Trial begins for man accused of killing East Dundee grandmother for inheritance
With his Frisco, Texas, home in foreclosure and money he paid to two prostitute mistresses adding up, Richard Schmelzer was running out of options to sustain his secret life.
Schmelzer, 44, earned a decent living as a high school trainer, but he had exhausted cash advances from the credit card of his grandmother, Mildred "Dodie" Darrington of East Dundee.
So Schmelzer hatched a plan to drive cross-country in July 2014, stabbing her to death, knowing that he would inherit half her $800,000 estate, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
"He had motive, he had opportunity and the evidence will show he went on a cross-country trip to kill his grandmother," Kane County Assistant State's Attorney William Engerman told jurors in an opening statement.
In a murder trial expected to last two weeks, prosecutors will argue that Schmelzer stabbed the 85-year-old Darrington to death in her home on July 17, knowing he and his sister were two heirs to Darrington's estate and he was an executor for it.
Schmelzer purchased a prepaid phone and put $260 on an American Express gift card before using a car rented by a friend to drive to East Dundee, Engerman said. Schmelzer told his friend he was driving to visit his father in Arizona because he was considering a divorce and didn't want his wife to know.
But cell-tower pings and purchase records mapped out a cross-country path taken by Schmelzer, who authorities say was caught in a toll violation on I-355 in Bolingbrook in the rental car.
Schmelzer said he was at a conference in Frisco and went to dinner the night before Darrington's body was found, but prosecutors also plan to call witnesses at a restaurant and people at the conference to refute his alibi, Engerman said. Schmelzer was one of three people to have a key to Darrington's home, where no money or jewelry were stolen and there were no signs of forced entry.
Defense attorney Joshua Dieden didn't offer any alternative theories on who may have killed Darrington, nor does he have to.
Dieden stressed to jurors that the burden is on prosecutors to prove Schmelzer guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and noted the state's case consists overwhelmingly of circumstantial evidence.
"(Prosecutors) are not going to provide you with any direct evidence at all" such as DNA at the crime scene, Dieden said, asking jurors to look beyond his client's lifestyle and poor decisions. "They're going to ask you to speculate, to guess, to fill in the gaps for them."
If convicted, Schmelzer faces 20 to 60 years in prison with no chance of early release. He has been held at the Kane County jail on $5 million bail since his arrest in September 2014.