NORRISTOWN - After deliberating 12 hours over two days, a Montgomery County jury still hadn't reached a verdict Friday night in the case against James Joseph Smull, who is accused of killing his ex-fiancee, Nickole Lyn Rossman.
"I'm on pins and needles. It's just draining," Tracy Vanderslice, Rossman's cousin, said as she waited outside the courtroom for word of a verdict. "I just want the jury to make the right decision."
Smull's family and friends gathered inside the courtroom throughout the day in a show of support for Smull.
"It's brutal on both families," Smull's brother, Lester, said about the wait as he left the courthouse Friday night.
Judge Maurino J. Rossanese Jr. told the jury of seven women and five men to return to the courthouse today to continue their deliberations.
About six hours into their deliberations, jurors showed indications they may be deadlocked. The judge explained it's not uncommon for jurors to have disagreements after such a short time.
"It happens more often than not, believe me. It's only been six hours," said Rossanese, explaining it was too early to declare a mistrial.
Rossanese urged jurors to return to the deliberation room, to keep an open mind, to listen to one another and to talk about the case rationally. Throughout the remainder of the day, the jurors requested several instructions about the law, including a definition about "reasonable doubt."
Smull, 34, formerly of the 300 block of South Fifth Avenue, Royersford, is charged with first- and third-degree murder as well as voluntary and involuntary manslaughter and a weapons charge.
During the trial, Assistant District Attorney Frank Genovese argued Smull acted "with specific intent to kill" Rossman, a first-degree murder, and that all circumstantial, physical and scientific evidence pointed to Smull as the killer. Genovese and co-prosecutor Gregory DiPippo argued the killing was sparked by "rage and hatred."
Testimony revealed the killer first 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.
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."
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 alleged. Two of Rossman's neighbors placed Smull or his Jeep at Rossman's home between 11:10 and 11:45 a.m.
A jacket that prosecutors alleged Smull was wearing that morning has turned up missing. Prosecutors theorized the jacket had blood on it that could link Smull to the murder and that Smull got rid of it.
However, during his closing statement to the jury, 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.
DeSimone implied that Castillo, 49, of Airy Street, Norristown, was a drug dealer who gave Rossman cocaine the morning of the murder and also implied that Castillo may have killed Rossman.
During his trial testimony, Castillo adamantly denied killing Rossman, giving her cocaine or being a drug dealer. Prosecutors said Castillo had nothing to do with Rossman's death. They said all evidence pointed to Smull as the killer. No fingerprints of value were found on the knife, baseball bat or the electrical cord, testimony revealed.
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. Without an exact time of death, DeSimone argued, investigators cannot prove who killed Rossman.
However, Genovese argued scientific tests showed that three droplets of blood found on Smull's shirt were the result of blood spattering while he attacked Rossman. On the other hand, a defense expert testified the blood could have gotten on Smull's shirt as he knelt in the puddle of blood after finding Rossman's body.
A third-degree murder conviction is punishable of a maximum of 20 to 40 years in prison. Voluntary manslaughter, commonly called a heat of passion killing, is punishable by up to 10 to 20 years in prison.