Facts – according to the Defense
At/about 2:30PM on the afternoon of 4/2/02, Peter Wlasiuk, driving his ’98 GMC pickup truck, drove his wife Patty and their three girls to the home of Joyce Worden on Mechanic St., Guilford, NY. Worden was the babysitter for the Wlasiuk’s children and had been for several months prior to this incident.
Patty had arranged to borrow Worden’s car to go to work that day because Peter was going to get it inspected for her the next day.
Patty drove Worden’s car (’94 Pontiac Bonneville – white) to work and the three girls stayed with Worden. The arrangement was for Patty to pick up the girls on her way home after work as usual. This had been the routine on several prior occasions.
Patty had borrowed Worden’s car in the past as well. Both Patty and Worden had also driven Peter’s truck on several occasions.
After leaving Patty and the girls at Worden’s, Peter drove to work at the "Angel Inn" which was a bar he owned nearby. Being a Tuesday night, the bar business was slow and Peter left to go home around 10:30PM to relax and wait for Patty and the kids to arrive around 11:30PM.
While relaxing on the couch with his shoes off, the phone rings about 11:40PM and its Joyce Worden asking where Patty is. Peter tells her she may have gotten tied up at work – give her a few more minutes she should be right along.
Worden waited until about 12:15AM and called again. Peter again told her to give her a few more minutes. Worden then gets a call from Pete about 5 minutes later saying that Patty just got home and kids weren’t with her and they would be right down.
Worden would later say that she heard arguing when she called and could hear Patty’s voice.
Peter and Patty argue about her not picking up the kids.
Patty grabs Peter’s truck keys and heads out the door. Peter quickly slips on his boots and follows her out.
Peter gets in passenger side and Patty is driving. The argument intensifies and continues as they drive towards Worden’s house.
After turning onto CR 35 – Patty rolls down the window because she’s smoking a cigarette and flicks the ashes out the window. The hot ash blows back into the truck and she pulls over onto the south shoulder to put it out. As she’s leaning into the rear seat area, Peter can smell alcohol on her breath and the argument intensifies further.
Peter yells at her to turn around and go home, that they are not going to get the kids when she’s been drinking.
Patty gets real mad the turns left crossing CR 35 into the top of a driveway preparing to make a K-turn. After stopping, instead of backing up, she hits the gas and the truck lurches forward and goes down the embankment, knocks over a clothesline pole and goes into the lake.
Peter tries the passenger door w/out success. He sees the partially open driver’s window but Patty is frozen behind the wheel.
Peter climbs over her and out the window while at the same time, grabbing her by the coat collar and trying to pull her out the window also. Peter is overcome by the force of the water and loses his grip on Patty. He surfaces, attempts to orient himself in the freezing water and darkness and swims quickly to shore and climbs out of the lake. He yells for Patty several times with no response.
He runs to nearest house and gets no response. He finally finds someone home and asks them to call 9-1-1. Peter then exits with two male civilians at the house where the 9-1-1 call was made and they return to the scene in a vehicle, parking at the top of the driveway above where the truck went in.
The truck is totally submerged in the lake, about 60 feet from shore. The lights of the truck make it visible under the water. The two male civilians enter the water looking for Patty w/out success. First responders start arriving. Initially, witnesses describe Peter as soaking wet, shivering and incoherent. Peter flags down a deputies patrol car which had driven by once missing the area. Peter is placed in the back of the patrol vehicle and the heat is turned up full blast. Peter warms up in the patrol vehicle for several minutes before the ambulances arrive and he is transferred into one of the ambulances.
EMT"s have him remove his wet clothing and he is wrapped in warm blankets and hot packs are applied. Peter, knowing of Patty’s DWI driving history and problem with being an alcoholic, tells a deputy in the ambulance that Patty had swerved to miss a deer.
Peter is then transported to the Sidney hospital not knowing anything about Patty. The ambulance stops at Joyce Worden’s residence in Guilford, NY where Worden provides dry clothing for Peter. Peter changes into the dry clothing before arriving at the hospital.
After arriving at the hospital, Peter still does not know anything about Patty. Patty is pronounced dead around 1:20 AM or so but Peter is not advised until he is seen by the ER Dr at/about 2:20AM at which time he learns of Patty’s death.
