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Archive for September, 2022

You can’t help but notice that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been getting a lot of attention in the media in recent months and has been mentioned frequently as a likely candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.

When I first heard that, I found myself thinking maybe DeSantis would be preferable to Donald Trump.

But the more I learn about DeSantis, the less likely I think it is that he can be competitive against Trump, assuming Trump is healthy enough to run in two years. (I only say that because Trump is 76 — like me — and you can’t assume anything with a person that age…Same applies to President Biden, who would be 80 in November.)

Reports have been coming fast and furious recently that DeSantis does not connect with people; that he is stilted and has no personal magnetism. If he presses forward with a national campaign, he is likely to become the latest politician who, while big in his home state, is too “small” for the national scene.

A great example of DeSantis’ heavy handedness and lack of a sense of humor occurred in March, when he was about to appear at a press conference in Tampa.

The site was the University of South Florida. Standing behind the podium was a group of high school students who were wearing masks. As DeSantis approached the podium, the students looked eagerly at him.

Unsmiling and with furrowed brow, he looked at them and said, “You do not have to wear those masks.”

That drew a few laughs from the students, but the laughs quickly evaporated as DeSantis bore in, saying…

“Please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything. We’ve got to stop with this Covid theater. So, if you want to wear it, fine — but this is ridiculous.”

He came across like a Catholic-school nun about to rap the knuckles of her sixth-graders for failing to pay attention.

The high school students at the DeSantis press conference were clearly confused; some of them took their masks off while others opted to keep them on.

DeSantis could have used the moment to make a joke about masks and humor the students. Instead, he looked like a sour and grumpy young man.

Since then, and partly because of that incident, DeSantis has received a lot of unwelcome press. For example, New York Times columnist David Brooks, a Republican who cannot abide Trump (God bless him), said in a Sept. 15 piece that he was “a DeSantis doubter.”

“I doubt someone so emotionally flat and charmless can win a nomination in the age of intensive media,” he wrote.

Ouch! Coming from one of the country’s most respected political columnists, that is an incredibly damning assessment.

Another body blow came little more than a week later, on Sept. 24, in a Washington Post story by Hannah Knowles and Josh Dawsey. They wrote…

“Republican operatives and donors who have interacted with DeSantis said he sometimes struggles to connect with people, and his speeches are often didactic — not dazzling the crowd. It is unclear how his insular orbit would exist in a sprawling presidential operation…”

“Struggles to connect…didactic…insular.” Those, too, are thumbnail descriptions that stick.

Even before the University of South Florida incident, Dawsey and two other WaPo reporters had given DeSantis a firm kick in the shins.

In a Feb. 26 story, Dawsey & Co. paraphrased some former DeSantis staffers as having “raised concerns about whether he has the personal charisma and retail campaigning skills needed to succeed in the national political spotlight.”

And this from the same story…

“One person who has worked closely with him in Florida described the Harvard-educated attorney as ‘incredibly aloof,’ while a donor who met him recently called him ‘painfully awkward,’ speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe a private interaction.”

A politician who is “flat and charmless,” “incredibly aloof” and “painfully awkward” can get away with that in a state, even in a state as big as Florida. But in a national race, no.

So, for people hoping for DeSantis to beat Trump in the 2024 Republican primary, I say forget it. Mr. Sourpuss will not get elected outside the Sunshine State.

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Well, loyal readers, if you thought I’d turn the page to another subject today…WRONG!

With the Jungerman trial reaching its climax yesterday, I left a lot of good material on the cutting-room floor.

I think most of you will appreciate some points of interest that I didn’t have room for yesterday. After all, this is not a case that can quickly be consigned to history. It lingers and haunts and eats at the soul.

So, here we go…

**

Congratulations to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who once again showed herself to be one of the most admirable and capable public officials Jackson County and Kansas City have ever seen. While she did not take a first-hand role in the prosecution, her imprint was all over it. Initially, she assigned to the case one experienced prosecutor, Chief Deputy Dan Nelson, and one or two younger, talented assistants. (Lauren Whiston was there all along, and Ben Cox got on board at some point.)

But Baker realized she needed redundancy and heavy artillery, and so she brought in a ringer — former assistant prosecutor Tim Dollar. In his full-time job, Dollar leads a personal injury firm, but he contracts with the Prosecutor’s Office occasionally.

