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Retrial opens in death of woman inside shed

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Dana Todd Rister, left, with his attorney, David Klucas, at the April trial that ended in a mistrial, is accused of murdering Debra Pioterek in a shed. Ms. Pioterek's body was found near the former Southwyck Shopping Center. Rister, 42, is claiming self-defense in the case.

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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For the second time in two months, assistant Lucas County prosecutors recounted how Dana Todd Rister came across a woman in an abandoned shed June, 2008, and how after struggling with her, he strangled her with his hands.

But whether the death of Debra Pioterek was murder or self-defense, as the defense contends, will not be the decision of a jury but instead of a Lucas County common pleas judge.

Judge Gene Zmuda heard opening statements and the testimony of seven witnesses Tuesday in the murder trial of Rister.

Rister, 42, of 2223 Laurel Valley Drive, is charged with two alternate counts of murder and faces up to life in prison if convicted.

In the middle of jury selection Monday, the defense waived its right to a jury trial and decided to try the case before a judge. The first of Rister's trials in late April was declared a mistrial.

Tuesday, attorney David Klucas told Judge Zmuda the defense would agree with much of the state's evidence. The disagreement, he said, would be in what it means. He said Rister admitted in his statement to detectives he came across someone in the shed and was trying to defend himself.

"He feels what he thinks is a pile of clothing and after he touches it, that pile of clothing came to life," Mr. Klucas said. "All he knows was it was attacking him and he was in the fight for his life in a building no bigger than a phone booth."

Assistant County Prosecutor Jevne Meader outlined what occurred after police received a call June 26, 2008, about a body near the former Southwyck Shopping Center. He said police processed the scene, recovered evidence, and determined the victim had been strangled.

It was months later that the mystery of how Ms. Pioterek came to be in the shed began to unravel, Mr. Meader said. An informant called police in September, and Rister was arrested hundreds of miles away in San Bernardino, Calif., where he had since moved.

San Bernadino County Sheriff's Detective Greg Myler testified yesterday about the interview held with Rister soon after his arrest. In the lengthy recorded interview played for the court, Rister could be heard telling detectives he came across something in the shed and ended up using his hands to strangle it.

He also admitted he tried using a pocketknife to cut off one of the victim's hands to hide his DNA.

"She clawed my face," Rister told the detectives. "My DNA is probably under her fingernails."

Also testifying yesterday were a DNA analyst who said Rister's DNA was found on the victim's fingernail clippings, and Rister's former employer who testified that Rister quit his job with a phone call around the time Ms. Pioterek was killed.

The trial will resume today with closing arguments.

Judge Zmuda also is expected to rule on a defense motion asking that Rister be acquitted of the charges claiming a lack of evidence. Assistant prosecutors opposed the motion noting specifically the testimony of Deputy Lucas County Coroner Cynthia Beisser, who ruled the death a homicide by manual strangulation.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.

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