Peter is approached by hospital staff advising him of their protocol to call the Center for Donation and Transplant in situations like this. Peter subsequently gives written permission for Patty’s organs to be harvested. Shortly after learning of Patty’s death and while still at the hospital, police ask for and take a written statement from Peter. Peter was asked to sign the statement and did so but never read it before hand.
Some obvious discrepancies which Peter would have noticed had he actually read the statement support this argument.
Peter leaves the hospital and starts making funeral arrangements with Lander’s Funeral Home in Sidney. NY. After the autopsy of Patty at Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, the Center for Donation and Transplant, did in fact harvest organs from Patty before the body was released for the funeral.
Peter’s truck is removed prematurely in the dark and towed to a local garage where Deputies go and conduct an incomplete inventory. The police evidence technician/photographer and accident investigator are at the scene taking photos and measurements in the dark but secure from the scene before daylight.
On 4/4/02 – Chenango County Sheriff’s Dept (CCSD) obtained and executed a search warrant for Peter’s house and surrounding property asking specifically to seize the control module from his GMC truck and any diaries/journals of Patty Wlasiuk. During the execution of this search warrant, police seized a burdock bush behind the house. This was not asked for in the application and unlike other items of evidence seized pursuant to this search warrant, there were no photos taken of the burdock bush and it was omitted from the receipt and search warrant return to the court. It also does not appear in the seizing officer’s hand written notes. But interestingly, it does appear on the CCSD evidence log.
Also on 4/04/02 – police were back at the lake scene and found a pair of gold, wire rim glasses w/out the lenses in the water within arm’s reach of the shore line. These glasses were later determined to be Patty’s. The defense would argue that the location of the glasses supports the argument that Patty was inside the cab of the truck at the time it entered the lake. When the truck was being winched out of the lake on 4/03/02, they had to stop the process briefly because the front tires had turned sideways causing a plowing effect. The winching was stopped near the shoreline and the driver’s door was opened o release the water and allow the steering wheel to be straightened. The defense argued that it was at this time that Patty’s glasses, having come off inside the cab when Peter was trying to get her out, were now flushed out of the cab into the lake near the shoreline where they were found. They certainly would not have floated over 60 feet.
Also found in the back of the truck bed when it was removed from the lake was a pager, later identified as belonging to Patty. Police theorized that because the pager was found in the bed of the truck that meant Patty had been in the back of the truck. The defense would argue that the pager, having been clipped to her clothing at the waist, came off when the NYS Police diver grabbed her around the waist to bring her to the surface. The pager then sank into the bed of the truck where it was later found.
04/05/02 – Peter goes to CCSD to pick up Patty’s jewelry recovered at autopsy for use at funeral. Police mirandize and interview Peter @ CCSD. Lead investigator accuses Peter of killing Patty – Peter angry – walks out.
04/06-07/02 – Open casket viewing and funeral. Peter hired musician to play at the funeral. Before casket closed for final time – Peter cut off his lengthy pony-tail and placed it in casket with Patty.
04/07/02 – Sunday. CCSD arranges dive detail to re-dive Guilford Lake in vicinity of incident. A CCSD diver searching for evidence and checking for lake vegetation, finds Patty’s coat on lake bottom, approx. 7’ west of the tire tracks where the driver’s rear bumper would have been. The coat is removed from the lake and photographed on the shore. Patty’s driver’s license is found in the right front pocket w/nothing else found. The sleeves are turned inside out and the coat is covered with numerous burdocks. Interestingly, this same coat was seen by the NYS Police diver on 4/3/02 when he went back into the lake to hook up the truck to be winched form the lake. The diver describes seeing the coat right at the driver’s side rear bumper area. He actually recalled picking it up, but for a still unknown reason, left it on the lake bottom knowing that the in a few moments the truck would be pulled out right over it. He would later say that he did tell a couple of deputies that were there that morning about the coat. But yet the CCSD diver on 4/7/02 claimed to know nothing about the coat. Ironically, this same NYS Police diver discovered an unidentified flashlight on the bumper of the truck while he was under water which he picked up and placed in the bed of the truck before it was pulled out. Additionally on 4/7/02 a second CCSD diver finds a large metal tool box on the lake bottom also – the kind designed for a pickup truck. This tool box is found 50 or more feet further west than the coat. The tool box is also removed from the lake but never examined, inventoried or photographed.