In January of this year, Dan Nelson resigned from the prosecutor’s office to take a job with a private firm. That would have been a big problem had Baker not had the foresight to hire Dollar, one of those rare attorneys who commands undivided attention in the courtroom.

Prosecutors Tim Dollar (left), Ben Cox and Dion Sankar. (Kansas City Star photo)

Dollar has a knack for taking a given piece of evidence or testimony and casting it in a different light. For example, in his closing argument, he talked about a white van, like one Jungerman owned, having been positioned across the street from the Pickert house the morning of the killing.

The defense had never questioned the fact that the van was there, but attorney Dan Ross suggested someone other than Jungerman was in it, and he also asserted that the shooter wasn’t necessarily in the van…that someone else could have shot Pickert from much farther up or down the street.

Dollar turned that speculation completely on its ear in his closing argument when he pointed out that the driver of the van drove away immediately after the second (and fatal) shot was fired.

If the two shots that were fired had not come from the van, Dollar reasoned, what would the van driver — whoever it was — have done after hearing shots and seeing a man collapse on the ground in his front yard?

“You go help!” Dollar said. “You go help him out…” (slight pause)…”unless you’re the guy who pulled the trigger.”

Another smart move Dollar made in his closing argument was directing a courtroom assistant to display on computer screens around the room a breathtaking police photo of Pickert doubled over in his front yard, dead, with blood on the sidewalk next to him.

Dollar left the photo up for just a few seconds, but long enough to trigger sobs and sniffles from some people in the row behind me, where Pickert’s widow, Dr. Emily Riegel, and her supporters were sitting. It also had to jolt the jurors, even though they had seen it earlier in the trial. Coming just before the jury would begin deliberating, the photo was a harsh reminder of what the case was about at its core. Not police mistakes, not the accuracy of time stamps on video of the white van, but an innocent, 39-year-old man getting shot down in a peaceful and ordinarily safe Kansas City neighborhood.

Without that photo, the jury still would have convicted Jungerman. No doubt. But those few seconds of horror reignited could well have been a factor in the jury returning its verdict in the stunningly short time of two hours.

**

I have to tell you that when I first started writing about this case five years ago and went out on a limb pointing the finger of guilt at Jungerman, I was a bit worried that he might come after me.

He wasn’t arrested until five months after the murder in October 2017, and it was clear he was a gun nut with his own perverted sense of how to handle setbacks. Before killing Pickert, he had shot several people who had trespassed on his business property in northeast Kansas City. Pickert had earned Jungerman’s enmity by representing one of those men and winning a $5.75 million civil judgment against Jungerman.

So, I was uneasy. I was watching very carefully when I left home and returned, and I kept the shades down most of the time.

I didn’t rest easy until I met Jungerman in Nevada, MO, on Jan. 9, 2018. As I’ve recounted before, he got on the elevator with me on his way up to a courtroom for a hearing on a low-level criminal case in which he was charged. I introduced myself and told him I had a blog and had been writing about his case.

We talked for a few minutes before he entered the courtroom, and at one point, he abruptly said, “What’s a blog?”

A feeling of relief passed over me: if he didn’t know what a blog was, he hadn’t been reading my posts.

**

Finally, as recently as a week before the trial began, the possibility loomed that I’d be a witness instead of a reporter at the trial.

Prosecutor Ben Cox called and asked me to come down to the courthouse to give a statement. I knew what he wanted to talk about; it was my conversation with Jungerman that day in Nevada, when I asked him if he had killed Pickert and he had replied, “My attorney told me not to answer any questions, so I’m not going to say I did and I’m not going to say I didn’t.”

It was one of many smart-aleck remarks he made to police, reporters and others about the killing, and it was a very strange way to answer that question…unless he was the guy who pulled the trigger.

After I had given a recorded statement to Cox, he told me I might be called as a witness at the trial. I said, “Well, I’ve been planning to cover it, so I don’t want to testify.”

He pointed to a piece of paper he had handed me a few minutes earlier and said, “You’ve just been subpoenaed; you’ll have to appear if we decide to call you.”

Fortunately, he decided not to call me, and I was free to report the story.

I tell you, I would have been one very frustrated person if I couldn’t have covered that trial.

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Shortly after 8 a.m. on Oct. 25, 2017, probably while Thomas Pickert’s body was still lying on the ground outside his Brookside home, police homed in on a suspect: 79-year-old David Jungerman.

