A criminologist’s testimony that the killer of William Van Note and his girlfriend was someone taller than the defendant set off a fiery exchange Monday in Susan Van Note’s double-murder trial.
John Wilson used trigonometry in an attempt to show that the gun probably was fired from a height taller than 61.25 inches, which is the elevation of Susan Van Note’s eyes if she were wearing one-inch heels. Wilson said the first shot hit William Van Note in the upper back at a downward angle.
“If she fired that shot, she would have had to hold the gun way above her eyes,” said Wilson, who spent 31 years with the Kansas City regional crime lab and now works as a private consultant. “That had to have had from someone taller than Ms. Van Note.”
Susan “Liz” Van Note is charged with the late-night attack that left her millionaire father critically wounded and his longtime girlfriend, Sharon Dickson, 59, dead. William Van Note, 67, died four days after he was taken off life support.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Kevin Zoellner challenged Wilson’s certainty of events. He presented another version of how the attack played out. Wilson disagreed.
“I know you don’t like my sequence of shots, but they fit the facts,” Zoellner said. “If somebody is on the ground, those angles can be re-created.”
Wilson, who said he was paid $40,000 for his work, told Zoellner his version didn’t fit the evidence.
That set off an exchange that the court reporter couldn’t keep up with and Judge Kenny Hayden had to stop. He admonished the two not to interrupt each other.
An FBI agent testified last week that Susan Van Note’s phone pinged a cell tower near where the crime occurred at the couple’s waterfront home at Lake of the Ozarks. Van Note, 48, has said she was home in Lee’s Summit when the crime occurred.
Authorities say Susan Van Note, a Lee’s Summit lawyer, wanted to get her father’s millions and was angry that he had named Dickson to receive the bulk of his estate. After his death, Susan Van Note assumed the role of executor of the estate.
Her attorneys are pointing to another man, who has since disappeared, as the killer.
Wilson’s take on the case is that the killer would have taken or left forensic evidence.
“The person who did that stabbing is going to have significant blood on them,” Wilson said.
No hair, blood, DNA or fibers link Van Note to the crime scene.
Earlier Monday, attorneys on both sides went at it over the credibility of a witness. Nancy Wilhite described herself as a longtime friend of the Van Note family.
“I was Aunt Nancy to Liz,” Wilhite said.
Wilhite was at the hospital when Van Note showed doctors a durable power of attorney allowing her to make the decision to end life-sustaining measures for her father.
“I had no doubt that’s what he would want,” Wilhite told the court.
Zoeller challenged what she really knew, particularly about the decision to end life support. He wanted to know if Susan Van Note had told her the same thing she told detectives. He asked Wilhite if she knew that more tests had been scheduled to determine the father’s chance of recovery.
“Did she tell you about a CT scan for next day?” Zoellner asked. “Did she tell you there was more counseling scheduled?”
“No,” Wilhite answered.
Dickson, who was stabbed and shot, died at the scene. Van Note, 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 signature was at the bottom of the document, which was dated 2009. Investigators seized Susan Van Note’s laptop from her Kansas City law office and determined that the power of attorney document had been created after the Oct. 2, 2010, attack. Two persons testified earlier that they signed it at her request.
A computer crime expert testified that the document was dragged from Susan Van Note’s laptop to her desktop computer six days before the attack.
Crime lab experts testified Monday that no fingerprints or trace evidence linked the defendant to the scene of the crime.
Kimberly Hardin, who works in the Missouri Highway Patrol crime lab, said she examined seven cartridge casings, one live round, a spent bullet and a telephone brought to her by investigators.
“No latent prints were found,” she testified.
Two palm prints were found, but neither matched Van Note nor anyone in the state’s print database.
On cross-examination, Hardin acknowledged that it’s not unusual for no prints of value to be found at a crime scene. In a hypothetical example, she agreed with Zoellner that it’s possible no prints from the trial lawyers would be found at the front tables in the courtroom where the lawyers have been sitting.
Zoellner said, “And we’ve been here all week.”
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182