04/08/02 – Police have botanist respond to the scene to look for any evidence of burdocks in the area and he finds none. CCSD apply for and obtained a second search warrant for Peter’s house now asking to look for and seize burdock bushes. Police fail to tell issuing judge that they had already seized a burdock bush on 4/4/02. Police execute 2nd search warrant and find numerous burdock plants all around the property and seize them all. Also, police find what appears to be 2-3 hairs on one of the burdock bushes on the back side of the pool. The hairs are collected and later sent to the NYS Police crime lab. Police also have Dr. Terzian respond to the scene at the lake where he is shown an absence of burdocks and later at the residence where he sees burdock bushes. Police obtain arrest warrant for Peter and arrest him for Murder 2nd. He is arraigned and remanded w/out bail. Dr. Terzian requests a re-examination of the body. A court order is obtained on 4/9/02 and Patty’s body is seized at the funeral home before her scheduled cremation and transported back to Lourdes hospital for a second autopsy.
04/10/02 – Dr. Terzian performs second autopsy. Finds nothing new to support any medical opinion to change his findings. During this 2nd autopsy Dr. Terzian secures numerous controlled hair samples from Patty’s scalp. In addition, with her body from the funeral home is a clump of hair with burdocks in it. Apparently, the funeral home had removed this portion of her hair in preparing her for viewing (on 4/6) and save it. Their explanation was that they save it in case the family questions what they do. Originally we were told it was placed in the garbage after it was removed and was still there when police inquired on 4/8/02. It is also noted that Patty’s body was originally scheduled for cremation on 4/8/02 in the AM. Why this never happened is not clear. The CCSD supposedly did not make any inquiries until after speaking with Dr. Terzain in the afternoon on 4/8/02.
04/18/02 – Evidence tech. – photographer, auto mechanic and accident re-constructionists thoroughly examine Peter’s truck at the CCSD garage. Numerous photos and measurements taken, including many of the bed of the truck.
04/22/02 – CCSD lead investigator, James Lloyd and Chenango County DA Joseph McBride meet with Dr. Terzian at Lourdes hospital. Before they left, Dr. Terzian turns over to Lloyd the controlled hair samples and the hair with burdocks from the funeral home.
04/23/02 – For a reason that is still unclear, on this date, the CCSD contacted the forensic unit at the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Dept. and requested a forensic examination of Peter’s truck. Keeping in mind it has now been 20 days since the incident happened. The truck had been totally submerged in water for over 5 hours, removed and transported uncovered to a local garage and later transported uncovered to the CCSD. It has also been entered, inventoried and examined by several different individuals. However, on this date, members of the Onondaga County Sheriff Dept’s forensic unit responded to the request and examined Peter’s truck. During a cursory examination of the truck, without the use of any specialized lighting or equipment, one of the forensic examiners located a hair in the bed of the truck which was stuck to a burr in the bed-liner. This hair was photographed and collected by CCSD and later submitted to the NYS Police crime lab. Interestingly, at trial, members of the CCSD said there were two hairs found in the truck bed but the Onondaga County investigator still said one. Of course when it got to the lab there were two. A subsequent DNA examination revealed that one of the hairs matched Patty.
Going back to the 2nd search warrant on 4/8/02 where the CCSD found those hairs on the burdock bush. They too were submitted to the crime lab. Interestingly, even though it seems rather clear in the CCSD photographs that there are only 2, maybe 3 hairs present at the time they are found, when they get to the lab there are 18. And of course there are several with a DNA match to Patty. Another interesting point, on one of the hairs there is an odd allele that does not match Patty or Peter. Since hair DNA can only come from the bulbous root, where does a foreign allele come from?
When Patty was recovered from the lake on 4/3/02, she was wearing a blue lab coat on top of her regular clothing. During the original autopsy on 4/3/02, this lab coat was examined and the numerous contents of the pockets were removed and painstakingly displayed, inventoried and photographed. Contrarily, when her jacket is recovered from the lake on 4/7/02, the CCSD claimed that her driver’s license was the only thing in the pockets and they photographed it. However, when the jacket was later sent to the crime lab the pockets were found to contain numerous items (over 50) which were inventoried and later photographed by the defense. When questioned, the lead investigator said that they don’t make it a habit of looking through people’s pockets and that they don’t do it because they don’t want to destroy any evidence that might be there.
