The trial now really gets under way, with the prosecution trying to squeeze in every bit of evidence they have, and the defense doing everything they can to get evidence disallowed and witnesses discredited.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Tuesday, June 28, 1955
Bullet Expert Quizzed
Photos Admitted as Evidence in Murder Trial of Oveross
Testimony of the state’s ballistics expert was questioned critically Monday by defense counsel as the first degree murder trial of Casper A. Oveross resumed in Marion County Circuit Court.
Attorney Otto R. Skopil Jr., leading the defense cross-examination of state’s witnesses, challenged crime laboratory technician Ralph Prouty repeatedly on the accuracy of his testimony relating to bullet holes in the automobile of the slain Ervin Kaser. Prouty, with the crime laboratory since July 1953, was on the witness stand most of the afternoon as the state sought to set the technical scene of the Feb. 17 murder south of Silverton.
The young Portlander was the sixth state witness to take the stand in the five-day-old trial, and the fifth called to the witness chair Monday. Previously Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Kellerhals, only known witnesses to the slaying, were among those offering testimony. They followed Deputy Sheriff Richard C. Boehringer to the stand and were followed by Melvin Kaser, brother of the dead man.
Mrs. Kellerhals, who has lived for 18 years across the highway from the Kaser home, was the first to recount details of the first few minutes following the shooting of Kaser. She told of hearing Kaser’s car pull into his driveway and of a car door slam about the same time a second car halted on the highway a few yards north.
“Mannie, someone’s shooting at Ervin,” she recalled saying after hearing one shot. She said both she and her husband jumped from bed to the front window of their home in time to see flashes of three more shots, and to see the second car speed away south. Mrs. Kellerhals testimony differed slightly from that of her husband on details of the second car’s movement. She said the car identified as dark in color, appeared to leave the scene about two or three seconds after the last shot, while Mr. Kellerhals said the car started immediately.
Additional photographs with which the state hopes to help build its first degree murder case against Casper A. Oveross were admitted as evidence Monday over the objections of defense counsel. Four colored slides of the slain Ervin Kaser’s car, and a black and white photograph purporting to show a tire track on the highway shoulder near the shooting scene were officially entered during the three-hour testimony of Ralph Prouty, state ballistics expert. Prouty, who was under close cross-examination by the defense attorneys, testified that his investigations at the scene indicated that the four shots fired into Kaser’s parked car came from a point at a 45 degree angle to the side of the car.
It was his testimony to width of the road shoulder where the killer’s car was believed to have halted, and to the location of bullet holes in the car that brought the sharpest examination by Defense Attorney Otto R. Skopil Jr. At one point Prouty was permitted to review his notes to give exact measurements. Then the defense ordered two pages of the notes admitted as defense exhibits to show that Prouty had given only approximations of distances in his direct testimony. Jurors spent some 15 minutes individually examining the notes which contained drawn diagrams of bullet holes in the car.
Prouty, whose testimony will resume at 9:15 a.m. today when court reconvenes, said he had taken the color pictures shortly after arriving on the death scene. Skopil objected to admission of each of the four slides on the grounds they were merely accumulative to black and white exhibits entered earlier, but was overruled by Circuit Judge George Duncan. The defense won its motion to have the individual pictures projected out of the presence of the jury, however, until their relativity to the case could be determined by the judge.
The four shots, one of which struck Kaser in the left shoulder and caused his death, apparently came from a point on the aline from about six feet above the far edge of the west shoulder of the highway, Prouty testified. This testimony also brought critical examination from the defense who asked Prouty how he could correlate this with the fact that the line of flight of one of the bullets was upward and at the same time entered the Kaser car about 50 inches above the ground. Prouty said the shoulder of the road which he was using for a reference point was considerably lower than the pavement and about three feet below the level of the ground where the Kaser car stood. He said he had chosen that point on the shoulder because he had detected a tire mark in the grass there. The tire did not make enough of an impression in the hard and frozen ground for making a cast, Prouty said.
Testimony of earlier witnesses, especially that of Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Kellerhals, fixed the scene of the Feb. 17 slaying. Mrs. Kellerhals, an Evergreen community Sunday school teacher, said she had just gone to bed and was not asleep when the shooting occurred. She looked from the front window of her home after hearing the first shot in time to see three more in rapid succession, she testified. After seeing the killer’s car race away and noting that lights were on the Kaser car and in the house, she said she telephoned the Kaser home but got no answer. She said she and her husband watched the Kaser car and after a couple of minutes when the lights were not turned out she called again to the Kaser home. Then she called the home of Melvin Kaser, brother of Ervin who lives on adjoining property to the south and through his wife advised him of the shooting.
Melvin called back in a few minutes and said he would call the Silverton constable to the scene, she testified. She said she and her busband watched the Kaser residence until Constable DePeel arrived on the scene about 15 minutes later. Both Kellerhals estimated the killer’s car had stopped at a point near the driveway north of their home. Mrs. Kellerhals answered questions by Defense Attorney Bruce Williams relating to what was termed a “episode which I didn’t like” involving Ervin Kaser before an objection by Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond halted the testimony. Mrs. Kellerhals explained outside the courtroom that the episode had involved an offer of a drink by Kaser. She said there had been no trouble about it.
