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Closing arguments set for Seth Mazzaglia murder trial

Union Leader Correspondent

June 24. 2014 8:04PM
Robert Andrew Mitchell testifies for the defense on Tuesday in the first-degree murder trial of Seth Mazzaglia in Strafford County Superior Court in Dover. Mitchell testified he was a longtime friend of Mazzaglia, who is accused of killing Elizabeth “Lizzi” Marriott. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

DOVER — Lawyers for accused murderer Seth Mazzaglia’s ended his defense at about noon Tuesday in Strafford County Superior Court in the high-profile trial that has seen nearly 19 full days of testimony since opening statements May 28.

“You have all the evidence in this case,” Judge Steven Houran told the jury, clarifying that closing arguments and his final instructions remain before the case is handed over to the nine women and seven men. “It is particularly critical at this point that you follow my instructions about not deliberating or deciding among yourselves.”

The group of 16 will be narrowed to 12 after closing arguments and Houran’s final instructions, when alternates are selected.

The trial will resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday, with the defense giving the first closing argument.

Defense attorney Joachim Barth made a “guesstimate” in court Tuesday that the defense’s closing argument will take about 90 minutes of the allotted two hours, meaning the prosecution likely will give its closing argument after lunch.

Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward said the prosecution’s closing could take close to two hours.

Mazzaglia, 31, faces first- and second-degree murder charges in the Oct. 9, 2012, death of Elizabeth “Lizzi” Marriott, a 19-year-old University of New Hampshire student from Westborough, Mass.

Prosecutors allege Mazzaglia strangled Marriott to death with a white cotton rope after she rebuffed his sexual advances after a game of strip poker in the Dover apartment Mazzaglia shared with his former girlfriend, Kathryn “Kat” McDonough, 20.

Defense attorneys have accused McDonough of killing Marriott that night during rough sex that led to suffocation and a seizure.

Final defense witness Robert Andrew Mitchell, 32, of Hillsborough, a friend since childhood of Mazzaglia’s, said he visited Mazzaglia at the couple’s Dover apartment about once a week in the summer of 2012. He said Mazzaglia and McDonough “seemed happy,” showed no outward indications of violence or exchanges of threats, and seemed to share their enjoyment of sexual activity involving bondage.

“There was significantly more rope around the apartment after (McDonough) started living there than before,” Mitchell said. “On at least one occasion, it was tied to ... the bedframe.”

Mitchell said Mazzaglia and McDonough would sometimes engage in sexual activities together while he was playing computer games in the one-room apartment, with his back turned.

“I tried to be a relatively accepting person ... so when it seemed to me like something like that might be going on, I tried not to intrude,” he said. “They would have been on the futon behind me.”

McDonough has testified that after Mazzaglia strangled Marriott, she helped Mazzaglia pack Marriott’s body into a suitcase and drive Marriott’s car to Peirce Island in Portsmouth, where McDonough said they pushed Marriott’s body into the water. Marriott’s body has never been found.

McDonough is serving a 1½- to three-year prison term after pleading guilty last July to charges that included witness tampering and hindering the investigation, as part of a plea agreement. She has testified that she helped cover up the murder and rape of Marriott.

On Tuesday, Houran denied a defense motion for a mistrial after deliberating in his chambers for more than 15 minutes.

Barth had raised questions about the prosecution’s cross-examination Monday of defense witness Lisa Greenwaldt, a former investigator for the N.H. Public Defender’s Office, where she is now a case coordinator.

Houran said the cross-examination was “not close” to limits that would justify consideration of a mistrial.

“It did not constitute a personal attack, nor did it impugn the integrity of the witness or the attorneys with which she works,” he said.

Houran noted that he’s admonished attorneys on both sides, several times during the trial, to use caution in their allegations and statements, particularly in the upcoming closing arguments.

“Add this to the list,” Houran said Tuesday. “To the list on both sides.”

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