Judge Maurino J. Rossanese Jr. instructed the jury of seven women and five men to return today at 9 a.m. to continue deliberations.
After a day marked by impassioned closing arguments from the lawyers in the case, relatives and friends of both Rossman and Smull anxiously waited outside the courtroom for word of a verdict. They appeared disappointed upon learning they'd have to wait another day.
During his closing statement to the jury, defense lawyer Frank DeSimone implied detectives botched the investigation into Rossman's murder and rushed to judgment against Smull. DeSimone, referring to cocaine that was found in Rossman's bloodstream, suggested someone other than Smull, perhaps a drug dealer, killed Rossman.
"Maybe a drug deal, something happened. This is almost ritualistic, this killing. This is a drug deal," DeSimone argued, referring to the way Rossman was killed.
Testimony revealed the killer struck Rossman with a baseball bat, strangled her with an electrical cord and then slashed her throat from ear to ear with a kitchen knife. Rossman, 27, a 1992 Phoenixville Area High School graduate, was found lying on her back, her legs propped up on a wicker chair in the basement of her 814 Dewees Place home in Trappe on Oct. 12, 2001.
"This is rage. This is hatred," argued Assistant District Attorney Frank Genovese as jurors viewed grisly photos of the murder scene. "This wasn't a burglary that went terribly wrong. It's not a drug killing. Cocaine had nothing to do with why Nickole was killed that morning."
Genovese argued prosecutors had provided sufficient circumstantial, direct, physical and scientific evidence to convict Smull of first-degree murder, an intentional, premeditated killing, which is punishable of life in prison upon conviction.
Smull, 34, formerly of the 300 block of South Fifth Avenue, Royersford, is also charged with third-degree murder, which is punishable of a maximum of 20 to 40 years in prison.
However, for the first time Thursday, DeSimone suggested that if jurors conclude Smull killed Rossman, that they should consider the charge of voluntary manslaughter, commonly called a heat of passion killing.
Under state law, voluntary manslaughter, which is punishable of 10 to 20 years in prison, occurs when someone kills another individual without lawful justification while acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation.
Genovese argued Rossman's death was not a case of manslaughter.
"This case is about first-degree murder and the specific intent to kill," Genovese said.
Smull, Genovese alleged, killed Rossman after becoming enraged when she broke off their engagement on Oct. 4 and he saw her with another man at her home on Oct. 12. Rossman ended the engagement, according to testimony, because she believed Smull was unfaithful.
According to testimony, in the days following the breakup, Smull allegedly told a friend that if he ever found Rossman with another man he'd "kill both of them." Rossman told a co-worker at the Outback Steakhouse in Devon where she worked that Smull grabbed her throat during an argument they had on Oct. 6, testimony revealed.
Smull, according to Genovese, also wrote friends and Rossman e-mail messages that prove how angry he was with Rossman. In one Oct. 8 e-mail to a friend, Smull allegedly wrote, "My God, I love that woman more than anything. I can be alone but I don't want to be without her."
"I submit that what he means is, 'If I can't have her nobody will,'" argued Genovese interpreting the e-mail message.
Genovese alleged Smull went to Rossman's home uninvited at 6:40 a.m. Oct. 12 and found her in the company of a Norristown man, Jose Castillo, a friend who testified Smull and Rossman argued about infidelity and money before Rossman ordered Smull out of the home.
Smull, who then worked at SEI Investments in Oaks, returned to Rossman's home about 11:10 a.m., found her alone and killed her, Genovese and co-prosecutor Gregory DiPippo alleged. Two of Rossman's neighbors placed Smull or his Jeep at Rossman's home between 11:10 and 11:45 a.m.
With chilling details, Genovese suggested to the jury how the murder occurred. Genovese theorized that after a brief confrontation, Rossman took a steak knife to the basement intending "to make a point she was serious and she wanted him out of her house." As Rossman proceeded down the stairs, Smull hit her on the left side of the face with an aluminum baseball bat and then strangled Rossman with his hands and the electrical cord, Genovese alleged.
The evidence suggests, Genovese claimed, that Smull believed he had killed Rossman. But when an unconscious Rossman showed signs of life, Smull grabbed for the knife, Genovese alleged.
"It's at that time he panics because he knows he has to finish the job," Genovese argued, adding testimony showed that Rossman was alive when her throat was slashed.
Genovese alleged that a light-colored jacket that Smull had been wearing that day is now missing, implying Smull got rid of it after it was bloodied during the alleged murder. For a second time, Genovese showed the jury a video and audio recording of Smull's reactions at Rossman's Oct. 19, 2001, funeral. Smull's funeral parlor visit was taped, a microphone and camera concealed on Rossman's casket, with approval from the state Superior Court.
While DeSimone implied Smull did nothing incriminating, Genovese implied Smull's hand-wringing and lack of tears are incriminating.
"Did you see one tear in his eyes?" said Genovese, adding Smull was given 15 minutes to spend with the "love of his life at her funeral" but stayed only 3 minutes. "Does that seem consistent with what you'd expect to see from a grieving fiance who had nothing to do with her murder?"
However, DeSimone argued the prosecution's case is plagued by "cracks," either questionable evidence or a lack of evidence, which should produce reasonable doubt in the jurors' minds.
Referring to testimony by a deputy coroner and police, DeSimone said no one determined the temperature of Rossman's body nor determined if rigor mortis, the stiffening of the body after death, had set in by the time Rossman's body was discovered about 5 p.m. DeSimone argued such determinations would have assisted detectives in determining the exact time of Rossman's death.
"This is a disgrace. Are we living in Disneyland here?" DeSimone asked the jurors. "The time of death is crucial in this case."
Implying that the state police testing of blood evidence in the case cannot be trusted, DeSimone referred to the testimony of a former state police forensic scientist who claimed there were problems with equipment and evidentiary testing methods at the state police crime lab in Bethlehem.
"That was a disgrace what you heard from the witness stand," DeSimone told jurors.
Ranae Houtz testified that after she reported being sexually harassed by a male supervisor, she became a scapegoat for alleged problems with testing methods at the lab. Houtz, one of the initial scientists to handle the Smull evidence, claimed she was accused in other cases of making errors that she didn't believe she made.
Houtz, who has since resigned from her job, told prosecutors none of the errors she was accused of making were connected to the Smull case.
However, DeSimone implied that evidence in the Smull case might have been contaminated and that the state police testing methods cannot be trusted.
"It's all bad. The apples are all rotten," DeSimone bellowed.
But Genovese argued investigators submitted the evidence to an independent forensic pathologist for re-analysis. Genovese implied those test results, which found evidence of blood spatter from "forceful" contact on Smull's shirt and jeans, are reliable.
DeSimone also argued Smull cannot be linked to the weapons. Detectives testified they found no fingerprints of value on the knife, the baseball bat or the electrical cord.
Prosecutors implied Smull gave inconsistent statements to police and hatched a scheme to mislead police into believing Rossman committed suicide or to convince them that Castillo killed Rossman. During the trial, DeSimone implied that Castillo was a drug dealer who gave Rossman cocaine the morning of the murder and also implied that Castillo may have killed Rossman.
Castillo adamantly denied killing Rossman, giving her cocaine or being a drug dealer. Prosecutors have said Castillo had nothing to do with Rossman's death. They said all evidence points to Smull as the killer.