DOVER — The defense for accused murderer Seth Mazzaglia began its cross examination of Kathryn “Kat” McDonough, Mazzaglia’s former live-in girlfriend, Thursday morning by attacking her credibility on multiple fronts, from her statements in late 2012, to subsequent changes as she sought an immunity agreement, to questions about her first interactions with Mazzaglia in the spring of 2011.
Mazzaglia, 31, faces first- and second-degree murder charges in the Oct. 9, 2012, death of UNH student Elizabeth “Lizzi” Marriott, 19, after a game of strip poker in the Sawyer Mills home that Mazzaglia and McDonough shared.
Marriott had been a co-worker of McDonough’s at a Target store in Greenland, and visited the couple’s studio apartment that night at McDonough’s invitation. What occurred after the consensual game of strip poker, in which McDonough said she and Mazzaglia ended up naked while Marriott remained in her underwear, lies at the center of the highly emotional murder trial that has played out before a nearly full – and often stunned silent – courtroom in Strafford County Superior Court this week.
Early in his cross examination, Barth said to McDonough that “we’ve actually met before,” referring to a meeting in a conference room in his office just days after Mazzaglia was arrested for murder on Oct. 13, 2012.
Barth said that meeting occurred before McDonough had received any contact from Mazzaglia after his arrest, and was entirely voluntary on the part of McDonough.
“We had not compelled you in any manner to come and see us,” Barth said, and to which McDonough agreed.
Barth said that in that meeting, McDonough told him Marriott died at least partially of natural causes after participating in sexual acts with her and Mazzaglia.
“You described that she had a seizure, and subsequently died,” Barth said. “You have since changed that story, is that right?”
When McDonough agreed, Barth noted that the changes to McDonough’s version of events since that night came while McDonough was pursuing an immunity agreement that potentially would reduce her years in prison and prevent her from facing any other related charges in exchange for providing truthful testimony, meeting parole obligations and other conditions.
“It was during that process that you changed your story to blame Seth Mazzaglia for the cause of death,” Barth said.
In the trial’s opening statements May 28, Barth told jurors it was McDonough, not Mazzaglia, who killed Marriott.
Just like Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley began his questioning of McDonough on Tuesday asking about the period when she and Mazzaglia first met – after frankly asking her who killed Marriott – Barth on Thursday morning asked about that time period -- the spring of 2011 -- when Mazzaglia and McDonough were in a theater production together in Portsmouth.
Barth focused his questioning on the multiple personalities adopted by Mazzaglia and McDonough, which they shared and discussed through a series of Facebook messages. Barth challenged McDonough’s prior testimony, which indicated her use of such personalities had increased after she met Mazzaglia, and his questioning explored which member of the couple had larger influence in such conversations and how they affected and shaped their budding relationship.
“You described before your (immunity) agreement that these personalities, these characters, could occupy your mind, right?” Barth asked, adding that McDonough also once said the personalities could control her body, as well.
McDonough replied by saying, “it was easier to explain it that way” at the time, referring to initial questions by investigators after Marriott’s death.
“Your claim to this jury was that Seth shaped … these personalities, right?” Barth pressed.
“He did,” McDonough replied.
Questions of power and control, dominance and submission, could be central to what occurred in the couple’s disheveled one-room studio on the night of Marriott’s death. The couple’s mutual beliefs in past lives and powers to affect the natural world and even foresee the future have created a surreal backdrop to the trial.
Hinckley concluded his direct questioning of McDonough earlier Thursday by displaying and reading letters he said Mazzaglia wrote to McDonough from jail. The letters described a scenario in which Marriott was a willing participant in violent sex acts on the night of her death.
Some of the hand-written pages Hinckley displayed on a projection screen were torn, with notes in the margins and crudely drawn, simplistic drawings depicting sex acts involving bondage and choking. All of the letters used graphic language to describe violent sexual activity.
“(Marriott) got excited and asked: ‘You guys are into that stuff?’ and asked us to show her,” Hinckley said, reading one passage.
Mazzaglia later wrote, Hinckley read, that “(Marriott) asks if we ever choke each other” and “she seemed aroused, turned on.”
“Did Lizzi ever seem aroused by anything the defendant did to her on Oct. 9?” Hinckley asked McDonough.
“No,” McDonough replied.
One passage described Marriott’s eyes “rolling and fluttering” as her life became in danger. Hinckley, reading aloud, said Mazzaglia wrote: “I fight to untie the harness, grab the knife….and cut it. …I try to wake her but she is unresponsive.”
McDonough testified Wednesday that she was sitting next to Marriott in the Sawyer Mills apartment McDonough and Mazzaglia shared when Mazzaglia began strangling Marriott with a white cotton rope. McDonough said Marriott had declined to participate in any sexual contact with her or Mazzaglia, and had said it wouldn’t be OK for the couple to have sex in front of her.
McDonough testified Wednesday that after Mazzaglia choked Marriott while wearing black leather gloves, he raped her limp body for several minutes while fondling and insulting her.
McDonough, 20, is serving a 1½- to three-year prison term after pleading guilty to charges including witness tampering and hindering the investigation. She has testified that she helped cover up the murder of Marriott.
McDonough admitted Wednesday to giving “false details” to investigators in the days and months following Marriott’s death.
Mazzaglia was arrested on suspicion of murder Oct. 13, 2012. McDonough was arrested Dec. 24, 2012. Hinckley noted that McDonough’s original sentence for felony perjury and other charges was for up to 18 years and that she could return to jail for much of that time if she failed to meet her obligations in court.
“What is your primary obligation?” Hinckley asked.
"To tell the truth,” McDonough replied.
Hinckley asked McDonough on Wednesday if she killed Marriott, if Marriott died “accidentally or any other way,” or “in any sort of sexual activity in which she was a willing participant.” McDonough said “no” to all three.
The trial continues this afternoon.