PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — A man accused of killing a former newspaper reporter and stealing his valuable collection of gaming cards kept the body in a container surrounded by air freshener and potpourri for more than a week before burying the container in concrete, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Prosecutor Bridgette Jensen showed jurors an identical plastic container during opening statements in the first-degree murder trial of William Joseph Cormier III.
Prosecutors allege Cormier beat Sean Dugas to death and stole Dugas' collection of cards for the role playing game "Magic: The Gathering," which he later sold in Georgia and Tennessee for thousands of dollars. Experts have valued the cards at up to $100,000. Jensen said Dugas' skull was bludgeoned to the point that forensic experts had to reconstruct it to conduct their investigation.
Cormier's defense attorney urged jurors to keep open minds.
"It is a horrific and tragic crime, there is no getting around that. Your duty is not to solve this crime, your duty is to ensure that Mr. Cormier's rights are guarded and that you make the state prove the case beyond every reasonable doubt," attorney Richard Currey said in his brief opening statement.
Cormier's twin brother has pleaded no contest to charges of helping him transport Dugas' body from Pensacola to Georgia, bury Dugas' body and encase it in concrete in the backyard of their father's home.
Later Tuesday, friends and family members testified that they last heard from Dugas on Aug. 27, 2012, and reported him missing to police after not hearing from him for several days. Dugas' body was unearthed in Winder, Ga., on Oct. 8, 2012.
A crime scene investigator testified that he found five areas of blood on the back of a U-Haul van rented by William Cormier, and a detective testified that he found some blood in Dugas' home. A neighbor of Dugas said he spoke with William Cormier in early September when he noticed a lawn company and U-Haul outside of Dugas' home. The man said Cormier told him that Dugas was leaving the home and moving in with him.
Currey asked witnesses in the comic book and playing card businesses if they could tell the Cormier brothers apart. Witnesses said the identical twin brothers were difficult to distinguish from each other.
One man who played the card game with both Dugas and the Cormier brothers for years said he could tell the brothers apart only when he was close to them and when they were talking. Gaming experts testified that cards for "Magic: The Gathering" can sell for thousands of dollars and were especially valuable if signed by the artist who designed the game. Players often meet in comic book stores and play the game for hours, they said.
Prosecutors displayed pictures of the colorful cards featuring birds, islands, dragons and other fantasy drawings. Friends said Dugas had thousands of the cards, including some that were extremely rare.
Several comic book and memorabilia dealers testified that they bought cards from William Cormier in September of 2012 after the twins attended a Labor Day gamers' convention in Atlanta and showed dealers a massive collection of Magic: The Gathering cards.
One card dealer from Kentucky said he met the twins in Tennessee and paid William Cormier about $12,000 for some of the cards. Another card dealer said he paid William Cormier about $6,000 for other cards in Georgia.
Dugas worked for the Pensacola News Journal from 2005 to 2010 where he was known for his long dreadlocks, quirky personality and enthusiasm for using technology to report stories. He did Web videos and occasional crime reporting. Friends and family said Tuesday that Dugas was a collector of many things, including spoons and coins.
Cormier showed no emotion Tuesday. He occasionally took notes as he listened to the lawyers' statements and witness testimony.
D.W. Day, a longtime friend of Dugas, broke down in sobs while testifying. Dugas' family members also sobbed during the emotional testimony. Day said he met the Cormier twins through Dugas, had interacted with them hundreds of times and played many games of Magic. Day said he had never seen William Cormier to be violent. Day said William Cormier did not have his own collection of gaming cards.