On the first full day of testimony in the double-murder trial of Lee’s Summit lawyer Susan Elizabeth Van Note, a prosecutor described how the defendant allegedly killed her millionaire father and his girlfriend for money.
Defense attorney Tom Bath countered that prosecutors have no forensic evidence that puts Van Note in her father’s Lake of the Ozarks house when the attack occured Oct. 2, 2010.
But both sides agreed on one thing: the middle-of-the night attack was brutal and bloody. Both victims were shot and stabbed. The girlfriend, Sharon Dickson, was shot three times and stabbed 18 times.
When visuals of the crime scene were shown to the jury, Dickson’s son stepped outside the courtroom in the Laclede County Courthouse in Lebanon.
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A former Camden County detective who was at Dickson’s autopsy described her defensive wounds.
“She fought hard,” John Stephens said.
Susan Van Note, 48, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. In laying out the case, prosecutors told the jury that the defendant was motivated by greed. They talked about a longtime volatile relationship between a father and daughter, and Susan Van Note’s financial problems — she’d declared bankruptcy. Her father, William Van Note, was a prominent Liberty businessman whose estate was estimated at $7 million.
Dickson was to be his primary beneficiary.
“Follow the money,” said Camden County Prosecutor Michael Gilley. “Follow the money.”
Bath, of Overland Park, argued that the state cannot prove its case and pointed to another man as a possible killer who was never investigated. He said the man had borrowed $600,000 from William Van Note and been unable to repay the debt.
William Van Note foreclosed on the property the man had offered as collateral, and their relationship was acrimonious. But authorities did not investigate the man as a possible suspect in the double murder, Bath said.
“Police never followed up on that,” he said.
Key to the state’s case is a phone call that prosecutors say puts Susan Van Note near her father’s house at the time of the killings.
Gilley said an FBI expert would testify that the call from Susan Van Note’s cellphone to her home in Lee’s Summit pinged off a tower at the Lake of the Ozarks within minutes of a 911 call from her father.
“The defendant was there,” Gilley said.
Susan Van Note has said that she was at her home in Lee’s Summit with her mother at the time of the fatal attacks.
Dickson was pronounced dead in the home, but William Van Note was rushed to a hospital.
“Guess who found out that Bill is alive?” Gilley said.
He then described how the defendant forged a durable power of attorney and asked a high school friend and her husband to sign it as witnesses. Hospital staff will talk about how Susan Van Note took the document to a hospital in Columbia and demanded that her father be removed from life support, Gilley said.
Van Note’s chief lawyer, Bath, described her as a sympathetic, grieving daughter.
As for the state’s allegations, he said, “They do not have the evidence.”
Bath said he would establish that the fight between Dickson and her attacker lasted three minutes and rivaled a mixed martial-arts match in its violence.
Yet, he said, “There was no sign of injury or struggle on Liz.”
At the scene, there was blood everywhere, he said. But a search of her vehicle found no trace.
“It’s not possible there would be no blood in her car,” Bath said.
The phone call that appeared to have pinged off the lake cell tower, he said, was a computer glitch.
He explained the forgery as saving her father from a prolonged vegetative state, something she knew he would not want.
In developments Tuesday afternoon:
▪ The prosecution played an audio recording of a phone message that had been left on the answering machine of a neighbor at the lake.
In the call, William Van Note said he had an emergency; both he and Dickson had been shot, and he needed help.
▪ A former crime scene investigator testified that there was no sign of forced entry at the house. Kurt Mueller, who was then with the Missouri Highway Patrol, also said Dickson’s purse was intact with $1,080 in cash untouched.
Andrew Dickson has a wrongful death case pending against Susan Van Note in Camden County. He also is involved in a pending legal fight in Clay County over what should happen to William Van Note’s fortune should Susan Van Note be convicted.
At issue could be the so-called slayer rule, which prohibits people from benefiting from a murder they committed.
The murder trial is expected to last at least into the middle of next week.
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182