LAWRENCEVILLE - An investigator testified Monday that staged evidence surrounding Muriel O'Connell's body went beyond a knife planted in the dead woman's hand.
Gwinnett police Sgt. Marcus Head, who led an investigation into the Buford resident's mysterious slaying in August 2006, said the master bedroom where police found her was in careful disarray - giving the appearance, at first glance, of a prolonged struggle.
Upon closer examination, Head testified, criminologists found items such as a candle stand, candles and a heavy, metal candle holder were likely placed on the floor.
"It was contrary to two or three people having a long, protracted fight near there," Head said.
Elsewhere in the home, police found a smashed ceramic basket in the kitchen that appeared "simply dropped" and a phone line yanked from the kitchen wall that disabled outgoing calls, Head testified.
He did concede that O'Connell's bedroom was strangely messy in the first place, with clothes, dirt, debris and urine-soaked "animal mats" cluttered in the room.
The testimony came during the opening of the second week in the murder trials of O'Connell's adopted daughters - Brenda and Catherine O'Connell, both 17 - who are accused of strangling her to death two years ago.
Jurors are tasked with deciding whether O'Connell's daughters killed her in cold blood, or if they were defending themselves against an abusive parent bent on making their lives in America a living hell, as the defense has asserted.
The single woman had adopted the girls from the same Guatemalan orphanage. The girls, who are being tried as adults, are charged with murder, felony murder and aggravated assault. They face life in prison if convicted.
Later Monday, prosecutors played an interview with Catherine "Katie" O'Connell taped the night of the killing, in which she says sobbingly her mother attacked the girls with a rope and knife.
"I tried to help," Catherine O'Connell said on tape, her child-like, high-pitched voice tearful and faint. "She said she was going to get rid of Brenda."
Head also testified that doctors took dental caste impressions of Muriel O'Connell and her daughters. Catherine O'Connell incurred cuts and bite marks the night of the killing - markings prosecutors have argued were self-inflicted - but Head didn't say which dental pattern matched the injuries.
Prosecutors say evidence suggests the girls, both less than 5 feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, strangled their 57-year-old mother in her sleep, then moved her body and placed a knife in her hands.
Head testified a small amount of blood was found on a pillow near Muriel O'Connell's body and nowhere else throughout the home. He didn't specify to whom tests revealed the blood belonged.