First witnesses testify in Hebert murder trial; attorneys give opposite portrayals of Massena woman's death
Lacey Yekel's cousin, Bobbi Jo French, and mother, Bonnie Lamay, leave St. Lawrence County Court on Thursday. North Country This Week photo by Andy Gardner.
BY ANDY GARDNER
North Country This Week
CANTON -- Was Lacey Yekel murdered over drugs or did she die of an overdose?
That is what the nine-man, three-woman jury will decide over the next several weeks as they hear arguments in the murder trial of Christopher Hebert, 47. He is accused of killing Yekel, who was 25 when she died, sometime around June 7, 2014.Her remains were discovered later that summer, around the end of August, wrapped in a tarp in woods near the Massena Industrial Park. Hebert was charged with the murder in June 2018.
DA: Hebert Confessed to Numerous People
During opening statements on Thursday afternoon, St. Lawrence County District Attorney Gary Pasqua said Hebert severely beat Yekel and then strangled her to death.
“He beat her to the point where he had no other choice but to intentionally end her life by choking her to death,” Pasqua said.
He said Yekel’s remains were bones when she was discovered, and investigators found her cell phone and clothing nearby that he says Hebert tried to hide after wrapping her body in a tarp and dumping it in the woods near the Industrial Park.
"The police never found a body ... they found bones. Not even all the bones. No tissue, no muscle, no blood,” Pasqua said. "The animals in the wooded area where he left her made sure there wasn't enough of her to determine how she died."
He said a medical examiner will testify that he couldn’t determine how she died, but witnesses and evidence will prove Hebert killed her.
"The defendant told people how she died, the DA said. “The night he did it, he told three people what happened.”
Pasqua said the evidence will include a recording of Hebert confessing to the murder in 2017. He said his ex-girlfriend, Brandy Bressard, was one of the people Hebert told about the murder on that night back in 2014. She later agreed to work with New York State Police and got him on tape describing the killing.
"You get to hear it right from him. You get to hear every detail from him. Why he murdered Lacey. How he murdered Lacey,” the DA said. "When she looked up at him asking for him to stop, his response was to choke her to death.”
Pasqua also said jurors should be ready to hear testimony from people with long criminal histories.
"Who was he supposed to go to when he had to get rid of a body ... was he supposed to go to a local church and ask a Bible study group if he could borrow a shovel? No. He went where he could get help. He went to criminals,” Pasqua said. "They are not good Samaritans. They are not heroes. I think it's safe to say you're not going to like them. They are criminals … They had their own motivations. They wanted to get out of jail.”
Defense Says Death was an OD
The defense in their opening statement said the prosecutors have it wrong. Yekel died of an overdose and Hebert lied about murdering her.
"Christopher Hebert did not murder Lacey Yekel. Lacey Yekel died of an overdose. We're about to take a deep dive into the criminal underworld of Massena,” said attorney Daniel Ramsey, who along with co-council Peter Dumas, is representing Hebert. "We're going into that world. As a juror, you might not have any personal experience what it's like to be in this world. But you need to know what it's about. Criminals lie. That's what they do."
Ramsey said the medical examiner’s reports won’t show evidence of murder.
"Science does not lie. Science can't distort, manipulate itself to seem like something it's not. Science is objective,” Ramsey said. "The medical reports and medical examinations in this case cannot lie to you. What you will hear a lot of is lying.”
He said the jury will see a photo of Yekel’s skeletal remains and asked them to “match them up with what Christopher Hebert supposedly admits to.”
Ramsey also said he believes jurors will find Hebert’s 2017 confession to be bogus.
"Mr. Pasqua is obviously fixated on this confession, this supposed confession, Mr. Hebert gave to Brandy Bressard in 2017,” Ramsey said. These people were lied to. They were lied to by Christopher Hebert. As this trial unfolds, you'll see why these people were lied to by Christopher Hebert.
"What you have to do is understand the ... world of criminals where you need to make yourself seem like something you're not.”
Witness Says He Heard Yekel Screaming on Phone Call
The prosecution called three witnesses before court recessed for the day - Gerald Dissottle, one of the last people to see Yekel alive; Justin LaShomb, who told state troopers about Yekel’s body; and Bonnie Lamay, Yekel’s mother.