Jungerman, a Raytown resident, was a grudge-holding, delusional egotist who couldn’t get over the fact that Pickert, a lawyer, had beaten him out of $5.75 million in a civil case in which Pickert represented a trespasser whom Jungerman had shot and badly injured.

Police questioned Jungerman that day but didn’t arrest him because they had no solid evidence. Then they adopted a shrewd strategy of misdirection, announcing to the press and public that Jungerman was “not a suspect at this time.”

That put Jungerman at ease, and the egotist in him was convinced he had gotten away with firing a .17 caliber bullet into Pickert’s head without anyone being able to identify him at the scene.

Police bided their time long enough for Jungerman to make a huge blunder — inadvertently recording himself admitting to the killing in absolutely chilling words:

People, uh, know that I murdered that son of a bitch…That mother fucker has caused me a lot of problems, you know?

Topping off his admission (made to one of his employees), he revealed the darkest side of his dark soul…

You know, uh, the thing that sort of bothers me about me is, when I think about it, I grin.”

How’s that for self-reflection on a heinous act?

**

It took nearly five years to bring Jungerman into a courtroom to face a judge and jury, as well as prosecutors who salivated at the prospect of taking him down and giving a measure of justice to Pickert’s widow, Dr. Emily Riegel and their two sons, now 11 and 14 respectively.

Dr. Emily Riegel testifying last week at the murder trial of David Jungerman, in foreground with white hair. (Kansas City Star photo)

After a two week-trial, it took a Jackson County jury of eight women and four men just two hours to come to the same conclusion that police had come to that horrible morning in 2017.

When Judge John Torrence read the verdicts — “Guilty on Count 1, first-degree murder; guilty on Count II, armed criminal action” — the reaction in the nearly full courtroom was relief and subdued celebration.

Dr. Riegel sat in the second row of spectators. She clutched a tissue, eyes closed and squeezing back tears.

Friends and others in the row held her and each other and cried.

Special Prosecutor Tim Dollar, who blew the anemic defense away with a powerful closing argument, walked back to the spectator area, leaned over the front-row bench and embraced her tightly.

A minute later, the lead Kansas City detective on the case, Bonita Cannon, did likewise.

Unsure whether it was appropriate, I approached and gingerly asked for her reaction. She was very gracious. She thought for several seconds and said: “I’m just in disbelief that we’re actually here — that it (the case) went through after all the years of delays.”

Then she stated the grim, unavoidable fact that she and her boys will always live with: “It’s justice, but it doesn’t change the reality.”

A woman standing next to her touched her on the arm and said, “Emily, if you’re not ready for this…”

“No, it’s fine,” Dr. Riegel said.

Then I asked my final question: How did she think her sons would react to the verdict?

“I think it will take them time to process it,” she said.

**

As for Jungerman, no one in the courtroom other than his attorneys paid any attention to him after the verdict was read. At 84 and with a bad bout of Covid behind him, he’s a shadow of his former self. He was in a wheelchair the last few days of the trial. He has trouble getting out of the chair and onto his feet. When he walks, he shuffles like a person with Parkinson’s. His cognitive powers — so perversely intact five years ago — are badly deteriorated.

Corrections officers wheeled him out of the courtroom and back to the county jail, where he has been held since March 2018.

On Nov. 18 at 1:30 p.m. he is scheduled to be sentenced.

The sentence will be life in prison. From this point, it will almost assuredly be a short life. It could be days, weeks or months. I seriously doubt it will be years.

And yet, the stark reality is that this now-impotent and always-loathsome human being has changed and diminished one family’s life forever by taking away a husband and father in the prime of life…A man who was killed because he did a good job for a client. A man who should, tonight, be sitting in his Brookside home, having dinner with his family and talking about his — and their — day.

A cold-blooded murderer, an old man who at this point may be loved by no one, stole Thomas Pickert from his family and from his community.

…Although this case has finally been resolved, it will never be far from my thoughts. It was one of the most outrageous and shocking murders I have seen in my more than 50 years in Kansas City. I grieve for Emily Riegel and those boys. I hope you do too…

Case closed.

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Often in big murder trials, pivotal and revelatory minutes occur suddenly and with little warning to the jury and spectators.

Such was the case today in the David Jungerman murder trial, which could go to the jury on Thursday.

