Trial begins for man accused of murdering his brother
Whether or not a Woodford County man intentionally caused the death of his younger brother was the focus of opening arguments in a jury trial that began in Woodford Circuit Court on Monday. Vernon Sanders, 59, faces charges of murder, tampering with physical evidence and abuse of a corpse for allegedly shooting his 51-year-old brother multiple times and then dragging Timothy Saunders's lifeless body behind his pickup truck down Troy Pike in May 2014. "When you have heard the testimony," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Pat Malloy told jurors, "you will see the acts that Vernon Saunders committed were intentional." He said physical and DNA evidence will show that Vernon Saunders intentionally murdered his brother by shooting him six times with a 9mm handgun. "This is not a case of intentional murder," argued public defender Scott Getsinger. While many of the facts that Molloy laid out in his opening statement are not in dispute, Getsinger said, "There's a big disagreement on whether or not this is a case of intentional murder. We believe this is something less than intentional murder." When the shooting occurred, both Vernon and Timothy Saunders were "quite intoxicated," Getsinger argued. He said Vernon Saunders's blood alcohol level was not tested until 12 to 15 hours after his brother was shot to death. "There is no witness that will take the stand during this trial that will tell you it was an intentional act," said Getsinger. "The witnesses that will take the stand, who know these two individuals, will tell you that not only were they brothers, but they were best friends." Getsinger said the defense will present evidence that there had been break-ins in the area and Vernon Saunders believed he had shot an intruder. And his actions to get rid of the body were "done out of a drunken panic." The body of Timothy Saunders was discovered by a motorist during the early morning hours of Sunday, May 4, 2014. "To his horror," Molloy told jurors, "there was a human lying there." Other than his pants, which were around his ankles, and a pair of black shoes, Timothy Saunders was wearing no clothing, Molloy said. Investigating officers responding to the scene reported seeing what "appeared to several gunshot wounds to the torso of the body," he continued. Additionally, he said police officers saw "what appeared to be tire marks" on Troy Pike. Eventually, they realized that the black soles of Saunders's shoes made those marks on Troy Pike, which extended approximately a mile-and-a-half to the house where Vernon Saunders lived. "(Versailles Police detective) Wes Jones goes up to the door to see what's there," said Molloy. "The first thing he notices is there is blood on the door handle, door face in and around that door." He said Vernon Saunders did not come out of his house until after he was ordered to do so by law enforcement officers. He was taken into custody at around 11:20 a.m. In arguing against the defense's claim of an alcohol-induced panic or blackout, Molloy said Vernon Saunders did not smell of alcohol according to police officers, had no trouble walking, and his actions were not clouded by the use of alcohol. "What's important here," Molloy said, "is they (police) gave him some commands and he's obedient to those commands." He cited an interaction that Vernon Saunders had with Deputy Sheriff Bo Morgan the day after his arrest. Saunders was able to recall the Morgan's name, ".which I thought was pretty amazing (for him) to remember my name with all that was going on," Morgan testified on Tuesday afternoon. During testimony earlier on Tuesday, police detectives Jones (no longer employed by the VPD) and Matt Mitchell told jurors about what they observed at the scene of Vernon Saunders's home at 11530 Troy Pike on May 4, 2014. Asked by Molloy if Vernon Saunders smelled of alcohol at the time of his arrest, Jones testified, "No. I didn't feel like he was under the influence." Both Jones and Mitchell said a 9mm handgun was located under clothing on a shelf in a bedroom closet of Vernon Saunders's house after a search warrant was obtained. Next to the gun was a wallet containing Timothy Saunders's Florida driver's license, Jones said. "There appeared to be blood on some of the bills (sticking out of the wallet)," testified Mitchell. Both detectives said that none of the house's windows had been broken, and the front and back doors was not damaged. Several videos were shown to jurors while Mitchell was on the stand. Video that he recorded inside and outside of the Saunders residence showed what appeared to be drag marks from the kitchen through the garage as well as blood droplets on gravel near his pickup truck, Mitchell told jurors. He said that the ground was wet when he arrived at the scene at about 8:30 on the morning of May 4, 2014. Mitchell also testified about locating a bullet fragment at the base of a step going into a utility room, where he found bloody clothing and washcloths inside a washing machine. Mitchell also noted holes in the floor and shell casings on the floor of the kitchen, where he observed a bloody fingerprint on a bottle of vodka. He also observed what appeared to be blood on a hallway wall near Vernon Saunders's bedroom, where police located the 9mm handgun in his closet. Prosecutors argued the gun was used to murder Timothy Saunders. Also on Tuesday, forensic scientist Marci Adkins of the Kentucky State Police crime lab testified that DNA evidence that she processed from the scene matched blood samples taken from Vernon Saunders's shoes and a bloody t-shirt found in the washing machine to Timothy Saunders. Testimony in the trial continued on Wednesday, with closing arguments likely to occur on Thursday.