Melvin Kaser admitted on the stand that he and Ervin had not spoken for about a year prior to the slaying. He did not say what the nature of the difficulties with his borther were. Melvin, second known person on the scene, testified it had been a habit of his brother for several months to park at the rear of his residence. Kaser told also of the discovery by Sheriff Denver Young some six weeks after the shooting of a spent bullet in the strawberry patch between his home and Ervin’s. This bullet, with the one found in the seat of Kaser’s car and the one taken from his body, is expected to support the state’s conclusion that a rifle linked to Oveross was the death weapon.
Burden of testimony by Deputy Richard C. Boehringer, also an early arrival on the scene, was that no one had touched the death car prior to its examination by Prouty and Dr. Homer Harris, head of the state crime laboratory. Boehringer said he had heard the report that Melvin and Ervin Kaser had not spoken for about a year, but had not heard a report that Ervin and Harvey Kaser, another brother, had had a violent fist fight a few days prior to the shooting.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Wednesday, June 29, 1955
Rifle Bullets, Car Testimony Added At Oveross Trial
Tempers Fray at Oveross Murder Trial
An empty rifle shell, a box containing two 30-30 cartridges and a witness’ assertion that Casper Oveross’ Ford was “definitely” not the killer’s car were startling developments Tuesday in Oveross’ trial for the murder of Ervin Kaser.
Testimony scene shifted Tuesday to Silverton and the apartment home of Oveross as the state continued the time sequence presentation of its case against the Silverton carpenter. It was in the Oveross apartment where Silverton Policeman James painter testified he saw Sheriff Denver Young take the empty shell from Oveross’ plaid jacket about three hours after the Feb. 17 slaying at Kaser’s home south of Silverton. Painter also testified he discovered a cardboard box in a cupboard at the apartment which contained two .30 caliber rifle cartridges. he told of finding another on the floor under the couch. Indications were that the state intended to show that the box had not been in the cupboard, but was visible elsewhere in the room about two hours before.
A longtime friend of both the Kaser and Oveross families testified, “I would say it definitely was not” Oveross’ car he saw leave the murder scene a few seconds after hearing four shots. The testimony came from E. A. (Ted) Finlay, witness called by the state, during cross-examination by Defense Attorney Bruce Williams. Finlay, who resides a short distance south of the Kaser home, fixed also the time of the shooting at 10:50 p.m., testifying he looked at an alarm clock in his bedroom at the time. He told also of seeing a pickup truck go by on the highway a few seconds after the killer’s car and identified it as being driven by Mrs. Harvey Kaser. Reportedly Mrs. Kaser’s sister, Ethel Oveross, former wife of the defendant, was a passenger in the truck. [EK_NOTE: that's newspaper rumor, as Ethel Oveross was at home at the time of the shooting.]
Finlay, who said he had ridden in the Oveross car many times, said he based his statement about the killer’s car on his observation that the headlights were wide apart, indicating an older model, and the noise that it made. He said he was able to determing by sight only that the car was a sedan.
[EK_NOTE: In contrast to Ted Finlay’s testimony at the trial, another point of view from Calvin Kaser:
Manny Kellerhal and Ted Finlay were scared shitless that Cap was going to come back and shoot them. I was working at the S&M Truck Line, and Ted Finlay had an electrical shop and would come down there all the time to pick up his freight. He’d say, “I knew who the hell that was, hell, that was Cap, sure as hell. I heard those shots, and I heard that car come off, and I was up in the upstairs window.” Cap drove a Ford, I don’t remember what year Ford it was, and they had a round deal like this right in the grill, and Ted said, “I can still see that round emblem, and hell, it was Cap’s car. I couldn’t see him, but I’d bet my life that it was Cap’s car.” Manny Kellerhal seen the car take off, and he knew who it was. They were all saying this before they arrested Cap, “Hell, that’s Cap Oveross.” Then, when it came to testify in the trial, he didn’t know nothing. Manny Kellerhals, he didn’t know nothing, they couldn’t say who it was. Didn’t know. They were afraid Oveross was going to come back and shoot them. Connie Kellerhals, she was just scared shitless. She didn’t want Manny to testify about nothing. She told everyone out there, “Cap’ll come back and shoot us if you testify!” They knew goddamn well who it was, they’d told all of us, prior to the trial, that they knew who it was, that they recognized the car. But when it came to the trial, and they were asked if there was anything they recognized about the car, “Nope.” Now, back to the newspaper report.]
Counsel for both the state and defense were cautioned Tuesday to refrain from personalities as tempers began to fray in the first degree murder trial of Casper A. Oveross. The rebuke for both sides came from Circuit Judge George Duncan, in whose court the case is being heard, after a sharp exchange between Defense Counsel Bruce Williams and Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond over a speculated objection by Williams.
James Painter, Silverton policeman who testified to a search of Oveross’ Silverton apartment on the night of the shooting, was on the stand when Williams rose to say he was going to object to any testimony involving a converstation between Painter and Richard Keefer, operator of Shorty’s Tavern at Silverton. Williams took exception to Raymond’s remark of “I don’t blame you,” telling Judge Duncan it was the same type of remark the prosecution has been reverting to all through the trial. District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown entered the exhange to term Williams statement unfair.
