Jury to decide Fuller’s fate

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – The jury was sequestered Wednesday night to consider evidence and render a verdict in the capital murder trial of Devin Wayne Fuller.

Court will return today, and a decision is expected to result.

Fuller, 20, 3567 Franklin St., Bellaire, faces two counts of aggravated murder committed in the course of rape and aggravated burglary, one count of aggravated burglary, one count of burglary, and two counts of trespassing.

His co-defendant is Brandon Michael Phelps, 1281 Birch St., Bellaire.

Lydia Ashworth, 92, was found murdered in her home June 30, 2012.

The defense called Fuller’s mother, Crystal Boyd, and Fuller’s stepbrother, Brandon Boyd. Brandon testified that Fuller spent the evening of June 29 at his residence in Bellaire with a third brother. Brandon stated he went to sleep at about 2 or 3 a.m. that night.

Assistant District Attorney Paul Scarsella gave a closing statement for the prosecution, noting that there was ample evidence that crimes fitting the designation of purposeful took place.

“She is a 92-year-old woman. She was in her home,” he said. “Whoever did this to Lydia Ashworth intended that she die.”

He added that the state of the body was such to infer a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault had occurred.

“They’re there to steal,” he said, adding that Ashworth was likely killed to eliminate a witness who could identify the perpetrators. “This is a 92-year-old woman. She resisted these people being in her home. There was a decision made to kill her.”

Scarsella said there was no question about the source of the hair found in the residence. He then noted the proximity of the hair to the body, and that the best DNA results are derived from hair with the root intact, as if pulled.

“Devin Wayne Fuller was in the house that night. Devin Wayne Fuller was on the side of the bed that night,” he said. “How else is that hair going to end up where it did?”

He maintained the prosecution has proved its case.

“There is no accident in this death. There’s no mistake in this death. This was the purposeful killing of a 92-year-old woman,” he said.

Speaking for the defense, attorney Kirk McVey argued that the state of the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction. While one hair from Fuller was found in the area around the body that was vacuumed for evidence, the prosecution could not positively state whether the hair was from the bedding or the floor.

He argued that there is no connection between Fuller and the premises and no connection between him and the stolen items. He said a hair could very easily be transferred from one place to another. He added that Fuller had been friends and in close contact with Phelps, whose hair color matches the majority of foreign hairs found at the scene.

McVey also said the investigators had lax control of the crime scene and hair could have been tracked from other parts of the house to the body.

“Things were handled haphazardly,” he said, and pointed human error and a case in which one hair was misplaced in the controlled environment of a lab. “How foolproof is this science?”

He added that investigators acted on the assumption that a sexual assault took place, which may have led to ignoring other evidence. He said the jury could not rule out an infection or other cause of the injuries.

Defense argued that while the investigators initially assumed a rape had taken place, no semen was found at the scene and the wounds to Ashworth’s hands suggest defensive actions, not grabbing and pulling hair.

He added that the stepbrother’s testimony placed Fuller at his residence that night.

Belmont County Prosecutor Dan Fry said the defense was attempting to confuse and obscure the central DNA evidence, which he called an elephant in the room.

“They throw noise at you and hope that some of it sticks,” he said. “Mr. Fuller left his calling card that night. He didn’t know it. DNA exonerates you, and DNA convicts you.”

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com