By some accounts, Thomas Odom is like any other 17-year-old.
More than a year ago, he was considered a good student, loved to skateboard, played in a youth soccer league and argued with his dad over curfew.
Prosecutors accuse the teen of committing a crime of such extraordinary violence that it shocked seasoned police officials who handled the case.
Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Paul Kittredge on Wednesday told a Superior Court jury in downtown Phoenix that Odom bludgeoned to death 15-year-old Valley Vista High student Iva Rae Herman in an El Mirage drainage ditch. He then packed her mouth and throat full of sand to make sure she was dead and tried establishing a flimsy alibi to cover up the crime, Kittredge said.
Odom’s defense attorney, Ken Countryman, said that others killed Herman, saying all signs pointed to a nearby group home for troubled kids.
He said the El Mirage Police Department, to bring quick closure to the case because of a public backlash, rushed to the conclusion that Odom was the killer.
What is certainis that shortly after Herman left the El Mirage Branch Library at Ventura Street and First Avenue on the afternoon of April 21, 2010, she was never again seen alive.
Her body was discovered around 6 p.m. that day in a drainage tunnel. Odom, then 16, was arrested the next day and later charged as an adult with first-degree murder and attempted sexual assault.
He pleaded not guilty in May.
As the shock of the murder rippled through the community of 32,000 residents, people started demanding the city cap its eight culverts, including the one Herman was killed in.
They argued that the culverts are a public-safety threat. The city plans to spend $200,000 to construct the barriers this year.
Thomas Barthel, a friend of Herman’s and acquaintance of Odom’s, told The Republic he was stunned when he learned of Herman’s murder and that Odom was arrested for it.
“It shocked us, like, how the heck could he do something like that,” Barthel said. “Nobody thought he was capable of that because he really seemed like a nice guy.”
Kittredge told jurors during opening arguments that there was ample evidence pointing to Odom’s guilt.
He told the jury police found Herman’s DNA on Odom’s watch, took photos of injuries on Odom consistent with a struggle and tape-recorded a conversation between Odom and his father in which the teen admitted guilt.
Kittredge also told jury members how Odom attempted to establish an alibi at a parent-teacher conference at his school the night of Herman’s murder.
“He put down the time that he appeared for the parent-teacher conference, something that no one else did,” Kittredge said.
Countryman told jurors that police did not investigate the crime thoroughly and rushed to close the case because they feared the murder would trigger a public backlash
“These culverts have been a problem in the city for years,” he said, saying they were havens for criminal mischief including drug users.
“They (police) had a reason to rush to a conclusion,” he said. “The chief of police knew he had a problem because he knew other offenses had occurred in culverts and he knew that the residents were extremely upset that the culverts hadn’t been dealt with. They never provided any security, they never provided any lighting, they never did anything about the graffiti (or) the drug use.”
Countryman said the state’s claims that video surveillance showing Odom and Herman leaving the library were not true. The jury would also learn that the DNA from Odom’s watch is not what prosecutors were claiming.
Countryman said signs point to a nearby group home for troubled youths as possibly housing the real killer. He said an iPod belonging to Herman later turned up at that home and some residents there displayed injuries such as scratches and bruises shortly after the murder.
Superior Court officials expect closing arguments could come Monday.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2011/06/17/20110617el-mirage-murder-trial-continues.html#ixzz1PgDeQrqy
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