Bulk of the testimony Tuesday centered on police activities in Silverton during the hours just after the slaying of Ervin Kaser. But before the scene shift, Defense Attorney Otto R. Skopil continued his critical cross-examination of Ralph Prouty, ballistics expert for the state crime laboratory. He challenged Prouty’s experience and knowledge in an effort to refute the state’s claim he was an expert. Skopil drew several admissions from Prouty that he was not sure of distances and angles which he had testified to earlier in establishing the direction from which bullets entered the Kaser car. He also admitted there was no way to state scientifically that the car had been moved. Monday he had said presence of glass particles on ledges of the windows and windshield was evidence to him that the car had not been moved from the time of the shooting to the time he investigated it. Skopil questioned Prouty also on the creditability of Stanley McDonald as a ballistics expert, indicating the defense may call the head of the Multnomah County identification bureau chief in an effort to refute further Prouty’s testimony.
Marion County Coroner Leston Howell followed Prouty to the stand to testify to his actions at the crime scene. his reference to a state crime laboratory report on the witness stand to refresh his memory on certain facts caused a subpoenaing of the report by the defense as part of the trial record. Attorney Williams took exception to a court ruling that the defense was entitled to see only that part of the report to which Howell referred, labeling the report a part of the public record of the county. Defense counsel subpoenaed the report during the noon recess, causing the recall of Howell to the witness stand for a few seconds as the afternoon session began.
Afternoon testimony was mostly that of Officer Painter, first policeman to go to Oveross’ home after the slaying. He told of approaching Cabin No. 6 at the Holland Court first about 11:40 p.m., knocking on the door and getting no answer though lights were on at the time. He said newspapers were over the windows so that he could no see into the cabin. Later entry of the cabin through the door was reported by Painter who was not permitted to testify to what he saw there because of defense objections. He told of going to the Town House in Silverton and asking if Ervin Kaser had been there during the evening and said it was there he was told by Gerald Hoyt, the bartender, of bad feeling between Kaser and Oveross. This, he said, led to his going to the Oveross home and later going inside.
Painter told of returning with several police officers to the Oveross cabin after Oveross himself had returned home. He said Oveross invited them in and said they could search the cabin after Sheriff Denver Young had asked for permission. He told of locating the box containing the two 30-30 cartridges, some shotgun shells and miscllaneous screws and nuts, on a cupboard shelf of the cabin. He said his inquiry of Oveross as to when he had last had the box was answered with the statement “not for a couple of weeks.”
Discovery of a third cartridge on the floor under a couch was reported also by Painter who testified that three cartridges entered as evidence by the state in the courtroom appeared to be the same as the three he found. Also entered as state’s exhibit was a diagram of the Oveross cabin which Painter said he had drawn from a preliminary diagram made a week ago. Painter said Oveross was questioned on his whereabouts of the evening and replied he had been to “just Shorty’s and the Town House.” When asked if he had been anywhere else he said, “No, just driving between Shorty’s and the Town House.” Asked if Oveross said anything else, he reported that Oveross was questioned on whether he owned a .30 caliber rifle and that he had replied he never owned one.
The fact that police spent the early part of their search for Oveross looking for the wrong license plate was brought out in cross-examination of Painter by Williams. Painter said the license number given them by the registration office of the secretary of state’s office was for the expired license while Oveross car carried new plates with the number 1A118. Apparently the defense intended to show later that Oveross car could have been parked or operated in Silverton without the search being able to recognize it. Painter admitted under cross-examination that his testimony that Oveross was wearing the plaid jacket from which Young extraced an empty cartridge may have been in error. He said it was his impression that Oveross had the jacket on at the time.
On the stand at the close of the day was Merle Bethscheider, also a Silverton policeman, who corroborated much of Painter’s testimony. He said he was on a “stake out” or watch near the Oveross cabin when Oveross returned about 1:25 a.m. in the morning following the fatal shooting. Bethscheider is expected to be first on the witness stand today and will probably be followed by Dr. Home Harris, head of the state crime laboratory. Harris is expected to testify to the cause of Kaser’s death and to the result of an autopsy performed on the dead man’s body.
A defense accusation that Oveross was being prevented from seeing his family was denied by Sheriff Young Tuesday night. Attorney Williams had prefaced the day’s trial activities with a motion for a half hour recess during the day to permit the defendant to see his family. He said, “Sheriff Young has consistently declined to permit him to do that…” before he was interrupted by Judge Duncan who said such a request should be made outside the courtroom. The request repeated in the judge’s chambers was approved and Oveross was permitted to see several members of his family including his daughter Colleen and two sisters during a half hour recess beginning at 3 p.m. Young said Tuesday night that Williams’ statement was a “deliberate falsehood.” He added that Oveross had been granted the same visitation privileges of all other county prisoners and that he had taken under consideration a request by Defense Attorney Otto Skopil Jr., to permit vistis outside the regular visiting hours. Regular visiting hours at the jail are from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday. He said Oveross had been in court during those periods last week.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Thursday, June 30, 1955
Police Interrogation of Oveross Pictured
Details of the interrogation of Casper Oveross after the fatal shooting of Ervin Kaser were brought out Wednesday in testimony of four police officers as the Oveross murder trial ground through its seventh day.
