Closing arguments in Concord murder trial focus on credibility of witnesses

  • Daswan Jette looks at the knife he was holding in the vestibule on the night of the death of Sabrina Galusha at his murder trial at Merrimack County Superior Court on Thursday, January 23, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Daswan Jette demonstrates how he was holding the knife in the vestibule on the night of the death of Sabrina Galusha at his murder trial at Merrimack County Superior Court on Thursday, January 23, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 1/27/2020 6:03:11 PM
Modified: 1/27/2020 6:02:54 PM

A ‘fantastical story’ from an accused killer or an innocent man’s attempt to expose the truth. A premeditated killing supported by physical evidence or a senseless and horrible tragedy for which no one should be held criminally responsible.

In closing arguments Monday in the murder trial against Daswan Jette, attorneys on both sides directed jurors to meticulously review the evidence during their deliberations to separate fact from fiction and the plausible from the implausible.

Lies were a common theme in three weeks of testimony heard by jurors. But exactly who told the truth under oath about the circumstances surrounding a drug deal that preceded Sabrina Galusha’s death on the night of May 30, 2017, will be up to 12 jurors to decide.

While the prosecution focused on illustrating Jette’s well-calculated robbery plan, the defense theory was to cast doubt in jurors’ minds about the believability of three friends’ testimony and, more specifically, their motives that night at Penacook Place Apartments.

Galusha and three friends – Sam Chase, Annika Tidd Civetti and Madison Campbell – had traveled to the apartment complex in Penacook on May 30, 2017, to sell a half-ounce of marijuana to Jette, a man whom they had never met. Both sides agree on that, but their stories diverge from there.

Prosecutors with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office say Jette never planned to purchase the marijuana but instead snatched it and ran, prompting an altercation that escalated when he displayed a knife and ultimately stabbed Galusha multiple times. Conversely, the defense maintains Jette pulled out that knife in self-defense after Chase stole cash and a cellphone from him, and then pursued him into a vestibule of the apartment building at 36 Pinehurst St.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Ben Agati told the jury that Jette has had two years and eight months since his arrest to devise a “fantastical story” about how an innocent man hoping to buy a few grams of marijuana was deceived and attacked. However, he said, the tale of self-defense that Jette told on the stand last week could not be further from the truth.

“The defendant buried his knife hilt deep into Sabrina’s chest after she had the nerve to stand up to him and take back the $150 of weed he had the nerve to steal,” Agati said.

He acknowledged that Chase, Civetti and Campbell had told lies of their own when first questioned by authorities, but accused Jette of continuing to lie more than two years later.

“I want you to think about Annika Tidd (Civetti) who never even left the side of the car that night,” Agati said. “How she looked to you when she (said) she screamed at the defendant to get out of the car. Did she look like the face of someone making that up for nothing?”

Civetti, Campbell and Chase said they were all in the car when Jette reached toward Galusha with a knife, as if punching her multiple times. She then yelled out, “He (exploitive) stabbed me,” as blood began to pool on her chest and saturate her clothes. She quickly lost consciousness, witnesses said.

To the three friends who survived to tell their stories, it doesn’t matter where Galusha was stabbed that night, even though all of them are consistent in saying Jette plunged a knife into her chest in the backseat of Civetti’s Chevy Cruze, Agati said. But to Jette location is everything, Agati continued.

“Is it possible for her to have been stabbed in the vestibule and run back? Yes,” Agati said of that fatal chest wound that penetrated six inches through heart muscle. “Is it probable? No.”

With autopsy photos in the backdrop, he continued: “While he may have silenced her words, her wounds speak truth to what he did.”

New Hampshire Chief Medical Examiner Jennie Duval previously testified that Galusha had suffered three stab wounds: one to her knee, another to the buttock and the fatal one to the chest. She told jurors that the chest wound was a “rapidly fatal injury” and that Galusha’s heart would have stopped beating after a few minutes.

During her closing arguments Monday, public defender Caroline Smith focused on what she called inconsistencies in Duval’s testimony. She alleged that the medical examiner had initially conveyed in a sworn disposition that Galusha would have lost consciousness in minutes and died seconds later. On the stand, Duval repeatedly said a loss of consciousness occurs after a minimum of 10 seconds, and that death proceeds minutes after.

Duval said her statements were taken out of context and twisted by the defense. She said there is no scientific experiment that proves exactly when blood flow to the brain is terminated and consciousness lost, but affirmed it happens in seconds.

“You can see why Daswan might be worried about the judicial system his hands are in after listening to her testimony,” Smith said Monday.

The defense also spent much of its closing argument attacking Chase’s account of events and his truthfulness before jurors. Both sides agree that the marijuana was weighed on Jette’s blue scale. However, the defense contends that while that was happening, Chase reached over and stole cash and a cellphone from Jette’s lap.

Jette testified that he fled from the car with the marijuana in hand because he felt threatened by Chase in that moment and didn’t know what was happening.

“We’re not saying that Sam was trying to steal (Jette’s) money,” Smith said, adding that Chase could have been seeing if the cash was counterfeit or catching it before it fell off Jette’s lap.

She said Galusha never even knew what had happened between Jette and Chase, and just thought Jette had robbed them of the marijuana.

“Sam knows that the chain of events that led to Sabrina’s death was his mistake,” Smith said. “That’s why he lied to 911 and why he lied to you.”

Chase testifed under oath that he had not seen Jette’s cellphone. He said Jette flashed him a fist of folded up cash but that was it. It is his account that Jette bolted from the car because the expected half-ounce of marijuana was underweight.

Prosecutors allege that Jette had two knives on him that night: a black-handled folding knife and a steak knife. Duval said it is more probable that the steak knife was used to stab Galusha in the heart because of the depth of her wound. That knife in question was found outside the vestibule in the rain and there was no blood on the blade.

Smith said during closings Monday that the two-knife theory is “crazy.”

A third knife was seized by police during a search of Jette’s apartment in the hours after Galusha’s death. That knife, found in a dresser drawer, appears identical to the one recovered near the vestibule, although there was no expert testimony to confirm that conclusively.

Jurors began their deliberations after lunch on Monday. Jette faces charges of first- and second-degree murder, although jurors do have the option of convicting him of lower-level offenses to include manslaughter and negligent homicide depending on their assessment of the evidence against him.

Jette remains incarcerated pending the outcome of the case.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)



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