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DAY FIVE: Defense rests, attorneys make final pleas in murder trial

PORTSMOUTH — With the testimony of only one witness, the defense rested its case Monday morning in the murder trial of Kara Garvin in Scioto County Common Pleas Court.

Garvin, 31, could face the death penalty if convicted in the shooting deaths of Ed Mollett, his wife, Juanita Mollett, and their daughter, Christina Mollett. The trio was murdered in their trailer on Snook Road in Franklin Furnace on Dec. 22, 2008.

Garvin, also of Franklin Furnace, allegedly had a history of buying and selling Oxycontin with that branch of the Mollett family.

The only eyewitness to the murders was the couple’s then 6-year-old grandson who testified last week in the courtroom of Judge Howard H. Harcha III that Garvin was the shooter.

However, during the 911 call made right after the murders the child told a dispatcher that he could not identify the woman who did the killings.

He later identified Garvin from a six-person photo lineup.

Without giving an opinion on the child’s testimony, the defense witness’ testimony focused on explaining that discrepancy.

Dr. Solomon Fulero, a forensic psychologist and lawyer, testified as an expert witness on eyewitness identification and the collection of eyewitness evidence.

Fulero teaches at Sinclair Community College and Wright State University, both in Dayton.

“Eyewitnesses are not as accurate and reliable as people think they are,” he told the court.

In cases that have been overturned through DNA evidence, 75 percent of those convictions came about from mistaken identification, he said.

“Memory doesn’t work like a video tape recorder. When you see something what you do is put pieces into your memory,” he said. “Then later you fill in the gaps.”

The way evidence is collected can impact memory, Fulero told the court.

Also if the eyewitness is familiar with the subject in another context he or she is more likely to pick the subject out in a lineup.

The child testified that he had seen Garvin before at his grandparents’ home.

During the afternoon session Assistant Prosecutor Jill Hutchinson offered a vigorous argument for the state’s case.

“This defendant leveled a death sentence on Ed, Juanita and Christina, leaving with Ed’s wallet and some pills,” Hutchinson told the jury.

Calling on the testimony of the child, the prosecutor said that he identified the clothes of the shooter as the same garments owned by Garvin.

The child also identified the shooter as a woman with dark hair while a surveillance tape at a local restaurant shows Garvin with blonde hair.

However, Garvin is shown in the video wearing a black cap and bandana.

“Would it appear that way wearing a black skull cap,” Hutchinson asked. “(He) had seen her before and he saw her that night. … You decide who’s credible.”

At the time of the shooting the child was shielded from gunfire by his aunt, Christina Mollett.

“(Garvin) popped her in the head, the whole time (the grandson) was staring at her face,” Hutchinson said. “(The grandson) knows what happened that night.”

Defense counsel Charles Knight went through the investigation with the jury highlighting what he contends are flaws.

“Reasonable doubt can arise from the evidence or lack of evidence. If reasonable doubt exists, Kara Garvin is not guilty,” Knight said. “This is an all or nothing case. When did the police decide Kara Garvin was the dark-haired shooter and stop doing their job? I submit they made that decision by 8 o’clock.”

That would be 90 minutes after the murders.

“There never was another person investigated after 8 o’clock,” he said.

The defense’s contention has been that the murders were linked to the efforts of a Florida-based drug dealer wanting to expand territory into Scioto County.

“Drug robbery or drug hit?” he asked. “If it is a drug robbery would the Montgomery County Coroner’s office find 500 Oxycontin pills in a baggy in Ed Mollett’s pockets. It was a message, folks. He is going to take over this lucrative drug trade. … It is not a drug robbery. It is a message we are taking over this Oxycontin traffic.”

But in the prosecution’s final statement, assistant prosecutor Pat Apel countered that the defense is blaming the investigators because it does not have evidence to support Garvin’s innocence.

“If you don’t have the evidence, blame the prosecution and the police,” Apel said.

The prosecutor said the case is based on the testimony of the grandson; Paul Balmer, Garvin’s boyfriend, who said he drove her to the Molletts; and James Damron, a neighbor who testified he saw Garvin in the car that left the scene.

It is also based on physical evidence including gloves reportedly owned by Garvin that contain her DNA and gun powder residue and the murder weapon, which was owned by the defendant.

“She said it was a drug robbery to her friends in jail,” Apel told the jury.

This morning began with Harcha instructing the jury before they began their deliberations.

If they are unable to reach a verdict today, the jurors will be sequestered for the night before returning to the jury room on Wednesday.