Day 2: Commonwealth presents their case
It was an emotional day in court, as witnesses continued to testify about the murder of Ben Graessle. During jury selection the Commonwealth's Attorney, Marsha Garst, warned there would be images difficult to see. Today some of the images were shown in the courtroom.
The first person to testify was Ben Harris, who was at The Commons apartment complex for a party on December 23, 2012. Harris saw the fight between Givi Dudinia, Dallas Chaplin's friend, and Graessel. He says they fell onto a car, and eventually into a mulch area where Dudinia was on top of Graessle. Harris then motioned Chaplin pointed a gun down towards Graessle, and shot him three times. Harris says Graessle got up and walked to the stairs where he fell. That is where Harris says he rolled Graessle over and performed CPR. At this point Graessle mother left the courtroom crying, after seeing some of the images taken at the crime scene. The defense asked several questions, and Harris says Graessle was yelling at Chaplin. Also, people tried to hold Graessle back from going downstairs, before the fight broke out between Graessle and Dudinia.
Justin Riley later testified about what happened seconds after Graessle was shot. He says Dudinia seemed surprised Chaplin shot Graessle. Once both men (Chaplin and Dudinia) left, Graessle got up and mumbled I am bleeding before he fell. Riley was emotional during his testimony, choking up during the testimony.. He says he never saw Graessle with a knife, or any weapon.
John Panzino also took the stand, saying Chaplin contacted him about hiding the murder weapon (gun), and Chaplin told him the gun was at Dudinia's home, hidden in the couch. Panzino says Dallas appeared drunk that night, but Panzio was not outside when the shooting happened. An officer with the Harrisonburg Police Department testified, the gun was eventually found in the rafter's of Dudinia's home. He says Dudinia's mother found the gun in the couch, moved it to the rafters and pointed it out to police.
A crime scene investigator laid out the evidence collected at The Commons Apartment Complex, and the murder weapon taken from the Dudinia's home.
In the afternoon, an investigator who interviewed Chaplin after he was arrested, played audio recordings from the interview. During the recordings, Chaplin says he shot Graessle because he saw him reach in his pocket to pull out a knife, and was about to stab his friend Givi. He also referred to the gun as a "little gun". The investigator in his transcript says Dallas referred to the shooting as " a little shooting situation". It was learned in the courtroom, Harrisonburg Police Department paid an informant $500 to find Chaplin so he could be arrested. Chaplin was arrested on December 27th.
Then several inmates testified about what they have heard from Chaplin about the case. Dansby Skinner, who met Chaplin in April, says Chaplin at first told him Graessle beat him (Chaplin) up. Later he said Graessle beat up Dudinia, one of his friends in the same gang, the VA Stickup. Skinner says Chaplin told him he shot Graessle to send a message, and did it to help his reputation in the gang. Skinner also outlined Chaplin has newspaper clippings of Graessle, including one about a scholarship created in Graessle's honor. Skinner says Chaplin told him this gives Chaplin more credit because the case is so large. Skinner ended saying he wanted to tell police what Chaplin told him to "help the family and give them closure". The defense asked Skinner about his criminal background, and if he was giving information to get a lesser sentence. Skinner says he hopes it would, but was not promised anything.
A booking photo of Chaplin was then shown of a tattoo on Chaplin's chest saying Stickup. A Rockingham County deputy confirmed he took the photo when Chaplin was arrested. The Defense did not ask any questions.
The last two people to testify were a police officer and gang expert. Kim Keppen, the gang expert, says Chaplin told her he was part of the VA Stickup gang. She also confirmed a picture of Chaplin holding a black and white handkerchief a certain way, is the way members of that gang hold that color handkerchief.
Tomorrow the Commonwealth will continue their presentation where lab experts will testify.
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