State Policeman Robert Dunn, who said he was present during a two hour “talk” with Oveross at the Marion County Sheriff’s office, testified he had heard Oveross say he had never had a .30 caliber rifle and had not owned any rifle for 2 or 3 years. Dunn also said Oveross had asked 4 or 5 times during the course of the interrogation at the courthouse and en route back to the Silverton area if he might contact his attorney. he said the request was not denied by Sheriff Denver Young; but htat he was asked if he wouldn’t wait until they got through talking. Oveross was not under arrest, Dunn testified, and as far as he knew was free to go at any time he was with the police officers from about 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the morning following the shooting.
Silverton District Constable Harley DePeel, Silverton Policeman Merle Bethscheider and Deputy Sheriff Amos Shaw also testified during the day to Oveross’ actions during the period he was being questioned. They, with Dunn and Dr. Homer Harris, director of the state crime laboratory, were on the witness stand during the day. Colored slides showing Kaser’s body in the car and wounds in his left shoulder were admitted as state’s evidence during the testimony of Dr. Harris, who also testified to the cause of Kaser’s death. Dr. Harris said the jagged jacket of a .30 caliber rifle slug had torn into Kaser’s back, lodging in the main artery to the heart. Asked if death was instantaneous, Dr. Harris said in his opinion the wound was the equivalent to decapitation in effect.
Police Tell Of Oveross Interrogation
Investigating police testified Wednesday that Casper Oveross, charged with the Feb. 17 slaying of Ervin Kaser, had acted normally during his long interrogation after the crime. Oveross was first questioned about his activities at his Silverton home, on the way to and from Salem and at the Marion County sheriff’s office on the morning following the shooting, officers testified.
The statement, “It’s a funny thing about these foxes running around here with their throats cut,” was attributed to Oveross in testimony of Deputy Sheriff Amos Shaw, one of the principal investigators of the Silverton area murder. Shaw said Oveross made the statement while they were enroute from the Kaser home to Salem. He said Oveross had also made some comment about a friend of his who was doing 99 years for murder at the state penitentiary. Shaw, 12th of the state’s 63 witnesses to appear, was still on the witness stand when Circuit Judge George Duncan recessed the trial until 9:15 a.m. today. The soft-spoken deputy told of going to the Oveross cabin in Silverton early on the morning after the slaying with Sheriff Denver Young and six other police officers. He said Young knocked on Oveross’ door and heard a voice say, “Who’s there?” He said after the sheriff had identified himself, Oveross came to the door and was asked for permission to come in and talk. Shaw said Oveross agreed to the request and to one to permit a search of the small cabin where he had lived since being divorced from his wife, Ethel Oveross. Shaw quoted Oveross as saying, “Help yourself” in answer to the request and “If it’s marijuana you’re looking for, I don’t know anything about it.”
State policeman Robert Dunn of Salem, preceded Shaw on the stand, and testified also to phases of the night’s activities involving Oveross. He said he had entered the Oveross cabin with other officers at the invitation of Oveross, but had gone back outside to look around because he felt there were too many there already. Dunn said he was in the cabin long enough, however, to hear Sheriff Young ask Oveross where he had been and heard Oveross answer something about being to a couple of taverns.
Dunn said he left the Oveross place with other officers and Oveross and went to Dick Huddleston’s home just outside Silverton where Huddleston substantiated Oveross’ story that he had test fired a rifle for him on the day of the shooting. He said they went then to the Huddleston lumber yard where they viewed the gun. It was the fact that Oveross had fired a gun on that day which headed off any attempt to take a paraffin test of Oveross’ hands, Dunn said. Earlier Dr. Homer Harris of the state crime laboratory had explained that a paraffin test involved making a paraffin cast of hands and arms to determine if any powder residue from a fired gun had collected there. Dunn said Oveross was not coherent in speech during part of the interrogation later, stating he wouldn’t stay on the subject, wouldn’t finish some of his sentences and appeared nervous. He stated that in his opinion Oveross was not drunk, but had “odor which I took to be liquor on this breath.”
Dunn, with the state police since 1950, said he was present during all but 5 to 10 minutes of the interrogation conducted at the sheriff’s office. He recalled Oveross was asked where he had been and had answered at two taverns. he denied being anywhere else between 8 p.m. on Feb. 17 and 1:30 the next morning, Dunn said. Oveross said at that time he did not own a 30-30 rifle and had never owned one, Dunn testified. he told of owning a 32-20 rifle which he said he had sold two or three years before, Dunn said. Dunn said Oveross was asked if he had been near Kaser’s place and answered he had not been that night, or during the daytime or morning. he told of wiring up the bumper of his daughter Colleen’s 1936 Chevrolet while it was parked on a Silverton street, Dunn said, but had first related that had been about 5:30 p.m., then said it had been in the morning. Oveross denied being south of Silverton anytime that evening according to Dunn.
