Trial begins in '12 murder case
HUNTINGTON -- Edward "Jesse" Dreyfuse, infuriated over $30 in fake crack cocaine, picked up a baseball bat and viciously beat Otis Clay Jr., a 66-year-old man who had heart problems, asthma and mental impairment, according to prosecution testimony and arguments Tuesday.
A defense attorney highlighted Clay's alertness at the hospital and the victim's prior health issues suggesting those ailments, not the April 9, 2012, beating led to his death weeks later.
Stan Tomsey arranged the drug deal with a woman staying at Clay's residence, witnessed Dreyfuse's furious response and wept Tuesday as he noticed the beating's impact on Clay's sisters, both of whom sat in the courtroom.
Tomsey testified he did not initially realize what he thought was crack cocaine amounted to wax. He returned to Clay's house to retrieve the $30, but the effort to clam Dreyfuse's anger quickly escalated when the suspect followed and burst into the residence in the 900 block of Washington Avenue uninvited.
"I heard this crush," he testified, describing the moment the bat hit Clay's leg. "It sounded like he could have hit a couple of home runs."
Cabell County Prosecutor Chris Chiles told the jury, consisting of nine men and five women, that Tomsey will be one of five eyewitnesses who saw Dreyfuse either beat Clay with the bat or stand over Clay with the bat held in a striking position. Repeated blows with the aluminum bat inflicted blunt force injuries to Clay's head, two broken ribs, a fractured femur and other injuries, Chiles said.
Clay eventually died May 1. An indictment charges Dreyfuse with murder and burglary, both felonies.
"This is a case about anger, malice and violence, which was directed against a totally innocent man," Chiles said.
Defense attorney John Laishley characterized the case as one of several stories. He told jurors eyewitness accounts will provide "bits and pieces" about what occurred April 9, 2012, but certainty will come from Clay's hospital visit.
Laishley questioned the assertion that Clay suffered a concussion, insisting he signed his own consent for surgery. He also criticized the lack of a crime scene investigation.
"Did the fractured femur kill him?" Laishley rhetorically asked. "Did the anesthesia kill him? Or was Junior in very poor health? These stories and more will unfold in the next few days."
Tuesday's proceeding closed with testimony from Lilly Collins, the woman from whom Tomsey purchased the fake crack cocaine. She will continue testifying at 9 a.m. Wednesday when the trial resumes before Cabell Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell.
Tomsey and Collins testified Clay was a harmless, innocent man. Both cared for Clay, who in exchange befriended Tomsey and allowed Collins to stay at his house rent free.
The search for Dreyfuse, a two-time convicted felon, lasted for days after Clay's beating.
Investigators eventually used two pieces of paper found in a gym bag of dirty clothes to identify Dreyfuse, which then led to details of his criminal record and a photograph that led to his capture as the suspect attempted to hitchhike near Parkersburg, W.Va.
Now that criminal record bolsters the prosecution's chance at securing a life prison sentence. Chiles, in a hearing that preceded Tuesday's jury selection, said his office will use the state's three-strikes recidivism law to push for a life sentence should this week's jury return a verdict convicting Dreyfuse of any felony less than first-degree murder.
Chiles had offered not to pursue a recidivist proceeding in exchange for Dreyfuse pleading guilty to second-degree murder with a recommended 30-year prison sentence. The defendant rejected that offer.
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