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Wednesday, December 17, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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2 Tales Of Slaying Expected -- `You Must Decide What You Believe,' Jury Told

Seattle Times Snohomish County Bureau

EVERETT - The trial of an alleged contract killer began yesterday with tales of double-cross upon double-cross, and a promise that two murder suspects will tell completely different stories on the stand.

"You must decide what you believe," defense attorney Jett Whitmer, representing Jonathan Curtis, told the jury in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Curtis, of Arizona, is charged with aggravated first-degree murder in the February death of Steven Ver Woert of Bothell.

The victim's former wife, Marty Malone, is expected to testify that she hired Curtis to kill Ver Woert in a plot to get his life-insurance money. Malone pleaded guilty to first-degree murder earlier this year, agreeing to testify in a deal for a reduced sentence.

Curtis faces life in prison if convicted, and prosecutors are expected to recommend a 23-year sentence for Malone.

Whitmer suggested yesterday that Malone killed Ver Woert and set up Curtis to take the fall.

"They never did find one thing, not one item, one speck, that would link the crime scene to Mr. Curtis," he said. But a hair found in Ver Woert's trailer was microscopically similar to one from Malone, he said.

Suspicion fell on Malone soon after Ver Woert was found on his living-room floor Feb. 5 with a slashed throat and stab wounds on his back and hands.

Ver Woert was a "genius" developing cellular-phone technology for Sprint in Redmond and was well-liked, said Jim Townsend, the

county's chief criminal deputy prosecutor.

There was only one warning signal from his past, Townsend said: "A disagreeable ex-wife, Marty Malone."

"I promise you . . . you will not like Marty Malone. But please, still listen to what she has to say on the stand," Townsend told jurors.

Malone, detectives, a "jailhouse snitch" and other witnesses will piece together the following picture of the crime, Townsend said in his opening statements:

Malone, who lived in Scottsdale, Ariz., hired Curtis to drive with her to Bothell and kill Ver Woert, Townsend said.

The pair had drinks at a tavern near Ver Woert's home, and Curtis left, committed the crime, then returned, Townsend said. "Marty Malone will testify that she could smell blood," Townsend said.

Soon after the pair returned to Arizona, a suspicious Bothell detective followed them and pretended to strike up a friendship with Malone. He told Malone he could prove she was guilty, but would cover it up if she told him what really happened. She confessed the scheme, and offered the detective a cut of the insurance money if he would kill Curtis, Townsend said.

Curtis, from jail, also later tried to arrange to have Malone killed, Townsend said.

The case is about "greed, stupidity and senseless violence," he said.

But Whitmer said prosecutors had simply adopted one story from a pack of Malone's varied lies, and had no forensic evidence to prove it.

Malone had Curtis use his identification, not hers, to cash a $60 pull-tab she won at a bar near Ver Woert's home, ensuring he'd be placed near the crime scene, Whitmer said.

Crime technicians in two states failed to find blood traces in the van Curtis drove, Whitmer said, though Ver Woert apparently fought his attacker.

And Malone told police they dumped Curtis' bloody clothes in an Eastern Washington town, but police searched a landfill for three days without finding them, Whitmer said.

Curtis will testify that Malone only hired him to drive her to Washington on business, though she had asked him to kill someone and he said no, Whitmer told jurors.

Malone left Curtis alone at the tavern, and "he figured she's going to do the business she came to do," he said. "He didn't know Mr. Ver Woert. He didn't kill Mr. Ver Woert."

The trial is expected to continue through next week.

Rebekah Denn's phone message number is 425-745-7804. Her e-mail address is: rden-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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