Mark Sievers trial: Opening statements wrap up, witness testimony begins: Day 1

Opening statements and testimony from the first two witnesses in the Mark Sievers trial have now wrapped up following almost a week of jury selection.

Mark Sievers is accused of orchestrating the murder of his wife, Doctor Teresa Sievers, back in 2015.

The jury is made up of three men and nine women.

All of the jurors had to undergo personal questions to determine if they have any bias, like if they’ve been a victim of a crime before.

The court also made it very clear that the jurors would not be hearing from Mark Sievers himself and wanted to see if that would automatically sway jurors’ opinions.

The jurors will, however, hear from Curtis Wayne Wright who has already admitted to committing the murder.

The trial is expected to take five weeks.

WATCH RECORDED VIDEOS FROM THE COURTROOM

WARNING: This video may include graphic content that may be disturbing to some viewers.  NOTE: During a court recess, you will see a state of Florida seal.


Opening statements: State

The first day of opening statements started with a look back at the evidence by State Attorney Cynthia Ross.

She began two months before the murder, April 29, 2015, with a text sent by Mark to a friend who lived 1,100 miles away at 10:18 a.m. The text read: “Hopefully we can talk privately tomorrow, not about you or Angie, but it’s personal.”

The next day, Mark flies to Missouri to stand by the side of his lifelong friend, Curtis Wayne Wright, on his wedding day. During this time, Mark would explain to Wright what he meant by that text message. He needs a favor.

He will confide to Wright that his wife, Dr. Teresa Sievers, is leaving him. He asks Wright, who has stood by him in tough times, to help him stop it. That takes Wright by surprise.

Ten days after the wedding, Mark returns to his Bonita Springs home. Two days later, he buys tickets for him, Teresa and their two daughters to travel to Connecticut to celebrate Teresa’s mother’s birthday. He books the tickets so that Teresa will return on June 28, 2015, late on a Sunday night, and for his girls to return Wednesday, July 1, 2015.

Mark sends a message to Wright saying, “Mailing out today. Call me. It’s very simple.” Just 13 minutes later, he sends a second text that says “Since neither of us are likely to carry both with us, whenever you want to use the other, just text me ‘other’ and then when I can, I’ll call.”

Like a puzzle with hundreds of pieces, one piece at a time, one corner put together at a time, two pieces connected. And like a puzzle, the initial piece placed on the board doesn’t seem to connect to the others. They seem to have no visual connection. It took time. And, just like a puzzle, the pieces get knocked and have to be picked back up or rearranged.

Perhaps the first piece placed in the puzzle was a Cellebright download of Mark’s personal cell phone. But it would take a number of weeks to review that download before a red flag would be raised.

The first piece comes July 9 from police in Illinois. The second piece comes the next day.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office flew out to Illinois to briefly speak to someone and stayed for 12 days. There they’d learn of a name they’d never seen before. Wright was not on their radar originally, but the information received would lead to a search warrant of his home. It would take some time before the significance became apparent, but those pieces would lead to the viewing of some of the hundreds of videos that were collected in the case.

Moving on to January and February 2016, where some of the pieces collected in July and August were taken out of the box and now closely examined.

This is a case where 21st-century technology became vital. Every time an app updates, every time we make a phone call, every time a text message or Snapchat is sent, that communication pings off a cell tower. It’s then recorded and forwarded to where it is sent in the blink of an eye.

In 2015, the cell tower that was nearest to Jarvis Road during the period of time where Teresa’s phone connected to the Wi-Fi as she was driving home from the airport and where her body was found 10 hours later, over 98,000 numbers were recorded. Finding an unknown number in that large amount of numbers is like finding a needle in a haystack. While many cell phones are connected to a name, including prepaid phones, some of those, often called “burner phones,” are not connected to any name or user.

Myra Simmons was tasked with focusing on two state area codes: Georgia and California. That was because Detective Downes had learned from Wright that he had purchased a burner phone with a Georgia area code. He didn’t remember the number and the phone had been destroyed. As for the California number, Downes had simply guessed.

Simmons started her search, which eventually led her to a phone with a Georgia area code that had pinged off the tower near Jarvis Road the night of the murder. With that number in hand, she uploaded the information from that tower as well as the Chapel Hill tower, which is located right near Wright’s home. She found that number had pinged off of both towers.

