Bright murder trial begins

After jury selection, opening statements by the prosecution and defense, and some prosecution witness testimony, the trial for a man charged with murder entered its third day on Wednesday.
David Leroy Bright is charged with killing James R. “Jim” Skinner at Skinner’s home in rural Brownstown in September 2017.
Bright, 71, is being tried on two counts of first-degree murder, with information filed by the office of Fayette County State’s Attorney Joshua Morrison alleging that Bright struck Skinner in the head with a sledgehammer, causing his death.
The two counts of murder are punishable by up to 60 years in prison, with life in prison a possibility if certain factors are present.
Bright, who is represented by Fayette County’s public defender, William Starnes, has been in Fayette County Jail on $1-million bond since his arrest in January 2018.
Jury selection for the trial was held Monday morning at the American Legion Home in Vandalia in order to comply with COVID-19 guidelines.
It was completed by early afternoon, and after a lunch break, the trial judge, Kimberly G. Koester, met with Morrison, Starnes and Fayette County Circuit Clerk Kathy Emerick to determine how the courtroom would be set up for the trial.
That included having some jurors sit in the jury box and the remainder of the jurors spread out in the benches on the west side of the courtroom.
The trial resumed on Tuesday morning, with opening statements by Morrison and Starnes.
In his opening statement, Morrison said the evidence will show that Bright was going to the victim’s home south of Brownstown to borrow money from a female, and that phone records show that Bright called Skinner’s phone 12 times on the morning of the murder.
He said that Bright called a female at 10:08 a.m. about borrowing $20. Eleven minutes later, he called to tell her he had money, Morrison said.
He said that when Bright met her, he gave her money for presents for her kids, that he bought gas and lunch, and they went to Missouri.
Morrison said he believes the female will testify that she noticed that Bright had a different phone and also that during their trip, he was crying, but wouldn’t tell her why.
Morrison also told jurors the female would testify that Bright asked her to launder some clothing, including a pair of pants, that a forensic lab tech would testify were stained with Skinner’s blood.
The state’s attorney said that Bright initially denied being at Skinner’s home, and that he did admit during a third interview that he had been there.
Also, Morrison said, Skinner’s wallet was never found.
In his opening statement, Starnes told jurors that the prosecution would have them believe that Bright, weighing about 300 pounds, “sneaked up on him (Skinner) and hit him on the head.”
Also, he said, the prosecution would believe that Skinner allowed him in his house and to hold a sledgehammer in the house.
Bright is said, is “not quick, agile.
“It’s preposterous,” Starnes said. “It didn’t go down like that.
“Ask yourself – the state hasn’t been able to explain what happened, how the defendant ever got close enough for that to happen,” Starnes said.
A sledgehammer said to the murder weapon was found in weeds next to the driveway of Skinner’s home, and Starnes contended that if Bright committed the murder, he would not leave the sledgehammer there and that he would not leave pants with what was believed to be blood in the van in which he was traveling.
“You would try to hide them,” Starnes said.
The first witnesses called by the prosecution included two Illinois State Police officers.
Special Agent Jeff Kline, who is now retired, handled the murder investigation, and Master Sgt. Abigail Henn, who at the time of the murder was a sergeant who was involved in processing the murder scene.
Kline said that one of the things that led investigators to consider Bright as a suspect were the 12 phone calls he made to Skinner’s phone on the day of the murder.
Henn identified the sledgehammer that is believed to be the murder weapon and testified about processing the murder scene.
Other witnesses testifying on Tuesday included Skinner’s son, Ryan, who said that he was with his father in the morning and that he went to his father’s house later in the day to borrow a pressure washer.
After getting no response when calling for his father, he found him lying in bed. He said he walked to the door of his father’s bedroom.
“That’s when I realized something bad had happened.”
Ryan Skinner testified that he then drove to nearby home of a cousin, who called 911 and also called a neighbor to have him go to Skinner’s home to check on him.
Dr. Marissa Feeney, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Jim Skinner, testified that Skinner had died from “blunt impact trauma with multiple fractures and brain injury.”
Asked what might have cause the injuries, Feeney said, “a large, heavy, blunt instrument.”
Asked whether that could be a sledgehammer, Feeney said, “it could be caused by something consistent with that object.”
Feeney testified that it would be difficult to tell exactly how many times Skinner had been struck. It would have been “more than one, possibly two to three impacts,” she said.

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