Circuit Judge Gael Wood will take under advisement arguments from the state and defense team before issuing a verdict for the murder trial of a Union woman.
The three day bench trial in front of Wood concluded Friday morning. Attorneys from the Franklin County prosecutor's office and the defense team for Timothy D. Shults presented closing arguments that morning.
Shults, 47, is charged with the first-degree murder in the death of Deborah Marsch, 53, Union. Marsch was strangled to death July 3, 2009, in Union’s Autumn Hill Park in an apparent random act of violence.
Judge Wood did not say when he would issue a verdict.
Shults recently waived a jury trial and is being tried before Circuit Judge Gael Wood. In exchange for waiving a jury trial, the prosecutor’s office agreed to not seek the death penalty for Shults.
Robert Wolfrum, who is representing Shults, said during closing arguments that in the murder of Marsch, Shults did not show "deliberation."
"If we don't know exactly what happened here, how can we say there was cool reflection," Wolfrum said.
In an effort for a ruling of the lesser conviction of second-degree murder, Wolfrum argued that Shults’ actions were not deliberate, but instead triggered by psychological problem resulting, in part, from a “traumatic brain injury” he suffered in May 2000 after falling through a floor while working at a construction site.
Wolfrum argued that his client was not in the mental state to commit first-degree murder.
"There is no independent proof of the mental state of deliberation," Wolfrum added.
He also blamed Shults’ actions on depression and a syndrome that causes anxiety caused by medication.
The state presented much of its evidence Wednesday morning and the defense called witnesses Thursday. The trial was concluded Friday following testimony from forensic psychiatrist Dr. John Rabun, an expert witness for the state.
"It is my opinion that Mr. Shults had the capacity to form intent as charged," Rabun said.
According to reports, Shults confessed to police on Sunday, July 5, 2009, that he killed the woman, then took detectives to the location where he dumped her body off Judith Spring Road.
Franklin County Assistant Prosecutor Brianne Barr, in her opening statement Wednesday, said that the state would prove that Shults showed deliberation prior to the death of Marsch.
Barr said that it would have taken three minutes of “constant pressure” to strangle Marsch.
“Deborah Marsch was an innocent, defenseless human being who did not deserve to lose her life because he was fed up with his,” she said.
She added that Shults reacted calmly enough to drag Marsch’s body from the murder scene to the parking lot of Autumn Hill Park, put her body in the bed of his truck and drive it to the site where the body was dumped.
Shults then removed Marsch’s clothing and dumped it in a different area so it would be harder to identify Marsch, Barr said.
Marsch had been missing for two days when authorities questioned Shults about an unrelated incident. Police knew Shults would sometimes go to Autumn Hill Park and asked about the woman’s disappearance, according to Barr.
“He had such a strong reaction to the victim’s photograph that police took him for further questioning,” she said.
‘Mindset’ of Suspect
Wolfrum said that Shults had bouts of depression and was prescribed medication that led to Aakathisia, a syndrome that causes restlessness, paranoia and panic. Wolfram said Shults checked out of a VA hospital July 2, 2009 — the day before Marsch was murdered — against a doctor’s recommendation.
During the opening statements, Wolfrum stated that three doctors would testify as expert witnesses in an effort to prove that Shults should not be convicted of first-degree murder due to his mental state.
He noted that Shults showed behavioral and health changes following his fall in 2000. He became more “impulsive” and was suicidal and depressed.
Wolfrum said in early July 2009, Shults was homeless and unemployed and in a “down point in his life.”’
“None of this is an excuse,” Wolfrum said, but it shows Shults’ “mindset” prior to the murder.
During police interviews, the suspect said he did not know Marsch but that he was angry and she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Shults also is charged in a separate case with burglary, kidnapping, armed criminal action and violation of an order of protection. A trial on those charges has not yet been scheduled.
Authorities allege that the day after the murder Shults broke into his estranged wife’s home in Washington, waited for her to return, then told her that he wanted her to go with him and she consented. He drove her car to the Labadie area and told her to walk with him into the woods but she refused and eventually convinced him to release her, authorities allege.
Later Saturday, after the abduction was reported, Washington police began an investigation and on Sunday contacted Union police who were familiar with Shults and his ex-wife who lives in Union.
Detectives went to the ex-wife’s home and found Shults there, according to police.