CLARION — The second day of the Damien Ditz murder trial proceeded yesterday at the Clarion County Courthouse — without the defendant.
Ditz, 22, of Clarion, is accused of shooting Katrina Seaburn, 22, of Curwensville in her vehicle during an argument on March 1, 2017 in Washington Township, Clarion County.
Ditz and Seaburn were arguing about money when Ditz allegedly shot Seaburn in the chest with a Glock handgun loaded with hollow point bullets.
Clarion County District Attorney Mark Aaron is arguing that Ditz intentionally shot Seaburn and is asking the jury to convict him of first degree murder. Ditz’s attorney Adam Bishop of Pittsburgh said it was an accident and is asking the jury to acquit him of the most serious charges and find him guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Before testimony got underway yesterday morning, Judge James Arner informed the jury that Ditz would not be attending the trial that day. He said defendants have an absolute right to be present during the trial but they also have the right to waive that right.
Arner said he had an extensive conversation with Ditz that morning and said Ditz has decided to waive this right and told the jury they cannot make any negative inference about the defendant due to his absence.
Tuesday afternoon, when Aaron played recordings of the 911 calls made by Ditz and others, Ditz broke down and wept as he sat at the defense table.
After the recordings were played on Tuesday, Arner called for a 15-minute a mid-afternoon break as usual at 2:45 p.m. At 4 p.m. Arner told the jury they are adjourning for the day because Ditz was having a “medical emergency.”
The commonwealth spent much of the day Wednesday playing the recordings of Ditz’s interviews by the state police. In the recordings, Ditz changes his account several times about what happened during the incident.
During the first interview held immediately after the shooting, Ditz wept throughout the interview and was difficult to understand at times. Ditz told investigators that on the afternoon of March 1 he and Seaburn drove to his cousin’s house in a mobile home park. He drove Seaburn’s vehicle and she was in the front passenger seat.
He said he had placed the gun on the dashboard of the vehicle the previous night, and when he turned left, the gun slid off the dashboard, hit the center console causing the gun to fire. The bullet then struck Seaburn in the chest.
A state trooper asked Ditz if he caught the gun when it slid off the dashboard and he said “no.”
The state police continued to interview him about what had happened and what he and Seaburn had done that day.
Eventually near the end of the interview one of the state troopers said this was a “tragic accident” but said he didn’t believe the gun went off due to it hitting the center console and instead believes he caught the gun.
Ditz began to weep and said he caught the gun upside down and his pinky hit the trigger causing it to fire.
“It’s my fault, it’s my fault,” Ditz cried.
Ditz then wept uncontrollably for several minutes.
Troopers then asked him if he had caught the gun while it was still on the dashboard. They said Seaburn was shot high on the left side of her chest and didn’t understand how that could have happened if it had slid off the dash, and Ditz said he couldn’t remember.
The troopers also asked him about when the shooting occurred because his car was parked correctly on the straight part of the road well past the curve, and Ditz said he drove faster than he should have.
There was a brief second interview at Ditz’s home on May 16. The state police asked him about the $1,000 that Seaburn’s mother, Tammy Seaburn, had found in her daughter’s belongings. Ditz said Seaburn had loaned the money to him to purchase a new car, which he never purchased. He said his father put the money in with her belongings so her family would get it.
The state police also asked about the $1,900 Seaburn had withdrawn from her account the week prior to her death. Ditz said $1,000 of it was for him and the remainder was for her own purchases and didn’t know what she used it for.
The state police again interviewed Ditz on June 20, 2017 at the Ridgway barracks. This interview was video recorded and lasted a total of seven hours. The footage was edited down to two hours for the purposes of trial.
Ditz’s demeanor during this interview was significantly different from the first two in that he talked normally and didn’t appear to cry at all. However, the video was not visible from the gallery and it was difficult to hear at times.
State police asked what he and Seaburn were talking about when the shooting occurred and Ditz said he couldn’t remember.
“I think you do,” one state trooper said.
The state police then began to question his account of how he caught the gun and how it was positioned in his hand when he caught it, and Ditz said he couldn’t remember. Eventually he said he had caught the gun right side up in mid air when it slid off the dashboard and the gun went off.
The state police then asked him several times why the gun was pointed at Seaburn and how did the car become parked the way it was. Ditz eventually said he had caught the gun with his right hand, put the car in park and was in the process of putting the gun in the back seat when the gun went off.
The state troopers remained unconvinced and continued to ask him details of how this could have put the car in park if the gun was in his right hand. Ditz initially said he reached across with his left hand to put it in park but would flip back and forth between this and he put the gun down in between the seats first before putting it in park.
Throughout the interview the state police asked Ditz what the topic of conversation was between him and Seaburn at the time of the shooting. He repeatedly said he couldn’t remember.
“You are telling me you can’t remember the last conversation you ever had with her,” one state trooper asked.
Eventually Ditz said they were talking about the $130 loan he loaned to a friend so he could pay his rent and buy groceries, but said it was a casual conversation, not an argument.
Eventually he said Seaburn was upset about the loan. He said the two had been fighting about money recently because she was paying for most of the things they would buy because he didn’t have a full-time job and she was upset because he had given his friend almost all the money he had.
Eventually Ditz said he too had become upset during the conversation — not at Seaburn but at his friend.
Ditz said the gun had slid off the dashboard and he caught it. He put the gun in between the seats. When they arrived at his cousin’s house he put the car in park and they continued to talk.
Ditz said he became angry at his friend and picked up the gun and was “demonstrating” with it or gesturing with it when the gun went off.
The state police repeatedly asked why would he point a loaded handgun at Seaburn with his finger on the trigger.
“It was a spur of the moment thing,” Ditz said.
The state police continued to question him on why he would do this. Ditz said he was being careless and reckless.
“I did not intentionally shoot my girlfriend,” Ditz said repeatedly.
Forensic Pathologist Eric Bey testified he performed the autopsy on Seaburn on March 2, 2017.
He said Seaburn was struck by a 45-caliber hollow point bullet on the left upper chest. He said the bullet traveled across her body on a trajectory downward to the left. The bullet went in between her ribs, went through her left lung, then her heart, then her right lung, through her ribs and became lodged in her chest by her rib cage.
Retired state police weapons expert Dave Burlingame testified that he tested the Glock and said 6-8 pounds of pressure would have to be applied to the trigger for it to fire.
During cross examination, Bishop asked if there have been cases where this model of Glock had unintentional firings and Burlingame said there have been.
State police weapons expert Dale Wimer also testified. He also did several tests on the gun and determined that it was in working order and would not go off if it were struck or fell.
The trial is scheduled to last the rest of the week.