Trimble murder trial: Prosecution rests

Friday, July 17, 2009 at 4:19am

For 34 years, a central mystery in the unsolved murder case of Marcia Trimble has been the identity of the grown man in a long topcoat or trench coat who may have lured 9-year-old Marcia to her death.

The schoolgirl was out selling Girl Scout cookies in her Green Hills neighborhood when she went missing Feb. 25, 1975. Her body was found 33 days later in her neighbor's garage.

As the trial of Jerome Sidney Barrett on charges of first-degree murder neared the end of its second day, the man in the coat has become critical to both the prosecution and the defense. If the jury believes he was Barrett, a conviction appears likely. If not, even a 6 trillion-to-one DNA match may not be enough to convince 12 men and women beyond a reasonable doubt that Barrett is the killer.

A key new piece of evidence about a man in a long coat entered the record during this afternoon's proceedings, but the jury will still have plenty of cause for doubt when it begins its deliberations.

Former Trimble family neighbor Marie Maxwell, who testified Wednesday, has said from the beginning that she is certain she saw Marcia standing in the yard next to hers around 5:30 on the afternoon of the 25th. Virginia Trimble Ritter has testified that her daughter said she was going to deliver cookies to Maxwell when she left the house about 5:20.

Maxwell has also said, from her first police interviews in the hours after the child went missing, that she definitely saw a grown person in a long coat standing next to Marcia, along with one other child. Wednesday, she testified that it would be possible to walk from her yard, near where she saw the group in the day's fading light, to the detached garage of her neighbors to the rear in 30 seconds or less.

Marcia's body was found in that garage on March 30, 1975.

Barrett's defense established Wednesday that the descriptions of the man Maxwell has given over the years have varied substantially. The prosecution sought to open jurors' minds to the possibility that the person she saw was an African-American, even though she and virtually all investigators considering the matter had long presumed he was white — until the African-American Barrett became a suspect.

Neither side in the case has so far tried to explain who the other child in the group might have been.

Thursday, the prosecution put former Berry Hill police officer Tommy Lunn on the stand. He testified that he arrested Barrett on the night of March 12, 1975. He did not say what crime he arrested him for, but the fact that he had been arrested — which might normally have been inadmissible as prejudicial toward the defendant — became fair game for prosecutors to mention once members of Barrett's defense team had mentioned it themselves.

"Mr. Barrett had on a full-length topcoat, a ski mask and two pair of gloves," Lunn stated. The coat, he said, reached "down to the knees, like a tweed with brown thread in it all over."

Earlier Thursday, two former fellow prisoners of Barrett used virtually the same words to recount what they heard Barrett say while they were incarcerated together: that he was the killer of Marcia Trimble, but that he did not rape her.

Jim McNamara, Barrett's lead attorney, used his cross-examination of both men to highlight their criminal records and possible vested interests in giving evidence against Barrett.

The prosecution put on extensive DNA evidence as well Wednesday before they rested their case around 3 p.m. The defense team began their turn just after 5 p.m. bringing two former Metro Police officers to the stand.

Both officers testified that they had searched the garage where Marcia's body would later be found and she was not there.

The third day of the trial will resume today and likely continue into the weekend.

For more coverage of the Trimble murder trial, visit our previous days coverage:

Jury selection Day 1

Jury seated Day 2

Trial Day 1: Mother testifies