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Capobianco Murder Trial Day 13: Lost Hope, “I Believed She Was Dead”

Nicole Schenfeld · July 20, 2016, 8:21 AM HST (Updated July 20, 2016, 11:27 AM) · 6 Comments
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Day 13 of the Steven Capobianco murder trial continued Tuesday with Molly Wirth returning to the stand for a full day of testimony.

Capobianco is accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Charli Scott, who was 27-years-old and five months pregnant when she went missing in February of 2014.

Molly Wirth, member of family organized search party. Photo 7.18.16 by Wendy Osher.

Molly Wirth, member of family organized search party. Photo 7.18.16 by Wendy Osher.

Scott’s sister Phaedra Wais concluded her testimony on Monday. She had told jurors that she wanted to get to the Nua’ailua or “Paraquats” area to look for her sister because it was the last area Charli Scott’s phone was ‘pinged.’

Wais testified that she wasn’t old enough to drive yet so she had to wait for someone to drive her. Molly Wirth and another friend, Max, joined Wais on February 13, 2014 in the search at Nua’ailua.

Removal of Evidence from Nua’ailua Area

On February 13, Wirth, Phaedra Wais and Max drove out to Nua’ailua where Scott’s phone was last ‘pinged.’

Prosecuting attorney Robert Rivera was still questioning Wirth:

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In an interview on March 5, 2014 at the Wailuku Police Station, Wirth told detectives that Max took the clothing that the three found near Nua’ailua from her truck and placed it on the ground once they arrived to Scott’s mothers home in Haʻikū.

She said she never handled the clothing once it was at Scott’s home. However, she never watched Max remove the clothes from her truck either so she made an assumption that it was him.

She continued to state that Johnny (Charli Scott’s stepfather), started yelling at Max specifically for touching the clothing and that everyone around the house heard him yelling. She mentioned later that there were about 15-20 people at the house at the time.

When shown pictures of the Nua’ailua area, Wirth explained that she had been working in conservation on and off for seven years and that she loves plants. She began listing trees and plants that she saw in the area where Scott’s items were found.

Wirth worked for the Maui Invasive Species Committee at the time and stated that she had field training. She pointed out Clidemia, Kukui nut trees, African tulip and Hau in the pictures she was shown of the area.

The next three photos shown to jurors were all taken by Wirth. They were of a blue and white polka dot shirt, followed by a picture of a black skirt with part of the polka dot shirt showing in the photo, followed by both the shirt and skirt and a DVD placed on top of the clothing.

She stated the DVD was removed from the area it was found, however, the shirt and skirt were in the same area the photos were taken. The next photo showed the green blanket covered with maggots, black pants and a grey jacket on some rocks. She said the black jeans and gray sweater were about five feet across the river. She took that photo as well.

She was then shown multiple photos of Nua’ailua stream that were not taken by her, she pointed to areas where the blanket was found in relation to where they entered the stream area. Rivera pointed out a ribbon that was tied on the tree that was marked with orange tape. Wirth said Max put the ribbons on the tree to show where the blanket was exactly found.

Wirth said they entered the area near the same tree and that the hoodie and pants were floating in the water with the two rolls of empty masking tape behind two large rocks.

As the three walked back to Wirth’s truck, she stated Max placed the clothing on the right rear corner of her truck.

The police then arrived at the house and Wirth said she observed officers lay down the clothing (neatly) and take pictures of the items they had found.

Lost Hope: “Idea That Charli Was No Longer With Us”

When Rivera asked what the mood was like at the house that night, Wirth replied, “lost hope.” She added, “I think at that point, there was an idea that Charli was no longer with us.”

Wirth mentioned that on Friday Feb. 14, she along with others searched the “Paraquats” area again around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m.

“We, the police force, Maui Invasive Species Committee, do a sweep,” she said. She noted that there were about eight people from MISC. She said this time she went with the supervisor of the plant crew from MISC to the “Paraquats” area. As the crew lined up in a sweep formation, Wirth moved directly towards the riverbed where she had seen Scott’s blanket the night before.

She noted the orange flagging was still on the tree. “I wasn’t part of the sweep so I went through the bushes straight to where the blanket was and waited for them to complete the sweep.”

She said she showed police where all the items they recovered the previous night were found. She explained the sweep formation as everyone lining three meters apart and moving through bushes. She would watch as one-by-one each searcher would approach towards the riverbed.

She noted that the sweep took about 15 minutes. She mentioned there were maybe three volunteers involved in the search with MISC, including her friend Jacob.