On 4/8/02 the CCSD brought a botanist, a Dr. Julian Shepherd (actually a biologist) to the lake scene to look for burdocks. He claimed to have searched the shore line for about 100 yards and didn’t see any burdocks growing in the area. Dr. Shepherd admitted he did not physically examine any of the foliage along the lake shore. Actually, in the latest trial, when shown a photograph of the lake shore with broken branches strewn in front of the area where the truck entered the lake he said he did not recall seeing those when he was there. The photo was taken by the CCSD the day before he was there.
A defense investigation in 2007 revealed the presence of burdocks growing in the area where the truck went in the water as well as numerous other areas around the lake and along CR 35. The lead investigator, James Lloyd had testified previously that he had walked the entire perimeter of the lake and observed no burdocks. Ironically, the NYS Police diver claimed to have gotten a burdock on his dive suit somewhere in the vicinity that night. A continued defense investigation on 2012 with a botanist from Cornell University, Dr. William Crepet, continued to reveal the presence of burdocks growing in several locations around the lake and along CR 35 in various stages of growth and development. Dr. Crepet testified it would be likely that if a burdock bush in early April was hit by a moving vehicle, the burdocks themselves would easily be knocked off the bush and into the water. He said they could float for several hours before sinking, but even after sinking could retain their sticking ability. He also said that in absence of the burdock itself, the burdock branches DNA could be examined to determine if they were in fact a burdock plant. This was never done in 2002. Dr. Shepherd admitted at trial that plant DNA examination was possible in 2002 but he didn’t do that.
Smothering vs Drowning:
I have already mentioned that Dr. Terzian originally determined that this was a probable drowning and only later changed his mind after the issue regarding the burdocks. And there was no medical reason for the change of opinion. As part of the defense in this matter, we consulted with forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Sikirica, of Waterford, NY. Dr. Sikirica was actually contacted initially by Ms Joyce Worden on behalf of Peter before his first trial but he was never called to testify. Dr. Sikirica’s qualifications are indisputable and he has considerably more experience than Dr. Terzian. Dr. Sikirica was given $200 by Ms Worden back in 2002 but has worked for free ever since. Dr. Sikirica, having extensively reviewed this case is of the professional opinion that Patty’s death was from drowning alone. He testified that nearly every tell-tale sign of drowning was present in this case and the injuries Patty sustained were consistent with a likely combination of accident, drowning and subsequent rescue and resuscitation efforts.
Dr. Sikirica also traveled to the lake scene and observed burdock bushes growing in the area.
The defense also consulted with a certified accident re-constructionist, Mr. Dale Leonard of Corning, NY. Unlike the accident re-constructionist utilized by the CCSD Deputy Richard Cobb) who was unqualified at the time, Mr. Leonard conducted a complete and thorough examination of the reconstruction in this case. Mr. Leonard was able to conclude that the K-turn version Peter told to the CCSD was totally consistent with the available evidence.
The area in and around the burdock bush behind the swimming pool where the hairs were found can be examined fairly well with police photographs. The police and prosecution theory that this is where a life and death struggle occurred is not supported by the visual evidence depicted in the photographs. First of all, this was early April and the snow had just recently melted away leaving a very soft and muddy mess around the house. The burdock bushes were dead and dried out. Many burdock branches could be seen on several of the other burdock bushes to be broken or lying on the ground. The one or two broken branches in the suspect bush are not consistent with a violent struggle taking place. There is nothing remotely close to the size of a human having been pushed or forced down onto the bush. Additionally, there is no other evidence of a struggle such as torn grass or overturned sod or depressions in the sod.
Also, we know Patty had numerous items in both of her coat pockets at the time and yet there is absolutely no foreign objects found at/near the suspect bush. Furthermore, they theorize that after killing her at the bush, he dragged her body across the yard to the truck in the driveway, a considerable distance. Yet again, there are no marks on the grass or in the mud to support that theory and there were no drag marks on Patty’s clothing or footwear to support the dragging theory.
Patty also had no defensive wounds on her hands that might be consistent with a struggle. No dirt or grass debris under her fingernails. No grass staining on her clothing.
The defense also argued that it made no sense for Peter to place Patty in the bed of the truck for the trip the lake because it would be too risky, besides, it would make better sense to place her in the cab of the truck and seat belt her in to be sure she would be found inside the truck.