Trimble murder trial: Mother describes her ordeal

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 1:53pm
Virginia Trimble Ritter on Wednesday took the stand in the trial of her daughter's accused killer and had to relive the worst moments of her life during her testimony. Photo: Matthew Williams for The City Paper

Virginia Trimble Ritter relived the worst moments of her life in public this morning, stoically maintaining her composure throughout her testimony about the 1975 murder of her 9-year-old child, until the very end.

When prosecutor Katie Miller asked Ritter to identify the blouse Marcia Trimble was wearing when she disappeared and when her body was found — the blouse on which FBI scientists detected semen allegedly containing the DNA of defendant Jerome Sidney Barrett — it was finally too much.

Sobbing audibly, the mother nodded to confirm that she recognized the blouse.

Ritter had previously been shown a group photograph from a birthday party, taken the Friday before Marcia disappeared on a Tuesday, in which she was wearing the same blouse. It was a hand-me-down from a teenaged neighbor, she recalled, and a favorite of Marcia's.

Trimble was the first witness called by the prosecution after both sides completed brief opening statements in the long-awaited trial. She recounted the story, now familiar to many in Nashville, of how her daughter left the house to deliver Girl Scout cookies late one winter afternoon and was never seen alive again.

The morning's proceedings began when Miller stepped before the jury box and read the grand jury's indictment of Barrett, handed down last summer. As she read the words "did kill Marcia Virginia Trimble," Barrett closed his eyes and shook his head slightly as if in denial. He clasped his hands, a tattoo of a crescent and star visible on the back of his right hand.

Lead prosecutor Tom Thurman was only seconds into his opening argument when a spectator's mobile phone sounded off with the University of Oklahoma's fight song as a ringtone. The offending party fled the courtroom in a hurry, and a chuckling Thurman resumed his address.

Describing the DNA testing that led to Barrett's prosecution, Thurman said it was scientifically possible for only one person in 6 trillion to match the profile found in the sample from the blouse. "He was the one in 6 trillion," Thurman told the jurors.

"A lot of things have changed in 34 years," Thurman said in concluding his statement. "One thing that hasn't changed is the guilt of Jerome Sidney Barrett. He is a cold-blooded coward."

Laura Dykes, one of Barrett's attorneys from the Metro Public Defender's office, focused in her opening on the unanswered questions that she said still remain about the case. The case "confounded" police from 1975 onward, she said, "because the evidence is confounding."

Dykes told the jurors: "When you have heard all the evidence, you will have more questions than answers."

Also testifying this morning was Harold Moffett, who discovered the girl's body on Easter Sunday 1975, 33 days after she went missing. Moffett was a house guest of a family at 4007 Estes Road when he went out to the detached garage on that property to fetch an outboard motor that he was going to buy from the owner.

Sorting his way through the cluttered garage, Moffett reached its left rear corner. There he looked down. "I saw a little girl's face looking up at me," he recalled. "That, I guess, is when I went into shock."

The trial continues this afternoon, with testimony largely focusing on forensic analysis of the evidence prosecutors gathered in 1975.