A jury on Tuesday night found Susan “Liz” Van Note not guilty in the 2010 murders of her millionaire father and his girlfriend.
Van Note, a Lee’s Summit attorney, broke down in tears after the verdict was announced; she was comforted by co-defense counsel Tricia Bath.
The family of the girlfriend, Sharon Dickson, showed no reaction as the verdict was being read, but one woman wept afterward.
Van Note declined to comment after the verdict, as did her lawyers.
Jury foreman Merri Hess said the panel did not feel good about their decision: “We felt strongly that she was involved, but we had to decide on the evidence.
“ ‘Not guilty’ does not mean innocent.”
She said that not a person on the jury felt that Van Note was not involved.
The jury deliberated about six hours before reaching its decision, ending a case that had big money, forgery, a missing person, barking dog, a fight in a hospital and a late-night attack at an exclusive waterfront home at Lake of the Ozarks.
And a lot of talk about a cellphone ping.
After a week of testimony, the defense rested Tuesday morning without presenting more testimony. Van Note did not take the stand.
Authorities say Van Note killed William Van Note and Sharon Dickson because she wanted to get her father’s millions and was angry that he had named Dickson to receive the bulk of his estate.
Dickson’s son, Andrew Dickson, has a wrongful death suit pending against Susan Van Note.
Susan Van Note’s attorneys pointed to another man, who has since disappeared, as the killer. No hair, blood, DNA or fibers linked Van Note to the crime scene.
“Not one piece of physical evidence links Liz to the crime scene,” defense attorney Tom Bath said in closing arguments.
Lead prosecutor Kevin Zoellner told the jury that every trial has unexplained questions. In this trial, Zoellner said, it was a call from Van Note’s cellphone to her home that pinged a tower near the crime scene at the Lake of the Ozarks minutes after the attack.
Van Note, 44, said she was home in Lee’s Summit.
Zoellner said Bath tried to distract the jury by bringing up a cigarette butt and an unidentified palm print.
Prosecutors said Van Note forged her father’s signature to a document to have his hospital ventilator shut off four days after the attack.
“Those people weren’t up at the hospital trying to kill her father,” Zoellner told the jury. “Does it strike anybody strange that she wanted to pull the plug that quick? I would submit she didn’t want him to wake up and talk.”
The attack occurred Oct. 2, 2010, at the couple’s vacation home in Sunrise Beach.
Dickson, 59, who was stabbed and shot, died at the scene. William Van Note, 67, a Liberty businessman, suffered similar injuries and was taken to a hospital in Columbia. He died four days later after his daughter showed up with a durable power of attorney for health care and asked that his ventilator be shut off.
William Van Note’s name had been signed at the bottom of the document. Investigators seized his daughter’s laptop from her office and determined that the power of attorney document had been created after the attack. Two persons testified earlier that they had signed it as witnesses at Susan Van Note’s request.
“She’s a terrible killer,” Zoellner said in his closing argument. “She couldn’t kill him with a gun or a knife. So she used her mouth to tell the hospital to kill him.”
Bath told the jury that there were too many unanswered questions for them to convict Van Note.
He pointed to a 911 call that William Van Note made after the attack.
“Don’t you think he would have told them who did it?” Bath asked.
He also reminded the jury that evidence showed a brutal fight between Dickson and her attacker.
“There were no injuries to Liz, no cuts, no scratches, no abrasions,” Bath said. “There was no blood in her car.”
He pointed to a man who in 2005 borrowed $600,000 from William Van Note. According to testimony, the man put up 11 properties as collateral, including his personal residence. When he fell behind on his payments, William Van Note foreclosed.
In the 10 days before the attack, William Van Note and the man had six phone conversations, including one about 6 p.m. the night of the attack.
A private investigator and law enforcement officials have said the man cannot be found. The Star is not using the man’s name.
Did the man commit the crime? Bath asked.
“We have no idea,” he said, adding that all of the questions rule out a conviction of his client.
“It’s not enough to say ‘She could have done it’ or ‘Maybe she did it,’ ” Bath said. “That’s not what this country was founded on. That’s reasonable doubt.”
In a brief comment after Tuesday night’s verdict, prosecutor Zoellner said that when a crime is committed, police bring prosecutors evidence.
“We don’t get to decide whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty,” he said. “The jury makes that decision.
“Our system is the best in the world.”
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182