Dunn also told of a conversation with Oveross about family troubles and reported he was asked if Kaser had any connection with breaking up his home. He said he considered his wife the finest woman in the world, but wouldn’t marry again in view of the circumstances. He said Oveross told of watching with the late Constable Emory Jackson and Harly DePeel while Kaser visited his wife. Oveross said he would have ikilled Kaser when that occurred and not now and considered it all “water under the bridge,” Dunn testified. Oveross also talked about going deer hunting, but was vague about the rifle he used, according to Dunn. Dunn said they had also talked about making venison hamburger, the remark sending a ripple of laughter through the packed courtroom. Under cross-examination Dunn said Oveross had shouted to Mr. Anunsen, a brother-in-law, to telephone Mr. Winslow during a stop at the home of Ed Shubert, brother of another one of Oveross’ sisters. Mr. Winslow was identified as a Salem attorney who had represented Oveross in the divorce proceedings with his wife last year.
Clothing which Kaser was wearing at the time he was slain was admitted as evidence during Dr. Harris’ testimony Wednesday morning. The torn red plaid jacket and blood-stained grey shirt were admitted over objections by defense counsel Attorney Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. Also admitted was the fragment of rifle bullet which Harris testified caused Kaser’s death. Two other bullet fragments taken from Kaser’s body were also admitted. Dr. Harris, who was on the witness stand for direct examination by Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond for an hour and a half, got the briefest cross-examination yet in the trial from the defense. Harris, testifying that he had conducted some 1,500 autopsies, was asked only one question by Attorney Williams. That was whether he had ever testified before for Mr. Raymond. He answered that he had on occasion.
Officer Merle Bethscheider of the Silverton police, who was on the stand first Wednesday, corroborated much of the testimony offered Tuesday by James Painter, also a Silverton policeman. His deliberate answers to both prosecuttion and defense questions on events of the night were substantially the same as those of Officer Painter on the same matters. Deputy Shaw is expected to resume testimony this morning, and it appeared likely that he would recieve close attention on cross-examination. The prosecution also will probably recall Officer Painter today.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Friday, July 1, 1955
Attorneys Charge Oveross Illegally Held After Killing
Defense attorneys charged Thursday that Casper Oveross was held illegally for some nine hours the night of the Ervin Kaser murder and asked that all testimony based on the period be stricken from the trial record. The motion came during the eighth day of the first degree murder trial of Oveross and was denied by Circuit Judge George Duncan just before the alleged murder gun was presented in evidence by the prosecution. Defense Attorney Bruce Williams moved to have the testimony thrown out because he said it was illegally secured during “the illegal detention and illegal search and seizure” and violates guarantees under the 5ht amendment of the constitution. The action followed by a few minutes the admission under oath by Police Chief Rell R. Main of Silverton that Oveross was “in custody at that time.” Other law officers who participated in the questions of Oveross, including Denver Young, Marion County Sheriff, had testified Oveross had voluntarily agreed to accompany them for questioning purposes.
Brought into court Thursday was the .30 caliber Winchester carbine which the state asserts is the death gun. Three boys, one from Salem and two from Pratum, testified the gun was the one found in the Pudding River near Pratum last May 8, nearly three months after the fatal shooting south of Silverton. Larry Wacker, 12, who will be in the eighth grade at Parrish Junior High School next fall, told how he found the rifle in the stream. He said he and Neil and Ralph Beutler of Pratum had gone down along the river “to look for fish and crawdads” when he spotted the gun lying partly in the water and mud. Wacker and the Beutler boys, aged 11 and 9, told also of working the lever on the gun and seeing an empty shell pop out. They told of playing around with the shell before Ralph threw it back into the stream. An unfired round, which the boys said was stuck in the gun, was also marked for identification as possible evidence.
The day’s action came as the prosecution speeded the temp of its case against the 43-year-old Silverton carpenter. Members of the Harvey Kaser family will probably be called first today and are expected to testify to the finding of other empty shells linked to the death gun. Testimony about the reported sale of a .30 caliber Winchester rifle to Oveross is also expectedd in today’s presentation by Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond and District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown.
Dramatic Development Hinted During Oveross Murder Trial
A dramatic development was hinted “in the next day or two” by Attorney Bruce Williams, who with Otto R. Skopil Jr., is defending Casper Oveross against a first degree murder charge in Marion County Circuit Court here. Williams’ hint of the surprise came after court had recessed Thursday on a day of dramatic developments, one of which was Williams’ own motion to have nearly all the testimony taken thus far in the case thrown out on the grounds it was illegally obtained. Williams’ motion was based substantially on a statement by Silverton Police Chief Rell R. Main, last of the state’s witnesses to testify on events surrounding the morning-long questioning of Oveross the day after Ervin Kaser was shot to death at his home south of Silverton.
Cross-examination of officers by Williams and Skopil had been directed at the questioning of Oveross from about 1:45 a.m. to about 10:30 a.m. the morning of Feb. 18, a few hours after Kaser’s death. Sheriff Denver Young, Deputy Amos Shaw, Silverton Policemen James Painter and Merle Bethscheider, Silverton Constable Harley DePeel and State Policeman Robert Dunn had each been cross examined closely on phases of the interrogation elarier and each had stated Oveross had come along voluntarily and was free to go at any time. Young, Shaw, Dunn and Main all said Oveross had asked several times if he might call an attorney during the questioning at the Sheriff’s office in Salem and en-route back to Silverton. Each had said Oveross was not blocked from calling, but had been asked to wait until they were through talking. Each of the four officers recalled that Oveross had called to his brother-in-law at the Ed Shubert place and asked him to contact Norman Winslow, a Salem attorney, who had handled his divorce case against his wife Ethel Oveross.