From the outset of the trial, lead defense attorney Dan Ross has been trying to establish that sloppy and lazy police work tainted evidence gathering in the aftermath of the fatal shooting Oct. 25, 2017, of lawyer Thomas Pickert.

Ross has effectively elicited testimony about investigators failing to file reports, approving their own reports instead of having a supervisor do so, and improperly correcting reports after they had been committed to the department’s computer system.

Dan Ross

Taken as a whole, the failings have made the department look very bad and have pointed to the need for a complete overhaul of the department by a new, outside chief.

Today, however, the lead prosecutor — Tim Dollar, a private attorney who is prosecuting Jungerman as a contract employee — turned the tables on Ross by exposing a sloppy piece of defense work related to video footage of a white van similar to a van that Jungerman owned.

The prosecution contends that Jungerman drove the van to and from Raytown, along 63rd Street for the most part; that he shot Pickert in Pickert’s front yard in Brookside about 8:02 a.m.; and that he was back at his home in Raytown by 9 a.m.

Buttressing their case is video footage of a van that is strikingly similar to Jungerman’s van — and which very likely was his van. The defense has done everything it could to suggest that the van in the video, while it might resemble Jungerman’s, was not, in fact, his. (He told police early on he was at home that morning and that his van did not leave his property.)

In one exhibit, one of the defense attorney’s circled a short, black bar that appeared to be on the van in a still shot from video police obtained from an ATA bus. The bar, several inches long, appears to be on the lower part of the van on the driver’s side door. The point of circling the bar on the photograph was to differentiate the van in the photo from Jungerman’s van, which does not have a black bar on the driver’s side door.

However, on cross examination of a police detective called by the defense, prosecutor Dollar established that the black bar was a result of the bus’s windshield wiper being superimposed on the van, as well as on other vehicles passing in the opposite direction of the bus. (The camera was inside the bus, pointed toward the driver and the windshield. Traffic passing in the opposite direction was visible through the windshield.)

Tim Dollar

As he prepared to pounce, Dollar paced back and forth between the prosecution’s table and the witness stand, where Detective Heather Leslie sat, watching and listening intently.

“This was an attempt to mislead the jury, wasn’t it?” Dollar said loudly and pointedly.

“Yes,” Detective Leslie replied.

“The mark wasn’t on the van at all, was it?”

“No,” she said.

“No further questions,” Dollar said, taking a seat.

**

In effect, much of the chipping away that Ross had achieved by focusing on the investigators’ failures was undone by his own side’s failure to pin down a critical detail.

It was one of those “gotcha” moments that make the recounting of basic, sometimes tedious testimony worth sitting through. It was also one of those times that often make a big murder trial some of the best real-life drama available.

**

After the jury was dismissed about 4 p.m., the lawyers on both sides and Judge John Torrence discussed how and when the case would wind down. Ross said he had two or three more witnesses to call on Thursday. He suggested that the prosecution and defense make their closing statements on Friday and the case be submitted to the jury that day.

Dollar pressed for closing arguments to be made Thursday, saying he expected the last of the defense testimony to go quickly.

After listening to both sides, Judge Torrence said, “Let’s aim to submit (to the jury) tomorrow.”

Ross nodded in acquiescence, and the clutch of lawyers and support staff began scooping up their files and heading out of the courtroom.

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Whatever has been going on behind the scenes in the trial of David Jungerman seems to have been resolved, at least for now. I got word this morning that the trial will resume Wednesday morning, and that’s good news.

The trial was suspended last Friday, before the defense began its case, because of what Judge John Torrence described as a “Covid exposure.”

It was very cryptic, however, because the media was not given an explanation of who was exposed — whether it might have been a juror, the defendant or one of many attorneys and support staff involved in the case at the downtown courthouse.

The mystery deepened today, when the spokesman for the Jackson County prosecutor’s office said Jungerman was “competent to continue” and that the jury would return tomorrow.

By text, I asked if that meant it was Jungerman who had been exposed (he’s already had Covid while in custody), and the answer came back that Jungerman’s “neurological health” was the subject of a courtroom hearing this morning.

That was odd, but it didn’t particularly surprise me because, as I reported last week, he looks like a shell of the relatively energetic person he was just a couple of years ago, when I would see him in court for hearings leading up to the trial.

He shuffles slowly and unsteadily, where he used to walk normally. He wears a hearing-assist device on his right ear during the trial, and he often has a vacant look in his eyes.

