MAYVILLE – Both sides agree that Jason Wells caused the death of his elderly neighbor in February 2010. The question for jurors is whether he was insane at the time.
Opening statements in the trial were presented Tuesday morning. Chautauqua County District Attorney David Foley said that 81-year-old Ruth Fisk had befriended Wells, 37, who lived in an apartment above her in a complex known as One Temple Square in Fredonia. Foley said Wells was seen with Fisk early on Feb. 5 and that he was driving her minivan.
Foley told jurors that they would see a video of the actions that led to Fisk’s death, adding that the cause of death was “multiple blunt force and sharp force trauma as well as strangulation.”
Wells’ assigned counsel, Lyle Hajdu of Lakewood, told the jurors that they will hear from expert witnesses who will talk about Wells’ diagnosis of “paranoid schizophrenia.”
“The defendant did not understand that what he did was wrong,” Hajdu said in his opening statement. “There is no question of who has done it,” he added.
The attorney told the jurors that Wells spent nearly two years in a state psychiatric facility before being returned to stand trial.
Hajdu told the jurors he will seek an insanity defense for his client and asked them to pay attention to the charges from County Judge John Ward.
The first two witnesses in the case were John Ramos, a close family friend to Fisk, and John Burse, the maintenance supervisor for the apartment complex.
Burse testified that he searched Fisk’s home after her friends could not reach her by phone.
Burse didn’t find her in her apartment so he went to Wells’ apartment. Burse asked Wells about a carpet in the apartment. Burse said Wells admitted to him that she was inside it. “I rolled back the edge and saw her shoe,” Burse said.
He said that Wells rolled more of the carpet back and revealed the victim’s body.
An emergency medical technician testified that he arrived at the scene and found the body in the rug and observed “a man sitting on the couch.”
When police arrived, they saw blood on Wells’ feet and clothing. A police officer said he also noticed blood on a pair of pants in the bedroom of the apartment.
Several neighbors testified that they had seen Fisk and Wells together. Former neighbor Annette Silleman said she tried to warn the elderly Fisk that Wells would cause her trouble. “I told her he was a snake,” Silleman said. “She wouldn’t listen.”
Silleman said that Fisk was a kind person who was helpful to others. “My feelings about Jason were not good and I told her it would not be good,” she said.
A police officer testified that Wells asked to type his own statement and was allowed to use a computer in the Fredonia police station to type it. In the statement, Wells admitted killing Fisk. He said he believed she molested his children and he got the blame.
The statement also said that Wells thought Fisk had “died before.” The remark sounded confusing to jurors who soon afterward asked the judge if they could take notes. Ward said he did not want jurors to take notes and that when it came time for deliberations, they could ask for any evidence to be read to them by the court reporter.
Fredonia Police Officer John Ferrara introduced one of Wells’ statements to the jury. In the statement, Wells said “she touched my children and I am being blamed for it and now I am being blamed for her murder.” Wells also said he poked out her eyes and used a knife to cut her throat. He said he moved her body to another room on Thursday, Feb. 4 when someone came to his apartment.
“I watched over her body for two days,” Wells said in his statement. He also told police he tried to clean his own carpet with bleach and told police that they would not find any DNA because he used so much bleach.
Police testimony was followed by several neighbors who said they knew that Fisk took Wells for errands and talked to him. A next-door neighbor told the court that he heard loud noises in Wells’ apartment on the night that it is suspected Fisk was murdered.
Another neighbor told the jurors that she saw Wells driving Fisk’s car and saw him carry beer into the apartment building.
The trial is expected to last about one week with mental health professionals as well as some jail employees scheduled to testify.