SHELBY A Cleveland County jury on Thursday began hearing testimony in the trial of Donald Borders, charged with the rape and murder of 79-year-old Margaret Tessneer in 2003.
Tessneer was one of three elderly Shelby women found dead in their beds, with doors unlocked and phone lines cut or yanked out.
If found guilty, Borders, 54, of Cherryville faces a sentence of life without parole.
Assistant District Attorney Sally Kirby-Turner told jurors how on Sept. 20, 2003, Libby and Tommy Clark came to town, picked up fast-food biscuits and went to take one to take one to Tessneer, Libby Clark'smother.
At the residence on Railroad Avenue in south Shelby, the screen door and inner doors were unlocked. Tessneer was lying on the bed and when the Clarks tried to call 911 they found the phone lines had been pulled out.
After they called 911 from a neighbors home, police arrived and the investigation began.
Kirby-Turner said that when a Gastonia doctor performed the autopsy on Tessneer, he used a rape kit and found sperm in Tessneers vagina.
An analysis in 2004 created a perfect DNA profile, she said, but there was no match.
For years, Kirby-Turner said the case languished and by late 2009 was deemed to be a cold case.
But that same year, two Shelby police officers were assigned to the case and began working it vigorously, Kirby-Turner said. They concluded a DNA sample was needed from Borders. She told the jury they would hear testimony about how the Shelby officers got the DNA sample from a cigarette with the help of a Gaston County police officer.
A lab developed a DNA profile and it matched the sperm in Tessneers body, Kirby-Turner said.
At that point, officers got a search warrant and swabbed Borders cheek, she said. A second DNA profile also matched.
Kirby-Turner said testimony about the cause of death would come from retired Chief Medical Examiner John Butts. Testimony would also come from officers involved in the investigation and from Tessneers family.
When a photo of Tessneer lying in bed the morning of Sept. 20, 2003, was shown in court as an exhibit, a family member lowered her head and cried.
Defense attorney David Teddy told the jury that they will have to decide what happened on Railroad Avenue in 2003 whether there was a break-in, a rape and homicide.
When what he called the finger of suspicion was pointed at Borders in 2009, what happened afterwards, I contend, will shock you, he said.
Teddy said the alleged crime scene was contaminated by a number of people, including officers.
From the very moment the investigation began we have problems on Railroad Avenue, he said.
Also, he said testimony will show the DNA testing was contaminated, along with the medical examiners opinion about the cause of death.
In 2003, the cause of Tessneers death was undetermined, Teddy said, noting that the official autopsy and death certificate dont list the death as a homicide.
The medical examiner and Gastonia doctor who performed the autopsy couldnt decide on the cause of death, Teddy said.
Now, as we start (this) trial, an opinion has started to formulate, Teddy said.
If you believe the case against Borders and this trial are tainted, then your verdict will be not guilty.
Earlier, Teddy contended pretrial publicity tainted the jury pool and made it impossible for Borders to get a fair trial in Cleveland County. His motion for a change of venue was denied by Superior Court Judge Richard Boner.
When testimony began Thursday, defense witness Sgt. Victor Haynes with the Shelby Police Department described how he was the first officer at Tessneers home on Sept. 20, 2003.
In a bedroom, he found her lying on the bed with her feet on the floor. Her eyes and mouth were open. Haynes said she wore a light-colored nightgown over undergarments.
He found no pulse. Outside on the north side of the house under the front window, Haynes found two blocks that appeared to be stacked. Also, the phone line looked like it had been ripped out.
Up to that point, other officers and emergency personnel had been in the house. But Haines said after he noted the suspicious activity, the house was treated as a crime scene.
Under cross-examination by Teddy, Haines said six people had entered the house before it became a crime scene. Teddy called these people potential destroyers of evidence.
Because of inclement weather, court could be canceled Friday. If so, the trial would continue at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.