Expected fireworks failed to materialize Thursday during the cross-examination of Sheriff Young, who was on the witness stand for the first time during the trial. Young’s testimony was substantially the same as that of preceeding police officers testifying to events of the murder night. Young told of going to Silverton and talking to Oveross at his Holland cabin home and said he asked Oveross to accompany them to Salem where they might talk some more. The sheriff said Oveross agreed and that at no time was he under arrest.
Testimony of other officers concerning the finding of three .30 caliber cartridges and one empty shell at the Oveross cabin was corroborated by Young. Young told also of going to the home of Mrs. Ethel Oveross, about a half mile south of the murder scene, earlier where he said he learned Oveross had visited there during the evening of Feb. 17. Later, Young said, Oveross denied he had been to his former home and alos denied having been south of Silverton during that day or night. Oveross was asked point blank whether he had shot Kaser, Young stated. He said Oveross answered, “I didn’t shoot him, not old Cap.”
Chief Main’s testimony closely paralleled that of Young’s in most respects. At the conclusion of cross-examination on events concerning departure from the Oveross cabin Williams asked, “He was in custody at that time though?” Main answered, “Yes, sir!” It was the first police statement that Oveross was being held. After Williams’ motion to throw out police testimony based on the questioning period the prosecution called Larry Wacker, 12-year-old Salem boy, who found the rifle which the state asserts was the murder weapon. Young Wacker said he could tell the gun shown him in the courtroom Thursday was the same gun he found in the Pudding River May 8 because he remembered the serial number. He said only the butt of the rifle was sticking out of the water when he spotted it while “I was looking for fish and crawdads.” The boy drew a sketch for the jurors of the spot close by the bridge over the river just east of Pratum where he first spotted the gun. Larry answered questions of both prosecution and defense without hesitation in relating circumstances of the discovery.
Neil and Ralph Beutler, who had accompanied Larry on the Mother’s Day bicycle jaunt to the stream, testified they saw the rifle in the water after Larry had pointed it out to them. They told of seeing him pull it from the mud and examining it on the bridge. Neil said it was he who worked the lever, extracting an empty cartridge onto the road. Ralph picked it up he said and later threw it back into the stream. It was never recovered. Wacker and Neil Beutler differed somewhat in their estimation of the condition of the gun. Both agreed there was rust on the end of the barrel and on other parts of the gun, but Beutler said the inside of the barrel was clean.
Presentation of the rifle Thursday set the stage for the state’s plan to link Oveross to the murder gun. Young Jeffery Kaser, son of Harvey Kaser who is the brother of the slain man, is expected to testify today concerning finding other empty cartridges. His mother, Edith Kaser, a sister of Ethel Oveross, and Harvey Kaser are also expected to take the stand today.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Saturday, July 2, 1955
Attorneys Charge Oveross Illegally Held After Killing
A day long battle Friday over admitting a 30-30 rifle as evidence and over the qualification of a state’s witness to testify on comparison of bullets fired from it filled the ninth day of the first degree murder tiral of Casper Oveross in Circuit Court here. Except for one question asked of another witness, all testimony of the day came from Ralph Prouty, ballistics expert of the state crime laboratory, who said the bullet taken from the body of the slain Ervin Kaser was fired from a gun found later in the Pudding River. Kaser was killed Feb. 17.
The gun itself was admitted as evidence just before the noon recess over repeated ojbections from defense counsel Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr., that no relativity to the crime had been established for it. At one time after a series of objections to each question concerning the rifle, Skopil asked that a blanket objection be applied to all testimony about it. Such a policy was established.
Prouty, testifying for the second time during the trial, was under stiff cross-examination agin but seemed to weather Skopil’s questions with much more authority than during the earlier phases. A question at one point on comparison of bullets, brought the statement from Prouty, “I’m confused.” Skopil quickly said, “Do you mean you are confused again today? Is that what you mean?” After hearing the question read back by the court reported Skopil stated, “I had better rephrase that question, I don’t believe I can even understand that.”
Prouty spent much of the day explaining how bullet comparisons are made, and explaining the comparisons on photographs which were also admitted as evidence. He noted that markings made on bullets by the lands and grooves (riflings) leave individual characteristics which are never identical in two guns. Normally at least 10 or 12 established characteristics are required for a conclusive comparison, Prouty stated. Photographic comparisons showed at least 45 such characteristics between the death bullet and one test fired through the rifle after it was found, he testified. “It is my conclusion they (the death bullet and the test bullet) were both fired through the bore of the same gun–state’s exhibit No. 21,” Prouty said.
Long Oveross Trial ‘Likely’ to Continue ‘Two More Weeks’
One of the longest criminal trials in recent Marion County Circuit Court history, the murder trial of Casper Oveross, moves into its tenth day today in an unusual Saturday session. Through nine full days, six of them for testimony by state’s witnesses, the prosecution had called only 18 of its list of 63 witnesses. “All of the witnesses will be called to testify,” District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown said Friday.
