A former escort hired by double-murder suspect Gary Schuning denied from the witness stand Friday that she had anything to do with the slayings of two women inside his Addison home five years ago.
"It could have been me that was killed," Samantha Eme, 30, testified as she fought back tears.
Eme, formerly of Bolingbrook, was one of three call girls to visit Schuning's home early Feb. 26, 2006, the same day prosecutors say he repeatedly stabbed his mother, 40-year-old Doris Pagliaro, and 21-year-old escort Kristi Hoenig after a night of drinking and hard drug use. Eme's testimony was a late addition to Schuning's jury trial, after authorities located her in California just days before opening statements were to begin.
Citing DNA evidence taken from two knives and the inside of Hoenig's pants, Schuning's defense has tried to portray Eme as a possible suspect in the killings. But in her testimony Friday, she denied even knowing of the slayings until she saw a newscast later that day.
"It was shocking," she testified. "I feel like I could have been in the other girl's position."
Prosecutors allege Schuning stabbed Pagliaro 40 times upon returning home in the early morning hours from clubbing in Chicago. They say he then hid his mother's body under a blanket in a bedroom, covered blood trails with towels and sheets, and called 18 escort services, three of which sent women to his house.
Eme, who was the second escort to arrive, said Schuning called requesting a blonde and agreed to pay $300 cash for one hour. A fellow escort and a driver dropped her off a short time later, at which point Schuning drove her to a nearby gas station and withdrew her payment from an ATM, she testified.
After returning to his house, Eme said, she questioned Schuning about brownish smears on a wall by the front door and towels and sheets covering the floor, but he brushed it off, saying he'd had a party the night before. She said the two spent about an hour together, during which they had sex and used cocaine.
Before she left, Eme said, Schuning agreed to let her use his bathroom. But seconds later, she said, he banged on the door, demanding to know what was taking so long. "I literally had just gotten in there," she said.
Eme said Schuning walked away once her fellow escort rang the doorbell, and she left shortly thereafter.
Hours later, Eme said, she saw a photo of Schuning in a news report about a double slaying in Addison. She said did not contact police because she was a drug addict in an illegal profession at the time.
"I was scared," she testified. "I just wanted to put the past behind me and start a new life."
Prosecutors say Hoenig, of Chicago, arrived a short time after Eme left. They say Schuning stabbed her 19 times when she found a bloody knife in his bathroom and called her pimp.
On cross-examination, Eme, who has a prior robbery conviction, denied being at Schuning's when Hoenig or any other escorts were there. Earlier this week, a forensic analyst testified that her DNA could have been transferred to two knives and the inside of Hoenig's pants by a third party.
Eme said the killings served as a "wake-up call" and she no longer works as an escort or uses drugs. Today, she said, she resides in California with her parents and daughter, and has a legitimate job.
Schuning's trial in Wheaton resumes Monday, when the prosecution is expected to rest. Closing arguments are tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.