The call detail record showed a very interesting pattern; an interwoven connection as both the phone with the Georgia number and the California burner phone were both active for a short period and both stopped being used in the summer of 2015.

To only strengthen the ties, the California burner phone was purchased at a Naples Walmart where both it and Mark’s personal phone pinged off a nearby tower at the same time, within two minutes of the activation of the burner. Every time the burner phone pinged off the tower, Mark’s personal cell would ping off the same tower. As Simmons would say, they laid their heads on the same pillow.

A few other pieces of the puzzle: a shredded life insurance policy in Mark’s office on Teresa’s death totaling around $5 million, and physical evidence like the blue coveralls and broken cell phone.

Then there was the Garmin GPS found at Wright’s home. LCSO was able to retrieve the deleted and overwritten data that showed a trip to Jarvis Road the weekend of the murder, as well as a Walmart and various gas stations.

Those videos were collected that could now be used in any context. The video from Walmart shows Jimmy Ray Rodgers and Wright walking into the Walmart on Six Mile Cypress Road the morning of the murder. Just a few hours after the murder, the two were seen entering a gas station just a few hours north.

Initially, Wright was protecting himself, Sievers and Rodgers, but he did provide statements to law enforcement about how the murder occurred.

Wright has entered a plea to second-degree murder in exchange for providing truthful testimony. He will be sentenced for his role in the crime at a later date.

You can learn from him that he and Mark met in high school and have been good friends ever since. They’ve been through a lot over the years and they can tell each other anything, and at times they did. The two are there for each other in the good times and the not-so-good times. Wright attended Mark’s wedding to Teresa and spent time over the course of their marriage, although he didn’t see Teresa often.

Mark was Wright’s best friend and his best friend was telling him that he was desperate and was pulling at his heartstrings, telling him he would lose his girls and that his girls would be in danger. Wright said he would see what he could do.

During those conversations, Mark made it clear there was a lot of insurance money involved and said he would pay Wright $100,000 or more to murder Teresa. Mark knew of Wright’s precarious finances.

Once Rodgers agreed to help Wright with the murder, the serious planning began. Mark picked a time when he and the girls would be out of town: the perfect alibi. It seemed a little problematic for Wright since he’d been planning a trip to Florida to change out the server. He told people about it, but Mark was in the driver’s seat.

Wright drove to Florida, so there were no airline records. He paid cash for gas and used burner phones, so there’s no communication. So how would this ever get traced back to him?

“There is only one true verdict,” said Ross. “That Mark Sievers is guilty of the premeditated murder of Teresa Sievers and that Mark Sievers is guilty of conspiracy for that murder to be completed.”


Opening statements: Defense

Defense Attorney Michael Mummert started off the opening statements for the Defense after about an hour of the State’s opening statement. “What I’m about to tell you is a narrative that I’ve constructed from the evidence,” he said.

Wright has been a longtime friend of Mark. They both grew up in Missouri and met in high school. Over the years, Wright would get into computers and in that, he was good with computers and eventually performed some of the computer maintenance at Teresa’s medical practice.

Wright has access to the Sievers’ medical computers remotely through something called a VPN or virtual private network, so he can do this job and access their information from Missouri. 

Wright is getting married on May 3, 2015, in Missouri and Mark is invited to attend the wedding. Mark goes, he comes back. There have been texts between Mark and Wright for years.

Sometime in June, Wright decides to go to Florida. He doesn’t hide this. He texts people, “I’m going to Florida.” Wright receives a check from the medical practice for $600 for IT work.

I would expect you would see similar checks in this amount and for how often he gets them to this one, said Mummert. Wright takes his friend Rogers with him. There is not going to be much evidence that Rodgers and Mark know each other. They exchanged pleasantries at Wrights’ wedding that was the extent of that relationship.

So, Wright and Rodgers get to Bonita Springs at 6 a.m. on June 28, 2015. Mark and his family are in Connecticut celebrating Teresa’s mother’s birthday, Mary Ann Groves.

Teresa leaves before the rest of her family because she is the only doctor at her medical practice who’s capable of seeing patients and administering their medical care. She gets on a plane and arrives back in Bonita Springs late on June 28, 2015.

This is where my narrative becomes unreliable,” says Mummert.