People have asked me, and I’ve wondered myself, if it’s part of an act to make the jury wonder how an 84-year-old, apparently enfeebled man could even pick up a rifle and fire it, but it seems to me it would be difficult to pull off an act like that without giving it away. (He is charged with shooting lawyer Thomas Pickert in the head the morning of Oct. 25, 2017 with a .17 caliber rifle.)

We may never find out the truth — whether the change is an act or what we see is what it is — unless he’s found innocent and starts jumping up and down.

The important thing now, though, is to get the jury back in the courtroom, hear that they are all healthy and have not read or listened to anything about the case, and get jury deliberations underway.

I don’t want this case to extend over another weekend. The longer it takes to get the case to the jury, the more likely it is that something can go wrong.

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I don’t follow Kansas politics very closely, but it certainly caught my attention that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was in the Kansas City area yesterday, stumping for Derek Schmidt, the attorney general who will be trying to unseat Gov. Laura Kelly in November.

My reaction to that is this: “Is Derek Schmidt crazy?”

Kansans most assuredly are conservative, for the most part, but they are also good and reasonable people, for the most part. They had enough sense to elect Kelly over right-wing extremist Kris Kobach four years ago, and they had enough sense last month to trounce the proposed abortion amandment.

On Sunday, though, Schmidt wrapped himself tightly in Trump and DeSantis garb, telling a large Olathe audience, “I want a future for our great state of Kansas that looks a whole lot more like Ron DeSantis has in Florida.”

That doesn’t like a winning message to me, especially coming on the heels of DeSantis’ sophomoric stunt of having his state finance the shipment of two planeloads of immigrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard off Cape Cod.

The cost of that caper was $615,000, or $12,300 per person. The crowd in Olathe laughed when DeSantis talked about it, but I think the vast majority of economic-minded Kansans would not be in favor of spending their own tax dollars that way.

Derek Schmidt in Olathe on Sunday (Kansas City Star photo)

DeSantis’ appearance on behalf of Schmidt could easily backfire on the attorney general. He has now positioned himself in Kobach country, and we know where that went.

A group of about 50 protesters outside the Embassy Suites, where DeSantis appeared, represented a more “common sense” side of Kansas.

The Star reported that the protesters chanted “DeSantis get out of Kansas” and held signs with phrases like “Take your hate back to Florida” and “Protect trans students.”

The Topeka Capital-Journal quoted one protester, Amy Cunningham, as saying DeSantis does not reflect Kansas values. “As Kansas has shown in the recent (abortion amendment) election, Kansas showed we are a more moderate state, though still Republican leaning, than maybe Mr. DeSantis stands for,” she said.

**

It’s worth noting that DeSantis’ appearance was sponsored by a controversial group called Turning Point Action, which is an offshoot of Turning Point USA.

Turning Point USA is funded by conservative donors and foundations, including Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, who gave $1.5 million to the organization between 2015 and 2018.

In addition — and need I say more? — an adviser to the group is Ginni Thomas, looney-tune wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Turning Point Action attempts to place ridiculous restrictions on journalists covering events it sponsors. It requires news organizations to agree to give event organizers access to any footage they take, and they could face questions about what the footage will be used for.

The policy also bars journalists from recording speakers who do not wish to be filmed.

Very wisely, The Star objected to the terms and was granted a waiver.

In my opinion, it was a good day for journalism and a bad day for Derek Schmidt. He painted himself into a very dark corner.

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It’s unfortunate, and yet it seems fitting in a way: There was a five-year wait for the start of David Jungerman’s first-degree murder trial, and now it’s been delayed again.

Jackson County Circuit Judge John Torrence announced this morning that there had been a “Covid exposure” with someone involved in the case — he didn’t say if it was a juror or someone connected to the prosecution or defense — and that the trial would resume next week.

Theoretically, this should not affect the case, but if it does, it probably would be more problematic for the prosecution than the defense.

In general, delay is the defense’s best friend. Witnesses forget, move, lose interest, die or…well, any number of things. Evidence sometimes gets lost. Assistant prosecutors sometimes move on (that already happened with one person in this case). And, of course, something can happen with one or more jurors.

The jurors in this case — eight men and four women — have been going home every night, but they are told at every break and at the completion of every session not to talk about the case among themselves and not to watch, listen to or read anything about the case in the media.