Considering evidence yet to be presented by the state and the presentation of witnesses for the defense it seemed likely the case would run two more weeks. The Fourth of July holiday Monday and a half-day schedule of other business Tuesday for Circuit Judge George Duncan will bite heavily into the trial time available next week. After all the evidence is in, both sides will be allowed time for a summation before the case is handed over to a jury. Adding to the unusual length of the trial was the testimony Friday which consisted almost entirely of direct and cross-examination of Ralph Prouty, fire-arms expert for the state crime laboratory.
Prouty took the stand at 9:41 a.m. Friday and was still there when the court recessed for the night at 4:53 p.m. Deputy Amos Shaw of the Marion COunty sheriff’s office was on the stand briefly at the beginning of the day, but was dismissed after one question when defense counsel Otto R. Skopil Jr. objected to it relevancy. The prosecution had planned to have the gun admitted as evidence through Shaw and Prouty before the defense objection. It was Shaw to whom the 30-30 Winchester carbine was turned over after it was fished from the Pudding River last May 8 by Larry Wacker, 12-year-old Salem schoolboy. Blocked in that sequence, Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond pushed the step by step admission of evidence through Prouty who came to court Thursday armed with a whole box of exhibits.
Prouty stated that through measurements and microscopic comparisions it could be determined if a certain bullet was fired from a certain gun. Then he testified he had determined by measurements and compairson with bullets of known standards that the bullet which caused Ervin Kaser’s death last Feb. 17 was .30 caliber. When Skopil objected to admission of the rifle at that stage, Raymond brought in six photographs, over objections, which Prouty said showed comparisons of a test bullet and the fatal shot. Then the test bullet, which Prouty testified was the same manufacture and caliber as the death bullet, was offered in evidence.
At that stage Skopil shifted tactics and pressed for display to the jurors of the six photographs which had officially been admitted as evidence. At the insistence of both Skopil and Bruce Williams, co-counselor for Oveross, the jury was permitted to view the photographs, which they did for several minutes. The pictures were then placed on a board and individually interpreted for the jurors by Prouty who pointed out a total of what he called 45 characteristic points of comparison for the two bullets. Prosecution again asked that the rifle be admitted as evidence. This time it was admitted over the objections of Skopil who said there was nothing to show how Prouty came into the possession of the gun. Three more photographs of a bullet which Prouty said he found in the seat of Kaser’s car after the shooting were then offered as evidence. Prouty said that this bullet also carried the corresponding characteristics to the death bullet and the test bullet.
Cross-examination of Prouty took most of the afternoon session and consisted principally of a point by point questioning by Skopil on the whole procedure of bullet comparisons. During this examination Prouty stated powder load made little change in the markings. He explained he made a total of seven test shots with the rifle before settling on the second of the series as the best basis for comparison. When Skopil attempted to read a statement from a book on ballistics he was blocked by Raymond that neither the book nor the author had been established as an authority. Prouty told Skopil he had never heard of the Maj. Gerard listed as the author. He cited several other persons who he felt in his opinion were experts on the subject. Prouty stated he felt a heavy responsibility on his part to determine that he was correct on the comparisons. He said he made more tests than were normally required to eliminate doubts. “Are you still doubtful?” Skopil asked. “No, I am not,” he replied.
Prouty explained that apparent differences in color between compared markings on the two bullets were caused by a number of factors including oxisation of metal and the way light struck the two under the comparison microscope. He admistted that it was much easier to compare the two in the microscope than from the photographs because the pictures did not show the indentations or elevations in three dimensions. Condition of the rifle was described as generally good by Prouty who said it had some moisture, mud and what appeared to be rust in the bore when he received it. he said he could not venture an opinion on how long the rifle might have been in the river on the basis of the condition.
In the half day session today members of the Harvey Kaser family, who were originally scheduled for appearances Friday, are expected to take the witness stand in connection with the finding of the other empty cartridges.
The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Sunday, July 3, 1955
Oveross Threatened Kaser, Brother Says
“I’ll kill him if I ever catch them together,” Casper Oveross was quoted as saying in testimony of Harvey Kaser and his wife Edith Saturday in Marion County Circuit Court here. Harvey, brother of Ervin Kaser who was slain at his Silverton area home last Feb. 17, said Oveross was referring to Ervin and to Oveross’ wife Ehtel when he made the threat in September or October of 1954. Oveross is on trial charged with the murder of Kaser.
Mrs. Harvey Kaser, believed to be the first person to drive by the murder scene, testified she noticed Ervin Kaser’s car parked in the driveway of his home as she returned from a lodge meeting in Silverton about 11 p.m. that night. She denied on cross-examination that she had stopped her pickup at the death scene, gone over to the car and then continued on home. Defense Attorney Bruce Williams asked her several times during eh questioning if she hadn’t told two sisters of Oveross that she had stopped. “That is not trued,” she answered. Williams asked if she was sure. “Absolutely,” Mrs. Kaser replied. Both Mr. and Mrs. Kaser recalled a visit late at night by Oveross to their home about a quarter mile south of the death scene. Mrs. Kaser, twin sister of Ethel Oveross, said Oveross had said then, “I don’t give a god damn if he is your brother, I’ll kill him if I ever catch them together.”