Rodgers and Wright go to Jarvis Road to quickly view the Sievers’ home in the morning. Wright had been there several times where he acquired the garage alarm code of 1313, which is a mnemonic device derived from the old sitcom ‘The Munsters.’ The Munsters’ address was 1313 Mockingbird Lane.

They let themselves in. They are in the house, then they leave, at which point they go to Walmart to buy souvenirs. Wright then says after they go to Walmart, they go to Teresa’s medical practice to view it as a potential spot for the murder.

They go to the beach, have a beer and finally go back to the Sievers’ home after dark. They park in an apartment complex about 1/4 mile away. Wright will say that they each put on a jumpsuit, latex gloves and taped their wrists and ankles with duct tape.

They make a pry mark on the side door of the home to make it look like a burglary. Wright will then say that Teresa surprised them when she came home. He will say he is in the garage checking out Mark’s motorcycle when the garage door starts to lift. Wright panics and as Teresa walks into the home, he follows. Wright picks up the hammer and he’s intending to perform a submission move called a “rear-naked choke.”

He kicks over a dog bowl and the sound alerts Teresa. He turns around and hits her in the side of the head, leaving a crescent-shaped gash. He strikes her once more before he says his shoulder is bothering him. He got tired, at which point Wright says Rodgers also had a hammer and began swinging wildly, ultimately killing Teresa.

Wright then drops the hammer on the floor and leaves the house. The hammer and photos of it show it has Teresa’s hair entwined in it with her blood on it.

On the way back, Wright says he disposes of his jumpsuit, which was stuffed in a backpack. For whatever reason, Jimmy does not. They leave the house. They take nothing. Then they head back to Missouri.

“Later, I’m going to explain why the narrative I just told you is unreliable,” said Mummert.

Dr. Mark Petritis finds Teresa’s body. Detectives Downes and Lebid follow up on tips that lead them to Missouri. Wright denies ever leaving Missouri.

Lebid advances a theory that Mark masterminded the murder with the intent to collect on life insurance policies.

On Aug. 27, Lebid interviews Wright again, who denies any involvement. Lebid advances the theory that Teresa is leaving Mark. In that interview, he’s fixated on whether or not Wright is bisexual and has a sexual relationship with Mark.

Everything I told you about the trip up until we got to the parking lot of the apartment complex is true,” said Wright. “Yes I was in the house, but I was in a different room and didn’t participate.”

LCSO said that’s not good enough, so on their third attempt, Wright says “I struck Teresa three times in the head with a hammer and Jimmy did the rest.”

Having four months to prepare, Wright gives the narrative you’ll likely hear today, and it conforms to Lebid’s theories going back to July 12, 2015: the first time he was interviewed.

“You’re going to hear about prepaid phones, you’re going to hear about divorce, infidelity, life insurance as a motive. But ultimately, all the evidence of a conspiracy, all the evidence of Mr. Siever’s involvement is going to come from one man, and that’s Curtis Wayne Wright,” said Mummert.

You’ll hear from Petritis; he will testify that he maintained a friendly personal and professional relationship with Teresa. He will testify that on June 29, 2015, Mark called him and asked him to go to their home after Teresa did not show up to work. Petritis will say that he discovered Teresa’s body and called Mark, asking him to come home immediately. He’ll say that he gave two initial statements to the police on June 29, 2015.

Doctor Petritis will tell you that it was not until September of this year he finally came forward with some of his most damning statements,” said Mummert. “Statements that cannot be corroborated by any other witnesses. Statements that did not even come out during the trial of Mr. Rodgers.”

You’re going to hear from Crime Scene Tech Kimberly Van Waus, the lead crime scene examiner. She’s going to tell you she went to the Sievers’ home to take measurements, collect evidence, take photos and get fingerprints. She’ll say there was a pool of blood around Teresa, but there was no castoff. She is also going to offer evidence about the alarm and evidence that Wright tried to clean up after the murder.

You’re going to hear that Taylor Shomaker doesn’t remember much about what happened, Mummert says. You’ll also hear that LCSO has paid her $20,000 at this point to be a witness in the case.

You’ll hear from Detective Downes who went to Missouri with Detective Lebid, and with the assistance of Taylor, they made a video recording a moment when Taylor found the jumpsuit. Downes told Taylor she could go to jail or face charges, but instead, he was able to come to an agreement by which he convinced LCSO to pay her $20,000 for her testimony.

