Speer murder trial begins

PORT CLINTON On the opening day of Scott Speer's murder trial, the jury listened to a 911 tape of th
JACOB LAMMERS
May 24, 2010

 

PORT CLINTON

On the opening day of Scott Speer's murder trial, the jury listened to a 911 tape of the defendant calling for help after his friend went overboard.

"A friend fell off my boat, and I can't find him," Speer said on the tape. "I heard him screaming, and I couldn't get to him."

Speer, 43, of Fairlawn, Ohio, faces felony charges of aggravated murder, murder, aggravated vehicular homicide and involuntary manslaughter in the death of his friend, James Barnett, 40, ofBarberton, Ohio.

Speer's criminal trial began Monday and continues at 8:30 a.m. today in Ottawa County Common Pleas Court.

Speer allegedly pushed Barnett into Lake Erie in what was originally reported as a drowning Aug. 6, 2002.

Jennifer Mansor, Ottawa County Sheriff's dispatcher, took the call about 1:57 a.m. and testified she heard Speer say he threw a dock line to him.

"I believe at one point he said he was in front of him," Mansor said.

Speer said Barnett had been in the water for about 10 minutes, and Speer could be heard on the tape screaming his friend's name. Barnett's body washed up on Mouse Island about two days later.

In opening statements, Ottawa County Assistant Prosecutor Lorrain Croy said that Speer "purposely and recklessly" caused Barnett's death.

"This case is about two men who go out to Lake Erie and only one returning," Croy said. "Jim died at the hands of the defendant. Evidence will show he purposely knocked him off that boat, and because of his recklessness, Jim drowned."

Croy said Speer and Barnett were at Put-in-Bay, waiting out some severe weather, when Speer decided to head for the mainland during a small craft advisory. The wind was about 23 mph, and waves were about 3 feet high, Croy said.

After Barnett fell overboard, Speer headed to Marina Del Isle in Marblehead and called the police about 2:35 a.m.

Several police officers showed up and found Speer naked and smelling of alcohol, Croy said.

Croy said the jury will hear from a witness to whom Speer admitted that he pushed Barnett overboard.

The witness, William Seese, knew Speer through occasional drug binges, court records show.

During his opening statement Speer's attorney, Russell Buzzelli of Lorain, said it would have been tough for Speer, who was operating the boat, to push Barnett because the water conditions were rough.

"The evidence will show that Jim refused to listen to Scott (Speer)," Buzzelli said. "And consistent with the evidence, Mr. Barnett stood up and was tossed overboard by the waves.

"We're here today because one tragedy occurred. We come here to prevent another tragedy, because another life hangs in the balance."