When asked if there were volunteers on the roadside area she said she saw some volunteers on the road but they didn’t participate in the ‘sweep.’ She said three sweeps of the area were done and police walked back to their cars.

As she was walking back up to the dirt road from “Paraquats”, she said she made a comment to police like, “what happened to you guys?” since they were at their cars and not assisting in the sweep. “One of the officers lost his glasses, and he went into the bushes with another officer to look for glasses,” she said.

She noted the police cars were near the refrigerator, the area they started walking the night before. She then noted that after the sweep all non-police personnel were asked to wait at the top of the road and they weren’t allowed in the area anymore.

Cross Examination

Defense attorney Jon Apo began to ask Wirth about her relationship with Charli. She said she knew her for about 10 years through a mutual friend, but stated she maybe saw Scott a few times a year or a few times a month.

When asked how often she hung out with Scott two years before her disappearance she said she went to a waterfall with her, ran into her at a bar in Kīhei for a friends party and that she used to go to the Haʻikū family house pretty regularly because she was friends with an individual identified as Nikki, who hung out regularly at the Scott family house. She stated that if it wasn’t for Nikki, she probably wouldn’t have known Charli.

When asked how long Wirth knew Kimberlyn Scott, she mentioned she knew Charli’s mom longer then she knew Charli.

Heading towards Paraquats:

Wirth testified that she had never been to Nua’ailua before. She said she had been to Honomanū but wasn’t familiar with other bays in the area. Apo’s inquiry was turned to her experience with MISC and the identification of plants and bushes in the Hāna and Haʻikū area.

Apo asked if certain plants in Hāna were found elsewhere, Wirth noted that many of the trees and plants in Hāna are also found in Haʻikū, “inkberry is all over Hāna, Haʻikū, Five Corners area…,” she said.  Apo asked if she knew where Steven lived.  Wirth said she did and was familiar with the gulch near his home, but noted that she had never been to his home before.

When asked who’s idea it was to go to Paraquats, and Wirth said it was Phaedra’s idea to go. She said she was at the Haʻikū Community Center where volunteers met to look for Scott. She also noted it was her first day of searching.

Capobianco's defense attorney Jon Apo. Photo by Wendy Osher 7.13.16.

Capobianco’s defense attorney Jon Apo. Photo by Wendy Osher 7.13.16.

“I Don’t Recall”

When asked if she went inside the community center at any point, she responded, “I don’t recall.”

Apo then asked if she spoke with the state attorney about responding, ‘I don’t recall,’ to questions asked by the defense. When Rivera objected, Judge Cardoza overruled the objection.

Apo: “Did you speak with the prosecutor to say, ‘I don’t recall.”

Wirth: “I don’t reca– remember.”

Apo: “Did they ask you to say you don’t recall?”

Wirth: “I don’t remember.”

Apo: “You don’t recall talking with him two days ago? You don’t recall yesterday?”

Wirth: “I spoke with him, we talked, but I don’t remember if he told me to say that or not.”

Apo asked Wirth about sign-in logs at the community center, but Wirth, “didn’t recall.”

Apo: “You recalled a lot on direct (with Rivera), but don’t recall a lot with me.” Rivera objected.

Expectations

When asked why she went to the community center she said her friend Nikki told her that’s where people were going to be and that Scott’s family mentioned the Haʻikū Community Center on Facebook too. “We were expecting to find Charli eventually,” she said. When asked what her expectations were that day, she also testified that she arrived at the community center with no expectations.

Wirth said she was speaking with Kimberlyn and Nikki about what was going on at the community center for about 30 minutes when Phaedra came over and wanted to check out a spot on her phone.

She testified that she left with Phaedra and Max at around 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. When asked by Apo what time she arrived at the community center, she said around 3 p.m. “You can remember what time you got there, what time you left, but can’t remember if you went inside the community center? And you cannot remember if you signed in or not?” Wirth replied, “correct.”

When asked about Max she said she knew him as an acquaintance because ‘he hangs out at the (Haʻikū) house and was the boyfriend of Fiona (Charli’s other sister) at the time.”

“Kim asked Max to come over and go with us, Kim didn’t want Phaedra to go alone and didn’t want just the two of us to go so she had Max go with us,” Wirth said.

Apo asked, “Kim asked him to go?” She replied, “yes, it was Kim’s idea.”

Apo asked Wirth about the seating arrangements on the ride to Nua’ailua and back to Haʻikū. She said she was driving, Phaedra was in the front seat and Max was in the backseat.

