The murder trial of Jason P. D'Avolio is going to be a look into the life of his wife and alleged victim, Kerrilee. According to opening statements delivered in County Court Tuesday afternoon, the prosecution is going to argue that Kerrilee was a happy and vibrant young woman who was making changes in her life, including getting a divorce from her eventual killer.
The defense is going to argue that that happiness was a "facade", put on by a depressed and suicidal young woman who eventually succumbed to her disease and took her own life.
Both sides told the jury that they have evidence backing up their claims, evidence that will be heard over the next two weeks. The first witness is scheduled to take the stand Wednesday morning.
D'Avolio, age 48, of Rome, is charged with one count each of second-degree murder and concealment of a human corpse. D'Avolio is accused of shooting Kerrilee in the back of the head with a rifle at their Belmont Street home on the night of July 28, 2019, then wrapping her body in a sheet and throwing her in a dumpster. Her body was later found at the landfill in the Town of Ava.
The couple have three young daughters together.
"Her mental health history is nothing more than a convenient cover," said Assistant District Attorney Joshua L. Bauer, the prosecutor, in his opening statement to the jury. He said evidence gathered from D'Avolio's cell phone about the history of his "crumbling" marriage will show that he was feeling rejected, jealous and afraid.
This evidence will show a "crystal clear window into what drove this defendant to murder," Bauer stated.
The prosecutor described Kerrilee, age 32, as someone who was turning her life around. Bauer said she was getting out of her "toxic" marriage, making new friends, had started exercising and had even competed in the Boilermaker Road Race in 2019.
"For the first time in a long while, the sky was the limit" for Kerrilee, Bauer told the jury. He acknowledged that Kerrilee had suffered from depression in the past, but "she wasn't withdrawn and listless, she was the exact opposite."
Bauer said he has evidence that D'Avolio purchased the bolt-action rifle used to shoot Kerrilee at the Walmart in Rome shortly before the murder, which "caught everyone by surprise" because D'Avolio had never before shown interest in firearms.
One key witness who will not be able to testify is D'Avolio's brother, Christian. Bauer told the jury that Christian D'Avolio passed away several months ago. He said on the morning after the shooting, D'Avolio brought his three children to Christian's auto shop in New Hartford, but Christian will not be able to tell the jury what they spoke about.
Whatever they discussed, Bauer said it shook Christian, and he asked his boss at the auto shop to call 9-1-1.
"Because of him (Christian), we have the opportunity to obtain some small bit of justice for Kerrilee," Bauer told the jury.
When police arrived at the auto shop, Bauer told the jury that D'Avolio initially said he did not know Kerrilee's whereabouts. D'Avolio told the officers that she had left the night before with another man. Bauer called this an "Oscar worthy performance" that lasted for several hours, until D'Avolio finally told investigators that Kerrilee had killed herself and he cleaned up the scene at their home.
D'Avolio then showed investigators in which dumpster he put her body and where he threw the rifle into the Barge Canal, Bauer stated.
Bauer told the jury that investigators spent more than a week in the Belmont Street home because D'Avolio "didn't just clean up, he erased every vestige of Kerrilee's death". Bauer said there was evidence of three separate gunshots from the rifle, and that D'Avolio had even patched up the bullet holes in the walls.
After investigators found Kerrilee's body at the landfill, Bauer said the damage was "catastrophic", and that it required the help of a forensic anthropologist to complete the autopsy. Bauer told the jury that the autopsy shows Kerrilee was shot in the back of the head with a long gun, making the possibility of suicide "inconceivable."
Kerrilee was "an individual, unfortunately, suffering an intense personal turmoil," described Public Defender Leland D. McCormac III, the defense attorney. He said Kerrilee's depression "was a deep-seated illness that she actually suffered from."
McCormac told the jury that Kerrilee not only suffered from depression, but also an anxiety disorder and suicidal thoughts. He said she had suffered five miscarriages and had been diagnosed with post-partum depression after all three of her daughters were born.
Then in March 2019, McCormac said Kerrilee went to her husband and said she wanted to be single again. McCormac called D'Avolio a "very supportive husband" and "excellent father" who lived for his wife and daughters. He said D'Avolio was confused by Kerrilee's decision, but that D'Avolio did not react with anger. McCormac said D'Avolio started consulting with attorneys to make the split safe for his daughters.
"She decided, for some reason, at some point, 'I do not want this family life anymore'," McCormac said of Kerrilee.
The defense told the jury that Kerrilee became obsessed with losing weight, possibly to an unhealthy degree. McCormac said Kerrilee developed romantic feelings for her physical trainer, and that the two of them did engage in some sexual activity — but that the trainer ultimately rejected a more serious relationship with Kerrilee.
McCormac told the jury there was no evidence of any physical violence in the D'Avolio marriage, and that the witnesses who take the stand "never knew or saw him raising one hand on her."
McCormac said Kerrilee became withdrawn and stopped going out with her family, that she instead spent a lot of time alone in her bedroom.
On July 27, 2019, the night before the shooting, McCormac told the jury that there is evidence that D'Avolio took their three daughters to see the fireworks for Honor America Days while Kerrilee stayed home alone. McCormac told the jury that two neighbors will testify that they heard possible gunshots from the D'Avolio home — which McCormac said could account for why police investigators found three gunshots total.
"Kerrilee may have made those shots on that night before," McCormac suggested to the jury.
The next night, McCormac said that D'Avolio and Kerrilee had sex in their bedroom and that he later dozed off while putting their daughters to sleep. When he went back to their bedroom, McCormac said D'Avolio found a "horrifying, devastating scene."
"It's chilling to the core. He's unable to process exactly what happened," McCormac told the jury. He said D'Avolio then heard footsteps coming up the stairs and he intercepted one of their daughters from finding her mother's body.
"He could not allow the children to see what happened," McCormac told the jury. He said D'Avolio put his wife's body in the dumpster then bought cleaning supplies from Price Chopper. McCormac said D'Avolio spent all night cleaning the house, and he did so to protect the children he loved.
"All his motivations, all the actions he took thereafter, were to protect those children," McCormac told the jury. "His world is forever altered."