With a break of at least three days — today, tomorrow and Sunday — the chances of a juror getting tainted in some way increases.

Fortunately for the prosecution, the delay came on the heels of the state resting its case Thursday afternoon. That is good for the prosecution in the sense that the only testimony and evidence the jurors have to think about and reflect on is what they’ve heard from the state.

Defense testimony — if there is any — was to start this morning. As I’ve said before, it’s a guaranteed certainty that Jungerman will not testify. The two lions and one lioness on the prosecution side — Tim Dollar, Ben Cox and Lauren Whiston — would devour him.

In addition, the 84-year-old defendant is a shell of what he was just two years ago.

I don’t know whether it’s aging, the case of Covid he had a year or two ago or just “doing time,” but whatever it is, he is now enfeebled. He shuffles unsteadily; he often needs help getting out of his chair; and he tends to have a vacant look in his eyes. He wears a hearing-assisted device on his right ear and seems to be listening and watching, but I just wonder how much he’s taking in.

The whole thing is maddening because a veritable hubbub encircles him. Everyone is there because of a horrendous crime he committed. Prosecutors, defense attorneys and staff assistants exit and enter the courtroom and engage in whispered conversations. Paper is shuffled, files are pulled out and put back. Yellow legal pads are being scribbled on…It’s a busy traffic circle, but the defendant is not part of the flow. He seems like a bit player, and yet it’s all about him.

…I’ve been waiting for this trial for five years — some of you have too, I’m sure — and now we have to cool our heels, take some deep breaths and be patient.

I think we’re all quite ready for the day when Judge Torrence poses this question, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?”

…and the jury foreman stand up and says, “Yes, your honor…Guilty as charged.”

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On Oct. 16 and 17, 2017, a computer at David Jungerman’s business and another at his Raytown home were used in about 30 Google searches relating to .22 caliber rifles, .17 caliber rifles and the comparative deadliness of the two.

The next week, on Oct. 25, lawyer Thomas Pickert was shot in the head with a .17 caliber bullet about an inch and a half tall and less than a quarter inch in diameter.

Several days later, a Kansas City Police crime scene investigator found four live .22 caliber bullets in Jungerman’s white Toyota van and one live .17 caliber bullet. The .17 caliber bullet was lodged in a metal bracket under the passenger side front seat.

.17 caliber bullet

The murder weapon, a rifle that is often used to kill small game and varmints, was never found.

The resulting wound to Pickert’s head was a small hole on the right temple. If you didn’t know better, you might look at the wound and think it was a lesion. But as bullets do, it inflicted tremendous damage, causing hemorrhaging and skull fractures.

Deputy Jackson County Coroner Ransom Ellis did not hesitate today when a prosecutor in Jungerman’s first-degree murder trial asked him to state the cause of Pickert’s death.

“A penetrating gunshot wound to the head,” Ellis said.

The computer-search testimony was part of a large amount of circumstantial evidence the state has assembled to incriminate Jungerman, who police believe killed Pickert because Pickert had won a $5.75 million civil verdict against Jungerman after Jungerman had shot a trespasser on his business property in northeast Kansas City.

The state alleges that from that time forward, Jungerman, now 84 tears old, had it in for Pickert and carefully researched the most effective way to kill him.

**

As damaging as the circumstantial evidence is, the most fortuitous discovery police made was a digital audio recorder in Jungerman’s home after he was arrested in 2018 on an unrelated charge of unlawful use of a weapon.

Police struck gold with that because the device contained a recording in which Jungerman admitted killing Pickert. The recording was played for the jury today, and a transcript of Jungerman’s conversation with Leo Wynne, an employee of Jungerman at the time, was admitted into evidence.

On the recording, you can hear Jungerman and Wynne laughing occasionally. Here are excerpts of what they said…

Jungerman: People, uh, know that I murdered that son of a bitch.

Wynne: Why are you saying it like that?

Jungerman: Because that’s what…because of what the media done, see? And but they…they…they just nobody can figure out what’s going on, you know?

Wynn laughs and says: I hope they don’t never figure it out.

Jungerman: But, well, you know I keep saying this, we…we are…we’re gonna just have to stop, uh, saying even the word, you know what I mean?

Wynne: Oh, yeah.

Jungerman: You know, uh, the…the thing that sort of bothers me about me is, when I think about it, I grin.

