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The Back Story: Fagone Trial 11-29-2006

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The prosecution began testimony Wednesday with a woman who managed the storage unit where Tim Schuster's body was found in a barrel of acid.

Regina Mills testified she rented the unit to Leslie Fichera, a former employee of Larissa Schuster. She said renters get an access code, to activate the entrance gates, which then turns off the unit's alarm. The access code also time stamps when someone comes in and out of the entrance. July 12, 2003, is the day police believe the barrel carrying Tim Schuster's body was put inside the storage unit. Mills said on that day, someone entered the access code for the Security Public Storage entrance gate at 6:31 p.m. The unit's door opened at 6:33 p.m. At 6:41 p.m., the unit's door closed and at 6:43 p.m. the exit gate opened.

Next on the stand was a former neighbor of Larissa Schuster, Judy Van Gorkon. Van Gorkon testified she was pulling weeds in her front yard, when she saw Larissa's garage door open. She said she saw an object which caught her eye. Van Gorkon described it as, "bright, blue". Prosecutor Dennis Peterson pulled the 55-gallon blue barrel replica across the courtroom floor and asked, "Is this what you saw"? Van Gorkon replied, "It appears to be the same".

Under cross examination by defense attorney, Pete Jones, Van Gorkon said she had met Larissa Schuster once or twice. Jones asked if she had been interviewed by police after the murder of Tim Schuster. She replied, "Yes". When she couldn't remember what she told officers, Jones reminded her, saying, "You said you were really afraid of Larissa Schuster and were extremely concerned for your safety". Van Gorkon agreed, she had said that. When asked to describe Larissa Schuster, Van Gorkon said, "She seemed to be a different kind of person, she was different".

Fresno Homicide detective Brad Alcorn assisted another officer during James Fagone's second police interview on July 15, 2003. The veteran officer said the Fresno Police department became involved in the investigation after Tim Schuster's body was found in a Fresno storage unit.

Jurors followed a transcript as the videotaped interview played. It took detectives some time before James Fagone gained their trust and admitted his involvement. Fagone described what he believed was a robbery which eventually turned in to much more.

He told officers, "I think she wanted to get rid of him. Pretty much, I didn't think she could do it". Finally, Fagone said, "I held the barrel for her, put him in, poured all the solution and she like couldn't stand it. So she said, put it on, the lid on. So I helped her put the lid on and she put it in the shed". Fagone repeatedly told officers how he didn't want to get involved, but said Larissa Schuster was real forceful to the point he couldn't tell her no.

One of Larissa Schuster's former employees said a few months before Tim Schuster was killed, he noticed a 55-gallon blue barrel at the lab. Joe Boatwright said the lab did not commonly use a barrel like that. He also saw a bottle of chloroform, which the lab also never used.

Boatwright said he liked Larissa Schuster and enjoyed working for her. In fact, he said she attended his Bay Area wedding. He said he never saw Larissa Schuster act threatening to anyone at the lab, including James Fagone.

Clovis Police Corporal Dan Sullivan testified he was assigned to follow Larissa Schuster before her arrest. He testified July 12, 2003; she met with Clovis officers in Fresno. He said after the meeting she left in her Lexus but she was driving so erratic, he had a difficult time following her. He decided to call of tailing her because it was too dangerous. He drove to her house in time to see her pulling her car into the garage. He said soon after, a maroon colored car pulled up, and James Fagone got out.

Prosecutors called a man to the stand who was friends with James Fagone before his arrest. James Thornburgh testified Fagone told him Larissa Schuster wanted Fagone to rob her estranged husband. He said Fagone claimed in exchange, Larissa was going to pay for him to rent a Tower District apartment. Fagone had visited James shortly before his arrest. Police say they later found three keys hidden in a bathroom vent. Investigators say the keys belonged to the truck, an alarm and home of Tim Schuster.

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