Testimony of Harvey Kaser was interrupted frequently by objections by Williams and by Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond. Three times during the half day session counsel conferences were held in Judge George Duncan’s chambers on defense objections. The first came when Harvey testified he had been shown a new 30-30 Winchester rifle by Oversoss at the Oveross home in 1949. The testimony was admitted as evidence along wth Harvey’s report that he had seen Oveross with a rifle on many occasions after that time including target shooting behind the Oveross home. It was at this target area that Jeffery Kaser, 10-year-old son of the Harvey Kasers, testified earlier that he had found an empty cartridge two or three years before and which was admitted as evidence Saturday. Several other cartridges which Jeffery said he had collected about the Evergreen neighborhood were also admitted. Ironicall, Jeffery Kaser is the nephew of both the murdered man and the man accused of shooting him. The trial was recessed at noon Saturday and will not resume until 1 p.m. Tuesday after the Fourth of July holiday.
Harvey Kaser Tells of Fight With Brother
A bloody fist fight between his brother Ervin and himself over settlement of their father’s estate was described Saturday by Harvey Kaser, witness in the trial of Casper Oveross who has been charged with Ervin’s murder. Harvey said the fight occurred Dec. 12, 1953 more than a year before the Feb. 17 slaying. He said he and his borther hadn’t talked since that time. The fight started after a discussion concerning a letter about settlement of the estate and began when Ervin took a swing at him, Harvey said.
Harvey denied during cross-examination by Bruce Williams, counsel for Oveross, that he asked that a special prosecutor be assigned to the case. He did say that there was dissatisfaction with the handlin of the first grand jury and “We asked after the grand jury that Mr. Brown withdraw.” Brown is Kenneth O. Brown, Marion County District Attorney who with special prosecutor Charles Raymond is handling the state’s case.
Oveross, who had been arrested a few days after the slaying on a criminal complaint for first degree murder, was freed shortly after when a grand jury declined to indict him. Brown was criticized at that time for handling of the grand jury in that all witnesses subpoenaed to appear were not called to testify. It was nearly three months later, after a rifle was found in the Pudding River near Pratum, that the case was agin presented to a second trand jury. This grand jury indicted Oveross for the murder and he gave himself up to Alaskan authorities to be returned to stand trial.
Harvey’s testimony Saturday brought a series of sharp objections by Attorney Williams. First was on his testimony he had been shown a 30-30 Winchester by Oveross in 1949. Shown the rifle recovered from the river, he said it was the same kind as the one Oveross had shown. Williams challenged the materiality of the testimony, stating it was too remote in time and asked to be heard by the judge in chambers. The objection was overruled by Juge George Duncan and a defense exception to the ruling entered in the record.
When Harvey Kaser began testimony concerning Oveross’ visit to his home back in 1954, Williams also objected, again was heard in chambers, again was overruled and an exception allowed. The third argument in chambers, again requested by Williams, came on Raymond’s objection to a defense question of kaser, “Whose idea was it to hire a special prosecutor? Was it yours?”
Harvey Kaser said his first knowledge of the slaying was about 11:30 p.m. that night when his brother Melvin called him. He said up until that night he had never believed that his brother and Mrs. Oveross had been going together. Ethel confessed to her sister Edith, wife of Harvey, that she had been out with Ervin that night, Harvey said.
Mrs. Edith Kaser detailed her activities of the murder night, stating she had attended a meeting of the Pythian Sisters in Silverton from 8 p.m. until just before 11 p.m. She told of driving home in their 1949 GMC pickup truck and noticing lights both in the Ervin Kaser home and automobile. She said she slowed down to an estimated 20 to 25 miles an hour as she drove by, but did not stop. She estimated that it had been about 11 o’clock when she drove by, apparently only a short time after the slaying.
Her testimony refuted earlier reports not a part of the testimony that her sister Ethel was a passenger in the pickup. She said Ethel was not at the lodge meeting and she had not seen her all that night until after they were notified of the slaying. Attorney Williams asked Mrs. Kaser several times during the questioning if she had not stopped at the scene, despite repeated denials. Then he asked her if she hadn’t said a few nights after the slaying in the presence of Mrs. Ruth Schubert and Mrs. Emma Wolford, both sisters of Oveross, “If I had been a few minutes earlier I could have prevented the shooting.” This she also denied after Attorney Raymond’s objection. She said she had talked to the two sisters about the matter. She said it was just before the Statesman-KSLM spelling contest in which Karen Oveross, daughter of the defendant, was a semi-finalist. They talked then also about whether the events might bother Karen in the contest, she recalled.
Mrs. Kaser was questioned at length by Williams on what she was able to observe as she drove slowly by the murder scene. She said she could see through the automobile windows because of the lights and dome light being on but could see no one in it. She said she could not see any bullet holes and did not notice the shattered glass of the window or windshield. She declined to venture an opinion on how far the car was parked from the highway at the time, after questions by Williams.
And that concludes week two of the trial. Next up: Week Three (imagine that!)