Elswick's murder trial rescheduled

By David Hedges, Publisher

A knife that may have been used to cut off the pinky finger of a murdered man and a lighter used to burn the stump will be the subject of additional testing after a trial supposed to get underway this week was delayed.

Raymond Elswick, 43, is charged with the murder of Daniel Burns, whose body police said was dumped along a rural road after he was beaten to death.

The 51-year-old Burns was helping Elswick with remodeling at the Market Street home of Joey and Crystal Hicks just before Memorial Day weekend in 2005.

Crystal Hicks allegedly saw Burns make inappropriate contact with her 6-year-old daughter. That led to a beating that ended in Burns' death, and the other three being charged with his murder.

Police said Burns was beaten and kicked repeatedly before his body was placed in the back of the Hickses' station wagon. He was beaten more in the back of the car as it was being driven around.

The body was eventually dumped out, but not before the pinky finger on Burns' left hand was severed.

The body was found in a roadside culvert off Lick Fork, but the finger was never found.

Joey and Crystal Hicks each avoided going to trial and entered pleas to lesser charges.

Joey Hicks is serving 15 years for voluntary manslaughter and 1-to-5 years for conspiracy. Crystal Hicks is serving a year for involuntary manslaughter and 1-to-5 years on two counts of conspiracy.

Elswick's trial in April ended in a mistrial when prosecutor Mark Sergent inadvertently mentioned in his closing remarks that Elswick did not testify in his own defense.

At that trial, Joey Hicks testified that Elswick cut off Burns' finger. Elswick's attorney, Lee Benford, said at a pre-trial hearing Friday that Joey Hicks cut off the finger.

The disposable lighter was allegedly used to cauterize what was left of the finger to stop the bleeding.

Since Elswick's first trial, the knife allegedly used to cut the finger, and the lighter, were found.

Joey Hicks apparently had the knife and lighter when he was arrested and taken to the regional jail.

Jail authorities turned the items over to Hicks' mother, who testified at the hearing Friday in Roane Circuit Court.

Deborah Hall Stewart said State Police came to her home in Ravenswood Aug. 30 looking for the items. She said a knife and lighter were inside an envelope given to her by the regional jail. She said the jail also gave her property that belonged to Elswick, including his wallet.

When police came to her home in August, Stewart said she gave them the knife and lighter, as well as the items that belonged to Elswick.

She said she had tried to give the wallet to the investigating officer, Trooper J.K. Cox, last year, but he refused to take it.

Sgt. D.P. Kitzmiller, commander of the State Police detachment in Spencer, also testified Friday. He said he and two troopers went to Stewart's mobile home with a search warrant. He said she turned over a yellow-handled knife and the lighter, and something they weren't looking for — an envelope that contained papers and photos.

Trooper P.S. Fisher, who accompanied Kitzmiller to Ravenswood, said Kitzmiller handed him the envelope to examine the contents. He said he found nothing related to the case and handed it back to Kitzmiller.

Both Kitzmiller and Fisher said they did not see a wallet in the envelope.

A property receipt inside the envelope said the items belonged to Elswick.

Because Stewart did not want the items in her home anymore, Kitzmiller agreed to take the envelope. He said he later threw the envelope and its contents away.

Benford called that action destruction of evidence and said it was reason for dismissing the case.

"That conduct is inexcusable in a case of this nature," he told Judge Tom Evans.

Evans denied a motion for dismissal.

"It does not appear to me this evidence would have been useful to the defense," the judge said.

Evans has not ruled on another motion for dismissal, this one for the lack of a speedy trial.

Earlier, Evans dismissed another motion for dismissal, this one based on allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

Some blood was found when the knife and lighter were tested at the State Police lab. Now, the defense will make arrangements for an independent lab to test the items.

The trial that was set to begin Tuesday was rescheduled for March 25.