Not Innocent: The Trial (Part 2) – The Beginning

With the jury selection completed in the afernoon of Thursday, June 23, 1955, the jurors and the two alternates were sworn in by the end of the day. On Friday, the first day of the actual trial, the morning was spent taking the jury to see the scene of the murder, then the afternoon saw opening statements and the testimony of Officer Harley DePeel. I’ll let the newspaper articles give you the details.

Capital Journal afternoon newspaper, Salem, Friday, June 24, 1955
Oveross Jury Sees Scene of Kaser Murder
Accused Calm as He Watches Inspection of Death Premises

Jury visits the scene

Members of the jury selected to try Casper A. Oveross on a first degree murder charge, visit the scene of the killing last February 17 of Ervin Kaser. Kaser was shot while sitting in his car in the driveway leading to the residence. The first witnesses in the trial were scheduled to take the stand Friday afternoon in Judge George R. Duncan’s court.

The 12 jurors and the two alternates who will sit in the trial of Casper A. Oveross, charged with the furst degree murder of Ervin Kaser last February 17, a few miles south of Silveron, visited the scene of the killing Friday morning.  The jurors, accompanied by Circuit Judge George R. Duncan, were driven in a chartered bus to a point about 150 yards south of the Evergreen School, where they were shown the residence of Kaser and of Emanuel Kellerhals, Jr., immediately across the highway.

Attorneys for the defnse, Bruce Williams and Otto Skopil, asked that the jurors’ attention be called to the front window of the Kellerhals house, the drive that circles completely around the Kaser residence, and a point 26 1/2 feet east on the driveway from the Silverton-Sublimity highway. [EK_NOTE: this last is probably a muddled attempt to describe the point on the shoulder of the road across from the Kaser residence and north of the Kellerhals residence from which the shots were fired.]  The prosecution had no particular points that they wished called to the attention of the jurors, with the exception of the Kellerhals front window.

It is understood the prosecution desired that the jurors be taken to a point on Pudding River where a rifle was found.  However, Judge Duncan, the sole arbiter in the matter, ruled out any stops other than the Kaser residence.

Oveross made the trip to the point of inspection with his attorneys and E. J. (Bud) Boust, deputy sheriff. Oveross stood silently by the side of the road with the same calm demeanor that has characterized his appearance in the court room, smoking a cigarette. No one emerged from either the Kaser or Kellerhals residences while the jury was there.

Early Friday afternoon, opening statements of the prosecution and the defense were made in Judge Duncan’s courtroom.  The parade of witnesses was expected to follow.  District Attorney Kenneth Brown expressed the belief that the trial would no consume as much time as had been anticipated.  However, he would not hazard a guess as to whether it could be concluded before July 4.

Selection of the jury to hear the case was completed Thursday afternoon afrter three days of questioning of prospective jurors. A total of 123 prospective jurors were questioned before the jury and two alternates were sworn in.  The jury of nine women and three men were sworn in by Judge Duncan at 2:14 p.m.  Selection of two alternate jurors who will sit outside the jury box and take a seat with the jury only if a regular juror is unable to continue was completed at 4:30 p.m. after 19 persons on the panel had been questioned by the defense and prosecution attorneys.

Upon motion of Defense Counsel Bruce Williams all witnesses who are to give evidence in the case will be barred from the court room except when they are giving testimony.  The prosecution agreed with the defense motion except questioning whether the representative of the sheriff’s office who will have the defendant in custody might not be required to testify. The motion to exclude all witnesses was granted.  Williams also requested to be heard in the judge’s chambers after the opening statements are presented and before the witnesses have been called.  For the time being the jury will not be locked up.  Judge Duncan cautioned the jurors against talking to any person regarding the case.

