was kind to Spielman, Merlau said; she let him live with her on occasion, let him borrow her car when he needed it and regularly gave him money when he asked for help, he said.
Merlau told jurors that, by the end of the trial, they’ll see Spielman is not responsible for Dresser’s death, that police have accused the wrong person.
“I’m going to ask you to do what’s right,” Merlau said. “I’m going to ask you to do what’s just and return a verdict of not guilty.”
Jurors watched the first half of Spielman’s interview with Greenfield’s lead detective on the case, Sgt. Michael Schwamberger. When jurors were dismissed for the day, the footage had not yet reached the portion of the interview where officers say Spielman admitted to killing Dresser.
During the portion of the interview jurors viewed Monday, Schwamberger peppers Spielman with questions about his whereabouts on the night Dresser died and his relationship with the woman. Spielman repeatedly says “I didn’t kill anybody,” and once tells Schwamberger to “stop with the mind tricks.”
Schwamberger can be heard telling Spielman he needs to be honest — that police have a strong case.
“If I’m a juror, what do I think?” Schwamberger said. “I’m trying to get you to see how this looks.”
Jurors are expected to watch the second half of Spielman’s interview with police as the trial picks up again at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in Hancock Superior Court 1. All proceedings are open to the public.