Wynne laughs and exclaims: God damn!

Jungerman: That mother fucker has caused me a lot of problems, you know?

**

The circumstantial evidence and the recording have given the defense little to work with. Their strategy has been to attempt to discredit the investigation, alleging misconduct by law enforcement officers, particularly by lead detective Bonita Cannon.

Cannon was one of the officers who discovered the recorder in a bathroom at Jungerman’s home. Cannon testified today for more than two hours, much of it spent under cross examination by Dan Ross, Jungerman’s lead attorney.

Cannon admitted, among other things, that…

  • She did not include the recorder on an inventory list she prepared and submitted after the search.
  • She retrieved a computerized report after it had been submitted, and she then corrected it. To adhere to proper procedure, she said, she should have filed a supplemental report.
  • She wrote and approved some of her own reports instead of asking her supervisor to approve them.
  • She was unfamiliar with some police-department reporting policies.

The defense also wants to try prove that a former prosecutor, who since has moved on to private practice, conducted himself improperly, partly by asking police to telephone him with information they developed about the case instead of emailing it.

In a discussion at the judge’s bench this afternoon, after the jury had been dismissed for the day, defense attorney Paul Hood said, “There’s a pattern that suggests a secret evidence file.”

After listening to the defense and prosecution arguments on the point, Judge John Torrence said he believed the defense had clearly demonstrated that some law enforcement officers and perhaps the former prosecutor had been “sloppy,” but he added: “There was nothing nefarious about it. I think it was just laziness.”

With that, he rejected Hood’s motion to call the former prosecutor as a witness.

**

Minutes earlier, the state had closed its case after four days of testimony.

Perhaps taking some people, even some jurors, by surprise, special prosecutor Tim Dollar walked to the podium and said, “If it please the court…Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the state rests.”

**

When I asked Ross how many witnesses he planned to call, he said, “I don’t know.”

If he calls any, they would start testifying Friday morning. After that, both sides will make closing arguments, and the case will be submitted to the jury, which consists of eight women and four men, including two Black men and one Black woman.

**

Note: Before I corrected my previous two posts, I incorrectly stated the date of the murder. It was Oct. 25, 2017, not Oct. 17.

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The digital audio recorder on which David Jungerman is heard confessing to the murder of Thomas Pickert was found in a bathroom, among toiletries, at Jungerman’s home in Raytown.

That’s just one more oddity that has come to light in the odd and terrible case that left Pickert, a 39-year-old father of two young sons, dead in his front yard in October 2017.

A supervising crime scene investigator for the Kansas City Police Department testified this afternoon that she photographed the recorder in the bathroom off the master bedroom. From the photograph, it appears that the recorder was on the ledge of a sink, along with several mundane items.

In Jungerman’s Jackson County trial, prosecutors have said that on the recorder Jungerman can be heard saying to a former employee of his (a man named Leo Wynne): People know that I murdered that son of a bitch. The police know, too, Leo.”

Police confiscated the recorder and other items on Friday, March 9, 2018, five months after Pickert was murdered. A day earlier police had arrested Jungerman on a unrelated charges of unlawful use of a weapon.

Very shrewdly, police had apparently put Jungerman at ease by publicly stating, for weeks, that he was “not a suspect at this time” in the Pickert murder.

As a matter of fact, he was the only suspect all along.

Once they had an opportunity to arrest Jungerman, investigators swooped in on his Raytown home and his baby-high-chair business in northeast Kansas City.

Armed with search warrants, detectives and crime scene investigators obtained a lot of material pertaining to the murder — material that Jungerman had foolishly accumulated and hung on to.

At his business, 123 Belmont Avenue, for example, they found a stack of Kansas City Star newspapers with a front-page story about Jungerman. Accompanying the story was a large photograph of Jungerman standing beside a white van he owned — a van that police believe he drove to the Brookside area on Oct. 25, 2017, with the intention of killing Pickert.

Also found at his business was a file folder with the neatly typed heading, “Pickert Murder Slander.”

The reason for the word “slander,” a defense attorney suggested today in cross examination, was that he was asserting he was being slandered because he was being linked to the murder.

Inside the folder, among other things, was at least one photo of Pickert and Jackson County records bearing Pickert’s home address.

