However, after being absent from his job at SEI Investments between 10 a.m. and noon on the morning of Oct. 12, 2001, Smull returned to work, appearing noticeably different, prosecutors alleged.
"He looked different enough for me to take note. His shirt was different. It had these dark patches on it. They were like, wet. It was on the front panels of his shirt," Katherine Hill testified Thursday as Smull's murder trial entered its fourth day.
Under questioning by Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Frank Genovese, Hill testified Smull looked so different that it prompted her to send an e-mail message to a co-worker, Shira Baumstein, urging Baumstein to look at Smull.
"I just sat there and stared at him. He looked very different. His hair was like slicked straight back, and he had big, wet blotches on his shirt," Baumstein testified, adding that the stains appeared to be water or sweat. "He was just zoning out, looking at his (computer) monitor."
Genovese and co-prosecutor Greg DiPippo relied on the testimony of Hill and Baumstein to imply Smull's appearance had changed because he had just returned to work after struggling with and killing his ex-fiancee, Nickole Lyn Rossman, 27, inside her 814 Dewees Place townhouse in Trappe.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Frank DeSimone, however, both Hill and Baumstein said they did not see any blood on Smull's clothes.
Smull, 34, formerly of the 300 block of South Fifth Avenue in Royersford, is charged with first- and third-degree murder and a weapons offense in connection with Rossman's slaying. He is accused of striking Rossman with a baseball bat, strangling her with an electrical cord and then slashing her throat from ear to ear with a steak knife.
Prosecutors alleged Smull murdered Rossman, a 1992 Phoenixville Area High School graduate, between 11:10 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. The prosecutors' case against Smull appears to depend heavily on the timeline they are trying to convey to the jury.
Both of Smull's co-workers said that Smull had been at his desk at work at 8:30 a.m. but that they noticed he was missing from about 10 a.m. to noon. One of Rossman's neighbors, Diane Leininger, testified she saw Smull arrive at Rossman's home about 11:10 a.m. Oct. 12. On Thursday, Barbara Hill, another Dewees Place resident, testified she and her husband noticed Smull's Jeep Grand Cherokee was still parked outside Rossman's home about 11:45 a.m.
"I said, 'Oh, no, I hope they're not going to fight again. I wonder why he is there,'" Hill testified, recalling what she said to her husband after seeing Smull's Jeep at the Heritage Park development.
Testimony has revealed that Rossman, during a public argument, had kicked Smull out of her home Oct. 4 and ended their engagement after accusing Smull of infidelity.
Under cross-examination by DeSimone, however, Hill testified she didn't hear any unusual noises or screams coming from Rossman's home during the morning of Oct. 12. During further questioning by DeSimone, Hill also recalled noticing another car, a tan Mercedes, parked near Rossman's house two days before the murder, about 9:30 a.m. Hill said she noticed the car because it was "rusty and beat up" and wasn't a familiar car to the neighborhood. DeSimone quickly pointed out that Jose Castillo owned a tan Mercedes. During the trial, DeSimone has implied that Castillo was a drug dealer who gave Rossman cocaine the morning of the murder. DeSimone has also implied that Castillo may have killed Rossman.
When Castillo testified earlier this week, he 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 have said all evidence points to Smull as the killer. Castillo, 49, of Norristown, testified that he was at Rossman's house on the morning of Oct. 12 and that when he left Rossman's house at 8:40 a.m., Rossman was alive. Castillo claimed he heard Rossman and Smull argue about money and infidelity earlier that morning when Smull showed up uninvited at Rossman's house.
Throughout the trial, DeSimone has attacked the way authorities handled the investigation, specifically the fact that no one determined a time of death for Rossman. Therefore, DeSimone implied, prosecutors can't prove their allegation that Rossman was killed between 11:10 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., when they alleged Smull was at her house. Smull, prosecutors alleged, killed Rossman after becoming enraged about her ending their engagement on Oct. 4 and after finding Rossman with Castillo on Oct. 12.
The trial is expected to last another week. If convicted of first-degree murder, an intentional killing, Smull could face life in prison. A third-degree murder conviction carries a maximum of 20 to 40 years in prison.