CLARION — The murder trial of Damien Lawrence Ditz, 22, of Clarion got under way before Judge James Arner on Tuesday at the Clarion County Courthouse.
Ditz is accused of shooting and killing Katrina Seaburn, 22, of Curwensville on March 1, 2017, during an argument over money.
Ditz is charged with criminal homicide, aggravated assault, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.
For criminal homicide, the jury of seven women and five men will decide whether Ditz is guilty of murder of the first degree, murder of the third degree, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.
Clarion County District Attorney Mark Aaron asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree because her killing was premeditated and done with malice.
He said Seaburn was shot in her car outside of the residence of Ditz’s relatives in Washington Township, Clarion County, when the couple argued over money that Ditz allegedly owed the victim.
Aaron said two hours before her murder, Seaburn drove to an ATM with Ditz in the passenger seat. She used Ditz’s ATM card to check on how much money he had in his account and discovered he had $9.
Later, they drove to Ditz cousin’s residence and during the drive they argued about $130 Ditz loaned to his cousin that belonged to Seaburn. When they pulled up to the residence, Ditz brandished a .45 caliber Glock, pointed it at her, and fired a hollow point bullet into her chest, killing her instantly.
Afterward, he repeatedly lied to the state police about what happened and didn’t admit that he shot her until more than three months later after his story fell apart.
Aaron said the trial isn’t just about Ditz, but it is also about Seaburn. He said Seaburn loved hunting and fishing and the outdoors as much as any man.
“But she was also a young lady with big plans and big dreams for her life,” Aaron said.
He said Seaburn graduated from Curwensville Area High School where she was a member of the band front and was a member of the Clarion University band at the time of her death.
He said she was an excellent student and was accepted into a Master’s degree program at Clarion University and was scheduled to start grad school on May 1, 2017.
In contrast, Aaron said Ditz spent most of his time hunting, fishing and playing video games and said he relied on Seaburn for much of his spending money.
Ditz’s attorney, Adam Bishop of Pittsburgh, said the evidence shows that the shooting was an accident and instead asked the jury to find him guilty of involuntary manslaughter because although he was reckless in his handling of the firearm, he didn’t kill her intentionally.
Bishop said the handgun went off when he gestured during the argument.
“It was a tragic mistake,” Bishop said. “His recklessness caused the unintentional discharge of the firearm.”
He said the evidence shows that Ditz was in love with Seaburn and said he was personally offended that the commonwealth would charge Ditz with first degree murder.
And he said Ditz was employed, worked seasonally as a member of the grounds crew at Clarion University and worked at a local market and said he had never been in trouble with the law before.
He said Ditz is a quiet, soft spoken young man who loved his family and Seaburn. He cared so much about her that he called her mother after and tried to tell her what happened.
Ditz’s cousin, Brandon Stroutmin; his sister, Jennifer Graham; and Stroutmin’s wife, Lacey Stroutmin, all testified that they were inside the residence when they heard a “bang.” Brandon Stroutmin and Graham looked out the window and saw Ditz standing outside of Seaburn’s vehicle and he was distraught.
They ran outside and Ditz told them the gun was on the dash, it slid off, hit the center console, the gun fired and shot Seaburn.
Ditz called 911 and they performed CPR and mouth to mouth until emergency responders arrived.
Ditz was distraught and was crying and said repeatedly, “it should have been me.”
He was also throwing up, lying on the ground pulling at the grass.
The victim’s mother, Tammy Seaburn of Curwensville, also took the stand. She was emotional and often in tears throughout her testimony. When asked how she learned of her daughter’s death, she said on March 1, 2017 she received a call from Ditz. She answered the phone and heard someone trying to talk but was only grunting and there was a lot of noise.
Eventually, a female voice came on the line and told her that Katrina had been accidentally shot. An EMT then got on the line and explained to her what happened. The phone line then went dead.
Lead investigator Trooper Shawn Nicewonger testified that he responded to the scene on March 1 at approximately 5 p.m. He said paramedics were on scene and Seaburn had already been declared deceased.
Ditz was inside the home and he was crying and distraught. The scene was still chaotic so he asked Ditz if he could come to the barracks and answer a few questions and he agreed.
Ditz rode in the rear of the patrol car and continued to cry and he made two statements. “What the (expletive) did I do,” and “It should have been me.”
Once they got to the barracks, Ditz continued to cry and couldn’t answer any questions. So they waited about 15 minutes so he could compose himself before interviewing him.
He said Ditz said the gun was on the dashboard when he was driving when it slid off, hit the center console and went off.
They let him go home and they interviewed Ditz again about a month later at his home and he again reiterated his story about the gun sliding off.
Nicewonger said they had the gun tested, and testing showed the gun was in perfect working order and could not have gone off from an impact.
They asked Ditz to come back to the station for another interview on June 20, 2017 and he agreed. Nicewonger said they confronted Ditz with the new information and eventually he changed his story and admitted he wasn’t telling the truth.
Aaron played a recording of Ditz’ 911 call for the jury. During the call, Ditz was crying uncontrollably and it was difficult to understand what he was saying. Eventually, Graham got on the phone and received the instructions on performing CPR and mouth to mouth resuscitation, which she relayed to Lacey Strautmin.
When the recording was being played, Ditz slumped over in his chair at the defense table and began to cry.
After the recording was played in the courtroom, the court then took its regular mid-afternoon 15-minute break at 2:45 p.m. But court didn’t reconvene until 4 p.m. when Judge Arner announced Ditz suffered a medical emergency and couldn’t continue. Arner said the trial would resume today.