Dale double-murder death penalty trial starts

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comOctober 14, 2013 

Ernest Stewart Daise did not intend to steal from his ex-girlfriend. He meant to kill Jeanine Mullen, 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said Monday during opening arguments of the first capital murder trial in Beaufort County since 2008.

Daise's defense attorney countered that no blood or gunshot residue was found on the sweatshirt investigators assert that Daise wore during the killings.

Daise, 31, of Burton faces two counts of murder and other charges in the death of his ex-girlfriend and her 4-year-old son, Waltfredo Davis-Mullen, in Dale in November 2009.

Daise also is accused of wounding the son he had by Mullen, Jeremiah Daise. The boy, 2 at the time, was shot through the ear but survived.

Daise could face the death penalty if convicted.

Mullen was a 34-year-old single mother of four and a kindergarten teaching assistant at Shanklin Elementary School. She, Waltfredo and Jeremiah were all shot in the head. They were found inside Mullen's Player Road home by a relative.

Mullen's two older sons were not home when the shooting took place.

"Daise and Mullen had a three-year relationship that ended when he took a handgun, held it to her forehead and pulled the trigger," Stone said Monday.

Defense attorney Bill Maguire disputed evidence used to arrest and charge Daise, such as blood stains on his jeans. Of three blood spots on Daise's pants, two were found to be his own and one Mullen's, with Mullen's blood the catalyst for Daise's arrest, he said.

However, the lack of a discernible cut or wound on Daise's body was proof the blood spots were old and not from the November incident.

"If the blood is old, it's not from this day," he said. "If it's not from this day, it's not from this crime scene. ... Everything they had was not enough for an arrest warrant before the blood analysis came back. The piece of evidence that was the tipping point wasn't even relevant."

Maguire also said investigators failed to fingerprint Mullen's minivan, which was found parked in the home's driveway with nearly all its doors open and a car's transmission in the trunk. Keys to the home and a handbag were also left on the front passenger seat. Maguire said despite the "unusual nature" the van had been left in, the car was never investigated because suspicion had already shifted to Daise.

"They didn't print the van because they decided they had their guy," he said. "They put all their eggs in one basket. You don't find evidence that is inconsistent if you don't look for it."

Monday's proceedings included testimony from paramedics who treated Jeremiah Daise at the scene. Shayna Orsen and Danny Tinnell both testified that the boy responded, "Daddy," when Tinnell asked him in the ambulance on the way to Beaufort Memorial Hospital who had hurt him.

The bullet that hit Jeremiah Daise struck his spine, dropped into his chest, collapsed his lung, broke a rib, exited his body and hit his mother's hip, according to Stone.

Nonetheless, he survived after treatment at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Maguire contended in his opening statement and in cross-examination that Jeremiah had been unresponsive when paramedic Scott Sampson treated him on scene and for much of the ambulance ride with Orsen and Tinnell -- the child only began to cry and speak after an IV needle was inserted into his arm.

Maguire also cited statements from Orsen and Tinnell that said Jeremiah was in an "altered mental state" while they took him to Beaufort Memorial Hospital.

Sampson said he had heard the boy cry when he entered the back bedroom where he and his mother had been shot but that he had become unresponsive by the time he turned him over to Orsen.

Orsen and Tinnell both said Jeremiah responded, "Doug," when asked his name and indicated his father was responsible for hurting him before quieting again.

Mullen's mother, Roberta, said Mullen and her children nicknamed Jeremiah "Little Dub" after his father, who went by "E-Dub." Roberta Mullen said during her testimony that her daughter had gotten Daise's nickname tattooed on one of her toes.

"I call him Jeremiah," she said. "I don't like to use nicknames."

Also testifying during Monday's four-hour session were deputies from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and a crime-scene investigator from the S.C. Law Enforcement Division.

Jody Highers, the on-call investigator, and Owen Lamb, one of the first deputies to arrive at the scene, both said there were no signs of forced entry or a burglary at the home. SLED investigator Joe Crooks said a back door to Mullen's home was locked.

Crooks said footprints found in the home during his investigation were consistent with shoes worn by Mullen's father, Frank, and her two sons, who called authorities. No fingerprints could be lifted from the home, and none were taken from Mullen's minivan, he added.

Daise has been in the Beaufort County Detention Center since the day after the shooting. He was charged with two counts of murder, assault with intent to kill, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He also was charged with trafficking crack cocaine; Maguire said the drugs were found underneath the sweatshirt investigators believed him to be wearing.

The trial will continue Tuesday morning, with Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen presiding.

The trial is the first capital murder case in the county since 2008, when Timothy Wick was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 78-year-old Beaufort resident Jeanne Welden.

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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