Dissottle testified that he was with Yekel and Hebert on the night of the alleged murder. He testified that the three spent the day hanging out and using cocaine. Yekel wanted more cocaine, so she “fronted” some from Hebert and offered to pay for it with guns, he testified.
"She had them hidden in the woods ... behind her grandfather's house,” Dissottle said, adding that they left in a black Ford F-150 pickup truck borrowed from his sister.
Dissottle said Hebert called twice afterward. The first time, Dissottle said Hebert asked him if he had taken the guns, because they weren’t there.
The second time, he said he answered and heard Yekel frantically yelling.
"I heard some yelling and I kept saying 'hello' and nobody answered me,” Dissottle said. "I heard Lacey say 'you're crazy, what's wrong with you, stop.'"
At this point, Lemay, seated in the gallery, began crying.
When asked by the DA why he didn’t make a police report, Dissottle said it was because he was involved in illegal drugs and didn’t want law enforcement around.
Dumas cross-examined Dissottle and went through his long criminal history, which includes convictions going back to the late 1980s. He has been either in prison or under supervision for most of the last 30 years, Dissottle testified. After Dumas asked, Dissottle also testified to having a sexual relationship with Yekel, but Judge Jerome Richards ordered the jury to ignore the question and answer after Pasqua objected.
Dumas also attacked Dissottle’s credibility, pointing out that in 2014 he said the last time he saw Hebert was in July of that year and when he gave a second statement in 2017, he told state police it was in June. Dissottle said he was using drugs back in 2014 and his memory was better three years later because he was clean. The defense attorney also noted that Dissottle didn’t mention the second frantic phone call when he was interviewed by police in 2014, but did three years later. He gave the latter statement when he was serving a state prison sentence for drug possession, a sentence for which he is currently under parole supervision. But under more questions from the DA, Dissottle said he isn’t getting any leniency from the state in exchange for appearing on the stand.
‘He Said I Was Sitting on the Murder Weapon’
Justin LaShomb took the witness stand and said Hebert reached out to him on the night of Yekel’s death. He said at the time, he was selling cocaine and Hebert was one of his customers. The defendant arrived at Lashomb’s home, which at the time was in Hogansburg, driving a black pickup truck, he said.
"I asked him what happened ... he said that he had killed somebody,” LaShomb testified. "I asked him if he was serious ... he said I was sitting on the murder weapon ... a rock ... on the seat of the truck.”
"He said that some girl had ripped him off and he assaulted her and he was already a prior felon and going to jail regardless and he had to finish her,” LaShomb told the court.
He testified that Hebert asked him for a shovel, but he didn’t give him one, so Hebert asked for more cocaine, which LaShomb said he did give him.
Under cross-examination from Dumas, LaShomb testified he didn’t touch the rock and Hebert did not tell him whom he had killed.
LaShomb said later that summer in 2014, he and Jason Smith, who is also on the witness list, were stealing catalytic converters off of vehicles near the ARC bottle redemption in the Massena industrial park.
LaShomb said he was going to stash them in the woods across from the ARC and Smith warned him that a body was hidden there. LaShomb and Smith, while incarcerated in the Oswego County Jail for possessing stolen copper later the same summer, divulged the location of the body to state police to negotiate a deal to get out of jail.
That led to the discovery of Yekel’s remains at the end of August. LaShomb testified that the charges for possessing the stolen copper were dropped, as well as charges related to the thefts of the catalytic converters, in exchange for the information.
LaShomb testified that the next time he crossed paths with Hebert was while they were both incarcerated at Clinton Correctional Facility in 2018.
"I told [Hebert] that [Yekel’’s] father, I was in jail with him and he's not very happy with him,” LaShomb testified."[Hebert] said he didn't care about [Yekel’s father] and [Yekel’s father] ratted on him in the past anyways.”
"He said he didn't care about the father or the daughter,” LaShomb said.
Mother Briefly Takes Stand
Yekel’s mother briefly took the stand as the opening witness for the prosecution. She testified that the last time she saw her daughter was around June 4, 2014 and that she later gave a DNA sample to state police. She also identified a photo of her daughter.
The trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. Friday morning in St. Lawrence County Court.