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At the conclusion of today’s testimony — after the jurors had left the room — prosecutors and Pickert’s attorneys gathered around Judge John Torrence’s bench to discuss the progress in the case. The prosecution has about seven or eight more witnesses. I do not know how many — if any — the defense will have, but as I said before, it is a certainty Jungerman will not take the stand. He’s a loose cannon, and letting him speak would be suicidal.

After leaving the courtroom, I asked one of the prosecutors if he expected testimony to end this week, and he said he did.

The 84-year-old Jungerman, meanwhile, is showing signs of significant mobility problems. He now shuffles, where just a couple of years ago he walked normally, and he often needs help just to stand up at the table where he is flanked by his attorneys.

To me, this is a tremendous irony: In his current condition, I can’t imagine him being able to pick up a rifle, hold it with any steadiness and fire at a target.

And yet, we’re all gathered in this courtroom, on this incredibly serious and sad business, because nearly five years ago he had no problem lifting and pointing a rifle and shooting accurately.

Jungerman shuffling back to the courtroom after a break this afternoon

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I didn’t make it to the courthouse today, but from the two stories I read — The Star’s and that of KCUR — it appears that the prosecution is off to an excellent start in the David Jungerman trial.

Peggy Lowe of KCUR had the superior story, quoting gripping testimony from victim Thomas Pickert’s widow, Dr. Emily Riegel.

Lowe related a heart-breaking account of a casual, morning conversation, which turned out to be the family’s last interaction before her husband was shot and killed in his front yard.

To quote Lowe’s story…

Her grade-school age sons “were running around, being goofy,” Riegel recalled Tuesday, and she told them, “Love you, bye!”

Then she heard her husband say to the boys: “I didn’t hear anybody tell the world’s greatest mommy goodbye!”

Those were some of the last words Riegel heard Pickert utter before he was gunned down just minutes later on their front sidewalk after returning home from dropping the kids off at school.

That is powerful stuff for a jury to see and hear.

Emily Riegel testifying on Tuesday. (Pool photo by Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star)

Here are a couple of other key pieces of evidence the jury heard:

:: As I have written before, Kansas City police were able to produce video from a variety of sources that show Jungerman’s distinctive white van on the road between his home in Raytown and the Brookside area, where Pickert was killed with a rifle while talking on his cell phone in his front yard.

That is particularly damning because Jungerman told police the van had not left his property the morning of Oct. 25, 2017. A related, incriminating piece of evidence is that police found the van hidden off a dirt road in a wooded part of Jungerman’s property.

:: Motive was established. The jury heard about Pickert, a lawyer, having won a $5.75 million civil verdict against Pickert as a result of Jungerman having shot a trespasser, when, of course, he should have called the police and let them deal with the trespassers.

The trespasser, Jeffrey Harris, had to have a leg amputated as a result of Jungerman taking the law in his own hands.

:: Then there’s the digital audio recording that police found in Jungerman’s business in northeast Kansas City.

What a fool: Jungerman apparently used the recorder during a court case in which he was charged in southwest Missouri and forgot to turn it off after the hearing.

In the recording, Jungerman tells an employee of his, Leo Wynn: “People know that I murdered that son of a bitch. The police know, too, Leo.”

I don’t think that’s been played for the jury yet; I believe a prosecutor referred to it in his opening statement. When it is played, this jury will hear something that prosecutors rarely have access to in criminal cases — a defendant stating in his own voice, on a recording, “I murdered that son of a bitch.”

**

About all that the defense can do is try to pick holes in the prosecution’s case. I doubt if there will be an alibi defense, such as an assertion that Jungerman was home all morning. And his attorneys won’t dare put Jungerman on the stand. If they did, he probably would have to answer for earlier shooting incidents he was involved in, and he would be quizzed about his fixation with guns. He has bragged about having a stockpile of about 180.

Already, on Day One, Jungerman’s principal attorney, Dan Ross, was grasping at straws.

“What they (the prosecution) do have — and it’s the only thing they have — is motive,” he told the jury. “The rest of it is made up, folks.”

I have a friend who is a former public defender. Public defenders are usually stuck with guilty clients, and they have to be extremely resourceful — and sometimes lucky — to come up with exculpatory evidence. As a result, they usually focus on playing down hard evidence the prosecution often has at hand.

My friend says public defenders have a euphemism for a piece of hard evidence; they call it “a bad fact.”

In this case, David Jungerman and his attorneys are confronted with an avalanche of “bad facts.”

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