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June 30, 2004

Guilty verdict returned in deaf woman's strangulation

From: San Antonio Express (subscription), TX - Jun 30, 2004

Tom Bower San Antonio Express-News

It took jurors eight hours to decide, but when they did, their verdict was that Duane Wilson is guilty of the Dec. 26, 2002 strangulation of Trishawn Fifer.

Fifer was the daughter of Wilson's estranged wife.

Wilson, 45, was taken into immediate custody by bailiffs, pending the punishment phase of the trial.

Fifer's relatives, including her husband, expressed immediate relief.

"Yes, I am very happy. It's the answer to my prayers," said Nathaniel Fifer, who had been married to Trishawn for three years at the time of her death.

In an interview via TTY, a device that allows people who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate over the telephone, Fifer said the verdict was not a surprise to him. He suspected Wilson from the instant he learned of his wife's death.

During the trial, a police officer testified that Fifer had to be momentarily restrained from attacking Wilson after Fifer was driven home from work and saw his wife's lifeless body in the couple's master bedroom.

Other members of Trishawn's immediate family, including three aunts and a cousin, expressed relief after 399th District Judge Juanita Vasquez-Gardner ordered Wilson taken into custody after the verdict.

"Oh, what a huge relief this is. I'm too shocked by it," said Trishawn's aunt, Jessica Byars. "Glory, glory, glory. All I can do is praise the Lord for seeing that justice is served. The state (prosecutors) did an awesome job putting on their case," she said outside the courtroom, tears streaming down her face.

"He is detained, now, so we can get some calm in our lives," added Byars, who lives in Dallas and gave up all her vacation time at work to attend the trial.

Byars noted that Wilson and his wife, Marilyn, have completed their divorce, and that there has been little contact with Trishawn's mother before or during the trial. Marilyn Wilson could not be reached for comment.

Wilson worked as a Randolph AFB civil servant in procurement contracting and had been on administrative leave without pay pending the trial's outcome. When the verdict was read right before the lunch hour, he stood stoically beside his attorney, Phil Bozzo, and expressed no emotion as he was handcuffed and led away to a holding cell.

"His lack of emotion was not because it wasn't felt," Bozzo said afterward, explaining he had instructed his client not to express any emotion as the verdict was read.

"My client is devastated by this. He has maintained all along that he is not guilty. I think he has been puzzled, all along, by the testimony," Bozzo added.

Since shortly after his Jan. 17, 2003 arrest, Wilson had been free after posting a $200,000 bond.

During the seven-day trial, prosecutors Christina Playton and Chris De Martino brought forward witnesses who testified that Wilson's motive for killing his 28-year-old stepdaughter was to get back at his estranged wife, Marilyn, who had left him just before Thanksgiving of that year.

Presenting their case, largely on circumstantial evidence, the two prosecutors used cell phone records to show that Wilson was in the vicinity of the Fifers' Braun Station home at about the time the murder was committed. A witness also testified she saw a sport utility vehicle matching the description of Wilson's gray Mitsubishi Montero parked at the home at about the same time.

Trishawn's lifeless body was discovered by a woman driving down the street, after she noticed Trishawn's daughter, Mary, aged 2 at the time, walking barefoot outside in the cold and wearing only shorts and a T-shirt.

Inside the home, the witness, Lisa Rodriguez, said she found Mary's older sister, Jolie, aged 4, and both girls greeted her with open arms and led her to their mother's bedroom.

While both parents were deaf, the two toddlers can hear. Later in the trial, a police officer testified that the oldest girl, when being carried out of the house, saw Wilson and said, "Scary, scary! Bad man! Mommy's crying!"

On Wednesday, Nathaniel Fifer said Jolie and Mary miss their mother very much, but are slowly recovering from the tragedy.

"My girls are doing just fine and they are getting better, now that the names of Duane Wilson or Marilyn Wilson are never mentioned," Fifer said. "I am just so happy to be getting on with my new life with my girls."

Since his wife's death, Fifer said his world has been thrown into turmoil and he has lost his job with a construction materials manufacturing company. Now, he makes ends meet by doing landscape work for his church and with help from relatives, but he is looking for another full-time job.

Fifer added he is looking forward to the punishment phase of the trial, which is expected to go through the end of the week. Fifer said he does not know if prosecutors will call him to testify, again. Wilson could be sentenced up to 99 years or life in prison.

Meanwhile, Fifer said he is trying to move on, but with Trishawn still in his heart.

"I have not found a job. I have been looking for one and it has been two months that I have been waiting," Fifer said.

During his testimony, Nathaniel referred to Trishawn using her name sign. Most deaf people and some hearing people who know sign language have what is known as a name sign. It's a shorthand way of referring to someone without having to finger spell the person's entire name.

For Trishawn Fifer, her name sign was a hand clinched in a fist forming the sign language letter "t," with the fist tapping the chest over the heart — sort of like what Sammy Sosa does every time he hits a homerun.

Fifer, who was pregnant with her third child at the time of her death, would have been 30 years old on Tuesday.

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