LIMA — A jury of eight men and four women heard opening day testimony Tuesday afternoon in Allen County Common Pleas Court in the aggravated murder trial of Ross McWay, charged in the Jan. 15 strangulation death of Wendy Jeffers at her Lima residence.
Assistant Prosecutor Terri Kohlreiser told jurors the testimony they would hear in the coming days would prove that the 38-year-old McWay murdered Jeffers “with prior calculation and design” by strangling her at her residence at 1112 N. Main St.
McWay served 13 years in prison for killing a man in 2001. He was released from custody after being acquitted in an unrelated case two days before Jeffers was found dead.
Kohlreiser said testimony would describe a romantic relationship between the defendant and victim that had been terminated and ultimately ended in Jeffers’ death. The prosecutor also said jurors would hear of a jailhouse conversation after Jeffers broke off the relationship in which McWay said he planned to kill his former girlfriend “without leaving any evidence behind.”
Kohlreiser said while McWay told a detective investigating the case that he had strangled Jeffers, jurors would hear testimony from an expert in criminal pathology “that will tell a far different story” than the one being advanced by the defendant.
Defense attorney Steve Chamberlain declined to make an opening statement to jurors but reserved the right to do so at a later time.
Called to the stand Tuesday were two officers from the Lima Police Department. Patrolmen Corey Noftz and Chad Kunkelman described being dispatched to the North Main Street address on Jan. 15 after Jeffers’ employer contacted police to request a check on her well-being. It was unusual that Jeffers, a register nurse at a hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was not at work as scheduled, her supervisor told police officials.
The officers described arriving at the residence and getting no response to repeated knocks on the doors and windows. The patrolmen testified they left the scene and returned to the police station, at which time they learned of the relationship between Jeffers and McWay and also were advised that McWay had been released from jail just two days earlier. The officers, armed with permission from their supervisor to enter the home, returned and found Jeffers slumped lifeless over the bathtub in the home, according to their testimony.
Other testimony heard Tuesday came from a prison inmate serving time for first-degree felony kidnapping. Casey Smith testified that he had shared an area in the Allen County Jail with McWay for several months. Smith testified that on New Year’s Day he and McWay were each receiving visitors at the jail and were seated next to each other. It was during that visit, Smith said, that Jeffers ended her romantic relationship with the defendant.
In the days after that visit, Smith said McWay told him, “My woman is cheating on me and when I get out I’m gonna kill her.” Smith testified that McWay said he would carry out the murder by choking Jeffers in a way that would leave no evidence.
Chamberlain, during his cross-examination, questioned several facets of Smith’s testimony, including his ability to hear the Jan. 1 jail visit conversation between Jeffers and McWay through a glass partition that separated the inmates.
Also taking the stand during the trial’s opening day were Chloe Jeffers and Ira Collier Jr., the mother and son, respectively, of Wendy Jeffers. Collier testified that McWay had been at the 1112 N. Main St. address on Jan. 13, two days before Jeffers was found dead and the same day McWay had been released from jail.
Choking back tears, Chloe Jeffers said her daughter “had a beautiful spirit” and was “an awesome mother … who taught her children respect for others, taught them about God, and stressed the importance of getting an education.”
Testimony will continue Wednesday morning in the trial.