HARRISONBURG Today was the first of a five day murder trial of Dallas Chaplin. Chaplin is accused of 1st degree murder in the death of Benjamin Graessle at the Commons apartment complex.
A pool of 54 people were called into the court room in order to select a jury of 14 jurors. Judge Thomas Wilson said they had to get 26 people to make sure they would have 14 jurors for the trial. The jury is half men, half women; some may have seen media coverage or heard about the case prior to walking in the court room, and some are parents.
During opening statements, Commonwealth's Attorney Marsha Garst painted a picture of a night of partying gone wrong. She says Chaplin willfully, deliberately and pre-meditated the murder of Graessle on December 23, 2012. She states throughout the trial, the jury will hear from several people who were at the party, and inmates who heard Chaplin talk about the murder. Garst also discussed Chaplin's possible link to the gang the VA Stickup's. The defense's opening statements says they will prove Chaplin is not guilty of 1st degree murder.
One of the first people to testify in the courtroom, was Graessle's mother, and a man who was at one point with Chaplin the night of the murder. At the time of the incident the person was underage. He stated he saw an altercation between Givi Dudinia and Graessle in the parking lot of the complex. He states Graessle was yelling at people to leave the apartment, and throwing punches at Dudinia. He says he then saw Chaplin walk over and shoot Graessle three times. The person than says he got in Dudinia's car and drove to McDonalds, and then to Food Lion, where they picked up Chaplin. At some point during the car ride, the person says Chaplin got a phone call and appeared surprised to hear Graessle died. They returned to Dudinia's home in Staunton.
Other witnesses called to the stand today included people at the party, who did not know Chaplin.
There is a list of 76 possible witnesses who could be called during the trial. One of the witnesses could possibly be Givi Dudinia's mother. No word if Dallas Chaplin will testify.
Both the Chaplin and Graessle family were inside the courtroom.