Oregon Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Saturday, June 25, 1955
Mystery Driver Hinted In Opening Statement

Jury visits the scene

The jury which will decide the fate of Casper A. Oveross, now on trial in Marion County Circuit Court for first degree murder, paid a brief visit Friday to the scene where Ervin Kaser was slain last Feb. 17. Here the jury stands in the driveway of the Kaser home 2 1/2 miles south of Silverton while surveying the area. Some of the jurors look across the highway to the Emmanuel Kellerhall home from which the Kellerhalls saw the flashes of the murder gun. In addition to the 10 women and 4 men, including the two alternates, making up the jury, two court bailiffs and Circuit Judge George Duncan are also in the photo.

A mystery driver who may have visited the death scene before the police arrived, and reports that the murdered Ervin Kaser had been watched by two men in a car in days before his slaying were hinted Friday in the first degree murder trial of Casper Oveross.  The new elements were brought out in the defense’s opening statement made by Attorney Bruce Williams Friday just before the state began presenting its evidence.  Williams said the defense would show in its case that an unidnetified driver stopped in front of the Kaser home, got out of the car and then continued on home between the time of the fatal shooting and the arrival of Harley R. DePeel, Silverton constable.

The state, with special prosecutor Charles Raymond of Portland handling the preliminaries, took only six minutes for its opening statement in which the prosecution claimed it would show every allegtation of its secret indictment against Oveross for murder. Raymond said the state will show Oveross had threatened to kill Kaser and at one time had laid in wait for him.  He said the state’s case will include testimony that Oveross appeared at the J. R. Gilham home near Victor Point a few minutes after the shooting and called to Daniel Gilham, boyfriend of his daughter Colleen Oveross, that “Kaser’s got three slugs in him, and you’re my witness.”  Oveross will be linked by ownership to the 30-30 Winchester rifle which the state claims was the murder weapon, Raymond said. The state will show Oveross bought the rifle from a Silverton hardware store in March 1949, he indicated.

Constable DePeel was the state’s first witness and the only one to testify during the fourth day of the Marion County Ciruit Court trial before Judge George Duncan.  DePeel was the first police officer summoned to the murder scene 2 1/2 miles south of Silverton and was presumed to have been the first person on the scene.

Three full days were required to secure a jury for the case and the jury spent Friday morning at the murder scene to get a general idea of the lay of the land.  A prosecution request was denided that jurors be taken to two taverns in Silverton which Oveross is reported to have visited on the night of the slaying, to the Gilham home 5.2 miles south of the scene and the Pudding River bridge near Pratum where the rifle was found.

Counsel for Casper Oveross, on trial for the murder of Ervin Kaser, opened the way to appeal Friday in case Oveross should be convicted by making a verbal motion objecting to testeimony of all witnesses on the record.  The objection was based on the defense’s earlier motion that the first degree murder indictment against Oveross was illegal on the grounds District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown failed to get a court order for resubmitting the case to the grand jury. The motion offered by Defense Attorney Otto R. Skopil Jr. just before the state called its first witness Friday, was denied by Circuit Judge George Duncan in whose courtroom the case is being heard.

Constable Harley R. DePeel, 47-year-old Silverton district constable, was the first witness called, being sworn at 2:40 p.m.  His testimony concluded just before the weekend at 4:55 p.m.  The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. Monday.  DePeel testified he was summoned to the murder scene south of Silverton on the Cascade Highway by Melvin Kaser, brother of the dead man at 11:05 p.m. Feb. 17 and arrived there at 11:16 p.m.  He said he parked his car immediately behind Kaser’s where it set in the driveway of the Kaser home with the headlights and domelight on.

DePeel testified he noticed the bullet hole in the left door glass of the 1949 Plymouth and saw Kaser’s body slumped off the front seat with his head angled back over the seat. He identified photographs of the car and the dead man as being the scene as he first saw it and they were entered as state’s exhibits 1 through 5. [EK_NOTE: see Not Innocent: The Murder (Part 1)]  Frequent objections were made by both sides during the examination and cross-examination of the opening witness.  One of these which was overruled by Judge DUncan was a defense objection to entering a photograph showing Kaser’s body in the car.

