LaClaire murder trial: Victim's grandson takes the stand
BRATTLEBORO -- Though it's Jodi LaClaire who's on trial for murder, Thursday was mostly about John Lowery IV.
Prosecutors who are trying to prove LaClaire murdered 83-year-old Nita Lowery in 2009 called her grandson to the stand Thursday afternoon, prompting testimony about his military service, his law-school ambitions and his devotion to his grandmother.
"For all intents and purposes, she was my mother," he said.
But LaClaire defense attorney Dan Sedon took pains to detail John Lowery IV's relationship with his then-girlfriend, portraying the now-deceased woman as an addict who was suspected of stealing from the Lowery family and -- in particular -- was disliked intensely by Nita Lowery.
"Would you agree love is blind?" Sedon inquired about John Lowery IV's relationship with Lynn Corson.
"Not completely, but I get what you're saying," Lowery replied.
Lowery was the 18th witness called by prosecutors on the seventh day of testimony in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division, where LaClaire faces one count of second-degree murder, one count of abuse of a vulnerable adult and seven counts of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
Authorities allege that LaClaire, then a nursing assistant at the Thompson House care home in Brattleboro, gave Nita Lowery what would prove to be a fatal dose of insulin on March 23, 2009, and immediately began withdrawing money from her account.
Lowery fell into a hypoglycemic coma and died April 1. She was not diabetic.
LaClaire is diabetic and uses insulin. A court affidavit says "multiple family members" reported that LaClaire had been a diagnosed diabetic "for the past five to 10 years."
In court Thursday morning, Sedon declared it "erroneous" that LaClaire was a diagnosed diabetic at the time of Lowery's death. He did not elaborate.
Thursday's witnesses included Brian Penders, a detective lieutenant who commands the Vermont State Police computer-crimes unit.
Penders, in testimony that began Wednesday, said a forensic examination of Nita Lowery's Dell desktop computer showed that someone had accessed the USAA website in the early morning hours of March 23, 2009.
Lowery had a USAA credit card that allegedly was used to withdraw more than $3,000 from her account as she lay comatose.
But Penders also found ample evidence that someone had been regularly viewing pornographic websites on the elderly woman's computer.
"There were more, generally, pornography sites on the computer than any other," Penders said.
Under cross-examination by Sedon, Penders acknowledged that there was no direct evidence -- no e-mails, no documents -- showing that LaClaire ever had accessed the computer.
The question of who had viewed porn sites, however, was answered when John Lowery IV took the stand. Prompted by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Levine, Lowery said he had pulled up pornographic sites on his grandmother's computer both before and after her death.
Otherwise, Levine's questioning produced a portrait of a veteran and a dedicated grandson.
Lowery said he served in the Army from 2002-2006, including two stints in Iraq. He testified to a long list of military awards and said he had been honorably discharged.
When he was in Vermont, Lowery said, he saw his grandmother at least five days a week.
"We had a fantastic relationship," Lowery said. "We were more than just a grandmother and grandson. We were more like friends."
He recalled visiting his grandmother at Thompson House, saying they would chat and watch the news.
"Just to let her know that, even though she was in a nursing home, she still has people that love her and want to go see her every day," Lowery said.
One of those days was March 22, 2009, the Sunday before his grandmother fell ill. Lowery recalled taking her to church, Dunkin' Donuts and Walmart before heading back to Thompson House.
"She seemed upbeat, happy and as fine as any other day," Lowery said.
Nita Lowery had health problems, however. She had suffered a stroke in 2000 and was wheelchair-bound, with limited use of one hand and one leg, John Lowery IV said.
"She was not happy about being (at Thompson House)," her grandson said. "She basically prided herself on her independence."
She also was unhappy about suspicions that jewelry had disappeared from her room "on a number of occasions," John Lowery IV said. Sedon made reference to that theft in his opening argument last week, saying the incident remained unsolved and involved jewelry valued at $20,000.
The defense attorney revisited the issue on Thursday, saying Nita Lowery had suspected Corson -- John Lowery IV's girlfriend at that time -- in that theft.
Corson was a common theme on Thursday, as Sedon said was suspected of stealing medication from John Lowery IV's father in 2007.
"I don't believe she did that at all," Lowery replied.
Just before cross-examination began, there had been a somewhat-heated argument -- with the jury out of the courtroom -- about whether Sedon could ask Lowery about Corson falling from a fourth-story window in Burlington in 2009.
John Lowery IV "ended the relationship shortly after that," Sedon said, adding that prosecutors already introduced the witness' character as part of the trial.
"The fact that he broke up with his girlfriend while she was hospitalized with a life-threatening injury bears on that character," Sedon said.
Levine countered that the incident is "completely inadmissible" in this trial, and Judge David Suntag -- after leaving the bench to consider the matter -- agreed.
Corson died in Burlington in December 2010. But Sedon did not limit his questions to her, asking Lowery about how much money he owed his grandmother and the extent of his access to her credit card.
Lowery testified on Thursday that he used the USAA card only under his grandmother's supervision.
At one point, Sedon asserted that, "to be honest, you were drinking a lot" in 2009. Lowery denied that.
Sedon also asked whether Nita Lowery had been "on your case about what you were doing with your life."
Lowery agreed, but he added that "I'm setting my goals and working on reaching them ... had she been alive, she'd see that."
Sedon did not finish his cross-examination of Lowery before testimony ended Thursday. The trial is scheduled through Sept. 27.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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