During an interview with police officers, Dana Rister admitted that he choked Debra Pioterek and said that his DNA probably would be discovered on her body.
But what a Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury will have to decide is whether Rister strangled her and left her body in a dark shed near the shuttered Southwyck Shopping Center or whether, during a "fight for his life," he choked Ms. Pioterek to death.
A jury of seven women and five men heard opening arguments and the testimony of five witnesses during the first day of Rister's trial Tuesday. Rister, 42, of 2223 Laurel Valley Dr., is charged with two alternate counts of murder and faces up to life in prison if convicted.
During opening statements, Assistant County Prosecutor Jevne Meader outlined what occurred after police received a call June 26 about a dead body near the mall. He said police processed the scene, recovered evidence, and determined that the victim had been strangled.
But it wasn't until a tip came in months later that police were led to who might have killed Ms. Pioterek, and Rister was arrested in San Bernardino, California.
"The defendant confessed to killing Debra Pioterek, to strangling her with his hands," Mr. Meader said. "He also confessed that his DNA would be under the victim's nails because she scratched and clawed at his face. He was right."
Defense attorney David Klucas acknowledged that his client admitted during an interview with San Bernardino County sheriff's detectives to choking Ms. Pioterek and that he even warned that his DNA probably would be found on her body. But he also described to the detectives what happened in the dark shed where he said he "couldn't see a thing," Mr. Klucas said.
After a night socializing at a bus stop near 5225 Southwyck Blvd., Rister decided he was going to sleep in the shed, which was "not an unusual practice" for him, Mr. Klucas said.
But when he went inside and touched what he believed was a pile of clothing, he was instead confronted with a screaming person, he said.
"He has absolutely no idea what is going on other than he is fighting for his life in a building that is no bigger than a phone booth," Mr. Klucas said. "She kept fighting, she kept clawing. It wouldn't stop and he choked her."
Testifying yesterday were members of law enforcement, the deputy county coroner, and Rister's former employer, who testified that Rister phoned in to quit his job around the time Ms. Pioterek was killed.
The trial is to resume today with additional testimony. Judge Gene Zmuda is presiding over the trial.
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