DePeel was questioned closely by both sides on the chain of events from the time of his arrival on the scene until he left it about an hour later.  He told of crossing the highway to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Kellerhalls to telephone the Marion County sheriff’s office and to call his daughter in Silverton to bring his camera to the scene.  [EK_NOTE: to those born after the mid-1970s, remember, no cell phones, no digital cameras everywhere, even the radios in the police cars were limited in their range and abilities!]  Melvin Kaser, whose home is adjacent to the Ervin Kaser place on the south was the next person on the scene, DePeel said.  His arrival was followed shortly by that of two Silverton policemen and by Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Boehringer.  Sheriff Denver Young and Silverton Police Chief Rell (Buck) Main came to the scene a few minutes later as did State Patrolman Robert Dunn, and two other deputies, according to DePeel’s testimony.

During cross examination DePeel said Oveross had once come to his home in Silverton about a year ago and asked him if he could recall the exact date which he had discovered his (Oveross’) wife’s car parked on Bartlett Street in Silverton at 4:30 in the morning.  DePeel said Oveross had also said, “What could you do with a man who breaks up your home?”  He testified he told Oveross, “Cap, I don’t think a man should just blame another man.  The woman is usually 50 per cent to blame.”  DePeel said it was Kaser who was the man being talked about at the time.

Defense Attorney Bruce Williams closed his opening statement the jury with admission “The motive was there, we are not denying it. Cap Oveross had amotive, we do not deny that.  It is certinaly true, too, he is not guilty.  Williams had also brought out Oveross’ conversation with DePeel in his opening statement.  But most of the defense opening statement centered on assertions by Williams that they would prove many people had reason to hate Ervin Kaser, that Kaser feared for his life and had once contacted state plice about being followed.  Williams said a car with two men in it was seen parked near the Kaser home on the day before the slaying.  He said the defense would show that Kaser had made propositions to Mrs. Kellerhalls, Mrs. Myrtle Schar and to other women, and had gone with Mary Kaser, his divorced wife, while she was still married to her previous husband.  They would also show that Mrs. Kaser had threatened to have her husband followed, Williams said.  Williams said the defense would show Kaser’s fear for his life in the fact he left the lights on in the house when away and sat in the dark when he was home; also that Kaser normally used the circular driveway which led to the back door of his home because of his fear of ambush.  A defense witness, Ted Findley of Silverton who testified at the grand jury which first declined to indict Oveross, will testify he saw the flashes of the shots, saw the car and determined it was not Oveross’ 1950 black Ford, Williams said. [EK_NOTE: All of this is standard defense tactics–cast “reasonable doubt” by showing that someone else COULD have been the murderer.  Also, of course, the defense is trying to paint a very bad picture of the victim.  Keep in mind that the morals of the day were FAR stricter than now, that adultery and even divorce was much more of a stigma, and nine of the twelve jurors were women.]

Little detail of the evidence which the state plans to present through its 63 witnesses was revealed in the opening statement made Friday by Charles Raymond, special prosecutor hired by Marion County to assist Brown.  Raymond said the state would show Oveross’ activities of the day and night of the crime including a visit to his former home during the evening of that day.  Ethel Oveross, labeled by the state as the “Cause Celebre” of the case, will take the stand to testify she was with Kaser during the evening he was slain, Raymond said.

First witness to be called Monday when the trial resumes will probably be Deputy Boehringer, one of the early arrivals on the death scene.  Also scheduled for questioning Monday are Mr. and Mrs. Kellerhalls who were reported to have seen the last three flashes of the four shots fired into Kaser’s car and then saw a car speed south into the starlit night.  Mrs. Kellerhalls is reported to have stated after hearing the first shot, “Somebody’s shooting at Ervin.”  The Kellerhalls phoned first to Kaser’s house and then called Melvin Kaser, according to reports. Other witnesses on schedule early in the testimony are Melvin Kaser, Silverton Policeman James Painter, Marion County Coroner Leston Howell, Dr. Homer Harris, head of the state crime laboratory, and Ralph Prouty, ballistics expert with the laboratory.

And that, being the end of the first week of the trial, is probably as good a place as any to stop this post.  Next up: Week Two of the trial (or, at least, the beginning of it…)

Blogically yours,


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