Thursday’s testimony in the William Hargrove murder trial took a high-tech turn, focusing on surveillance video and electronic data gleaned from cellphones, computers and other electronic devices — including images that show dark spots on the defendant’s head that prosecutors suggest may have been the victim’s blood.
Hargrove, 29, is charged with murder, identity theft and two counts of theft in connection with the killing of Anna Repkina, a 27-year-old Russian woman who came to this country after meeting Hargrove online.
The two got an apartment in Corvallis and had plans to get married, but Repkina was found dead on a logging road near Alsea on April 17, 2017, killed by a shotgun blast to the head.
Prosecutors claim Hargrove murdered her to please his married lover, 37-year-old Michelle Chavez of Albany. Until he moved in with Repkina, Hargrove was living in the same house with Chavez and her husband.
The defense insists that Hargrove is innocent and that it was Chavez who killed Repkina. Chavez has denied that allegation in court and has not been charged with a crime.
Thursday’s first witness was Rhiannon Demings, a Eugene Police Department forensic analyst with specialized training in examining video evidence. Under questioning by Amie Matusko, the senior deputy district attorney for Benton County, Demings testified that she was asked to assist in the case by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.
The jury was shown a number of video clips and still images from surveillance cameras at area businesses that appeared to show Hargrove’s blue Nissan Xterra, which had a number of distinctive features.
Video footage appeared to show Hargrove’s vehicle traveling west on Highway 20 through Corvallis and Philomath in the direction of Alsea on the afternoon of April 16, 2017, the day prosecutors believe Repkina was killed, then returning to Corvallis that evening.
Additional video appears to show Hargrove’s Xterra parked outside John Boy’s Alsea Mercantile, with two people in the front, for a few minutes shortly after 6 p.m. that day. The vehicle then pulls out of the parking lot and drives away.
In an earlier court appearance, Chavez testified that she met Hargrove at the Mercantile late that afternoon and argued with him in his vehicle, then drove with him to an isolated stretch of road outside the small town, where the two had sex in the front seat of the Nissan.
Video footage shot inside the store just before the exterior shots of the Xterra shows Hargrove going up to the counter to make a purchase. In examining that footage, Demings testified, she could see what appeared to be dark spots on Hargrove’s bald head but couldn’t make out what they were. She said she used forensic techniques to enlarge and enhance the images to make the spots more clearly visible.
Matusko used a laser pointer to highlight the spots for the jury.
While the prosecution never said so in front of the jury on Thursday, Matusko indicated during a conference with defense attorney Mike Flinn and Judge Matthew Donohue while jurors were out of the courtroom that she plans to argue the dark spots were blood.
“There’s no evidence that the dark marks on his head are blood,” Flinn objected as part of an effort to suppress photos of the spots.
“They are part of a chain of facts that will lead to a conclusion,” Matusko countered.
Donohue said he would allow the photos as evidence.
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Flinn did his best to undercut that evidence in his cross-examination of Demings.
“You’ve got absolutely no idea what those are, correct?” he asked her.
“No,” she replied.
“You can’t tell what color they are, correct?” he persisted.
“No,” she said.
However, Demings added, there are some definite observations she can make.
“There are dark spots in that particular video from the Mercantile” that do not appear in other video clips, she testified.
The other main witness on Thursday was Detective Christopher Dale of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, who is trained in gathering forensic evidence from cellphones, computers and other electronic devices.
Dale testified that he examined some 36 electronic devices seized by law enforcement officers executing search warrants, including cellphones belonging to Hargrove and Chavez as well as Hargrove’s laptop. He said he also obtained records of financial activity involving Repkina’s bank accounts.
His testimony covered a lot of ground and took up much of the time on Thursday as Matusko asked him a series of detailed and sometimes technical questions.
Dale testified that electronic records show someone used a bank card at an automated teller machine at the Jackson’s gas station and convenience store at 1334 NW Ninth St. in Corvallis to check the balance in Repkina’s checking and savings accounts at about 6:45 p.m. on April 16, 2017, the day prosecutors believe she was murdered. At 6:46 p.m., someone withdrew $202.50 from Repkina’s account at the same ATM.
At 7:05 p.m., Dale testified, an additional $603 was withdrawn from Repkina’s account at the ATM at Chase Bank, 2055 NW Circle Blvd.
Video footage introduced in court appeared to show Hargrove entering the Jackson’s convenience store at 6:45 p.m. that day, walking up to the ATM and performing several transactions, then walking away with cash. Dale testified that cellphone and Wi-Fi data appears to place Hargrove in the vicinity of the Chase Bank ATM at 7:05 p.m.
During that entire time period, he testified, location data from Chavez’s cellphone appears to place her at her mother’s house in Philomath.
The trial resumes Friday morning in Benton County Circuit Court.
The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case on Monday, after which Flinn will begin calling witnesses for the defense.
The case is expected to go to the jury on Nov. 25.