Kerry Kane offered nothing of evidentiary value, said Mummert. She tried everything she could to gather evidence against Mark, but all she was able to gather were opinions and assumptions.

Wright will tell you he tricked and manipulated four of his neighbors into giving false affidavits into his alibi.

The State is going to try to offer up witness after witness, saying there was turmoil in the Sievers’ marriage. There were children, there were ups and downs, peaks and valleys.

Mark was primarily responsible for raising their two girls, Josie and Carmie, as they like to be called. The girls were good, homeschooled students who were busy with extracurriculars. And if you believe that as parents it is our job to prepare children to become adults, Sievers was doing just that, Mummert said.

You will hear that after menopause, Mark and Teresa had intimacy issues. You’re going to hear from the family’s estate attorney that Mark also had insurance on himself and that Teresa was uninsured.

“Ultimately, it is our position that Teresa Sievers was worth more alive than dead,” said Mummert. “Ultimately, it is our position Sievers did not conspire with Wright and Rodgers to murder his wife, and Mark did not murder his wife. And at the end of this trial, I’m going to be asking each and every one of you to return the verdict of ‘not guilty’ because Mr. Sievers is innocent.”


Witness #1: Detective Jamie Nolen, LCSO Homicide Investigator

Following lunch, the first witness in the trial was called to the stand and was questioned by the State. Detective Jamie Nolen was a homicide investigator for LCSO at the time of the murder. He was on call the day of the murder to handle any death investigation and was called to the scene around 11 a.m.

When Nolen arrived at the Bonita Springs home, Petritis and a few deputies were there. He says he saw Teresa laying in the “prone” position and “obviously deceased.” He explained the “prone position” means she was lying face down.

Nolen conducted a preliminary investigation into Petritis. He interviewed him and digitally recorded a statement from him. He also obtained a buccal swab which was used for DNA comparison.

He says he checked Petritis’ vehicle for evidence but didn’t find anything unusual. None of the blood inside the home was found in the car.

Nolen said he called Mark and told him his wife had been injured and that he needed to come home. He says one of the other investigators told him she had been killed.

He says he met with Mark for the first time following the murder when Mark arrived at his mother’s home, also in Bonita Springs, at 7 p.m. on June 29, 2015. That is when Nolen told Mark Teresa was dead.

The State goes on to ask Nolen several questions about Mark having a cell phone. He told the State that he was able to obtain cell phone records for forensic examination from Mark, which he gave him willingly. He signed a consent form, which was presented as evidence.

Mark’s mother, Bonnie Sievers, was checking on the family dogs while the family was in Connecticut. He gave her the keypad number for the alarm system that was built into the home. Nolen saw the alarm and says he believes it was working.

Nolen asked Mark if he knew who killed his wife, to which he responded that he didn’t know why anyone would want to hurt his wife or kill her.

Nolen subpoenaed five companies about life insurance policies and requested records. He also obtained Mark’s cell phone and took it to the digital forensics unit, where technicians downloaded the contents.

Cross-examination by the Defense

Nolen said he’s worked on too many homicides to count. The Defense asked him about the blood spatter at the crime scene, to which he replied that he is not a blood spatter expert.

They asked if it was his first instinct to believe Teresa was murdered with a hammer, saying that cast-off is expected. Nolen said it’s only his opinion, but there are many factors to take into account. He says where the cast-off goes depends on the angle of the blow.

Cast-off, Nolen explained, is where there is an impact with the victim. In this case, he says, with a hammer you’d expect to see some blood coming off the hammer, some spray. But there are a lot of factors that go into that including hair length, clothing, obstructions, etc.


Witness #2: Detective Kimberly Van Waus, LCSO Crime Scene Technician

Van Waus was called to the crime scene on the day of the murder, where she documented the scene mostly through photos.

She photographed the entire outside of the crime scene before she enters the home to photograph inside.

Van Waus says during her briefing with the detective, he told her about the condition of the side garage door. There was damage to the door and it was found from first responders.

Photos then put up on the projector in the courtroom show the outside of the Sievers home from different angles, as well as inside the garage, where Teresa’s suitcase is seen laying on the ground.

Additional photos show the laundry room, where the dog bowl Wright kicked before he says he killed Teresa.

More photos show the alarm system panel, the inside of the Sievers’ living room and the nook room off of the kitchen.

Van Waus then holds up a photo of the hammer on the floor. The next photo shows Teresa’s wallet and personal items, also on the floor.

Next, Van Waus shows several other photos before showing a shot of a messy desk with the Sievers’ framed wedding photo in the center. Mark appears to be choked up upon seeing the framed photo.

Van Waus also shows pictures of cash, a document shredder as well as a shredded document from Metropolital Life Insurance Company.

She then holds up the hammer for the jury to see.

Swabs from the hammer were sent for DNA analysis and came back positive for Teresa’s blood. No other DNA from anyone else was found on the hammer or the kitchen floor.

Van Waus says she removed the hair from the hammer in the lab and put it into a sterile envelope for separate packaging.

She also said she used a forensic vacuum on the kitchen floor to pick up any hairs or fibers. She holds up a cannister for the court to see.

As seen in one of the photos earlier, Van Waus holds up an Apple iPhone in an Otterbox as well as six receipts that were found on the kitchen floor. She said one of the receipts was particularly significant, as it was from the RSW airport parking and had an entry date and exit date as well as the corresponding time stamps.

Van Waus said she also gathered significant evidence from the office. She found a shredded document that was caught in the shredder blades and a large plastic bin with receipts from Walmart.

Also found: A letter written to Wright from Mark, three Jefferson County, Missouri real estate tax documents, another real estate document different from the others, and receipts for payment on property taxes for a particular piece of property in Jefferson County—all with the same address.

Van Waus is asked if she found any fingerprints that assisted her or LCSO, leading to any suspects, to which she answered no.

She also says she found money in multiple locations of the house, but the total amount that she really counted was from the master bedroom closet with male clothing. In the closet were three safes with cash. She said that combined with cash she found in the office added up to just under $50,000.

Cross-examination by the Defense

The Defense asked Van Waus several questions relating to her time at the crime scene, clarifying that she took thousands of photos, swabbed for DNA and took fingerprints. But she said she did not use an alternate light source to detect the presence of blood or other human bodily fluids at the scene.

Then Mummert asked Van Waus if she’d found blood in the laundry basket, to which she replied yes. He asked if the blood wasn’t tested, how can we be sure that it all came from Teresa? Mummert continued asking if any of the blood surrounding Teresa’s body had been tested for DNA, to which Van Waus replied no.

When asked, Van Waus said she would say her conclusions in her report were based on the training experience she had at the time.

Mummert continued to press Van Waus about the blood found in the laundry room. He refers to her report. She says the splash pattern is not a pool of blood. There were very minute drops of blood in the laundry room tub that she noted didn’t correlate.

Mummert asked if it was possible the suspects were able to clean up after committing the murder. She answered that without having any of that blood tested, she cannot say definitively that it was from clean up.

The Defense moves on to ask Van Waus about information obtained from the alarm panel at the Sievers’ home.

She was then asked if she could tell if anyone had moved Teresa’s body, to which she said it did not appear that she was. She also said it did appear that someone had tried to scrub away or otherwise diminish any of the blood that was on the ground in the kitchen. As for if Teresa’s wallet or any of the documents around her wallet were moved, Van Waus said she couldn’t say, but it didn’t seem to be that it was moved.

After several other clarification questions, the Defense finished their cross-examination.

The State asked a few more questions before wrapping up for the evening. Van Waus was on the stand for roughly three hours and could be called up again later in the trial.

Just before the trial ended for the day, there was an issue with a juror. He found another juror’s notes on the back of his notebook.

“Did you read any of those notes?” Kyle said to the juror.

The juror replied, “no.”

Judge Kyle said they were “clearly” from the Jimmy Rodgers trial.

Jurors’ notes are supposed to be confidential. Legal experts said jurors can be negatively influenced if they see or hear something not brought up during the trial.

“That is very problematic because we’re looking at a trial right now,” said Pamella Seay, a Florida Gulf Coast University legal studies professor and practicing attorney. “That incorporates information, witnesses, the testimony from that trial.”

The juror was sent home for the day with everyone else. Judge Kyle says they’ll figure it out tomorrow.


CONTINUING COVERAGE

Reporter:Taylor Petras
Brooke Shafer
Justin Kase
Writer:Briana Harvath
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