She estimated that it took about 45 minutes to get to “Paraquats.”

When they arrived she parked her truck on the dirt road facing the ocean and the three of them walked down to the bay.

Apo asked about the lighting conditions, she said it was light outside and not getting dark yet. She said they walked to where the truck was which was lined up to where the refrigerator was located.

“Sweep” Uncovers Evidence

She said if they were facing Hāna Highway from the bay, they turned right to get into the ‘forest.’ They began the ‘sweep’ formation once they got to the fridge.

Wirth said she was about three meters from Phaedra when Phaedra found the DVD. She said she couldn’t see Phaedra at the time because the vegetation was so thick. “Phaedra yelled ‘oh my God, I found the DVD, I found something of hers.”

She said it took about 30 seconds to a minute to get to Phaedra and about thirty seconds later she looked down and found the tank top and skirt. “I looked down after moving forward a bit and see a tank top with polka dots and said ‘oh my God’ also.” She noted that Phaedra came over with the DVD and observed the clothing on the ground, “she was pretty freaked out,” Wirth said.

“I took a picture of the shirt before I touched it and picked it up to expose the skirt underneath,” she said. She noted that she was not holding the skirt with a stick or with her hands when Phaedra arrived. “This is getting really weird,” Phaedra told Molly. Wirth then suggested go towards the riverbed.

“Was there any smell leading you to the river?” Apo asked. “No, there was no smell leading me,” she replied.

Apo asked more questions about the skirt and polka dot shirt. Wirth said she didn’t know if she picked up the skirt with her hand or with a stick, but that she slowly lifted the tank top because it could have been evidence. “I tried not to disturb too much,” she said.

She noted that the skirt was intertwined with the tank top and that she observed a ‘golf ball sized hole’ in the skirt. Apo asked if she noticed any more holes in the skirt but Wirth said she didn’t want to touch the skirt for too long because it could, “contaminate evidence and there could have been a body part under there, which is pretty scary to be quite honest with you.”

Wirth also noted the tank top and skirt were not found near the water and that there were no maggots found on the clothing.

When the three of them made it to the stream she heard Phaedra scream, ‘oh my God’ again, she said “it sounded more distraught this time so I moved quickly towards the river and saw Phaedra sitting on a rock, crying. She said Max was behind her, comforting her.” When Wirth arrived she saw a blanket covered in maggots on the rocks in front of her. She said about thirty seconds later, she noticed the other clothing; black pants, a gray hoodie and two empty rolls of masking tape.

After they found the items, Wirth and Max headed upstream. She said Max went across the stream and grabbed the items from across the river. The three of them continued to walk up towards the bridge.

When Apo asked what the lighting conditions were then, she said, “it was fairly good, definitely not pitch dark outside.”

Removal of Items to Preserve Evidence

When the three of them arrived to the bridge area she said they discussed how dark it was getting and if they should take all the stuff with them, “so no one could come back and get rid of it, so we took it with us and went straight to Kim’s house.”

Apo asked Wirth about someone coming back to get the items. “We were suspicious someone could come shortly after us and someone would remove the items from the bushes so that’s why we removed the items that we did.”

Apo asked if it was someone in particular that they thought would come back to pick up the stuff, Wirth replied, “(the decision was) based on finding Charli’s blanket covered in maggots, we were nervous at that point, there were no rumors about anyone particular.”

She noted the decision was also based off the stench of death and fears that were ignited, with the dead rotting smell.

She said they feared someone would come back and remove the items they had found and didn’t know when they would come back to the area, and whoever was responsible would have enough time to come back and get rid of all the items.

Apo asked about how the items were placed in the truck. She said, “whoever put it (the items) in the truck did so carefully.” She also noted that it was not dark by the time they got back to her truck which was around 6 p.m.

Apo argued that on March 5, 2014, Wirth was interviewed by a Detective and she said, “We took the packing tape, clothes, blanket and threw it in the bed of my truck.”

She said “it was phrased differently, there was no rolling it up and shooting it like a basketball. He placed it there on the right side of my truck.”

Wirth was asked by Apo if ‘throwing it in the back of the truck’ is consistent with keeping the integrity of evidence, “I guess it wasn’t very consistent,” Wirth replied.

Wirth seemed to get frustrated and stated, “Okay. It was getting late, getting dark, so earlier when I got there and seen clothes, I didn’t want to touch anything. When we have no cell reception, cannot contact anyone, we didn’t want to leave anyone there alone so we took everything and put it in the back of my truck in the most careful manner.”

Apo mentioned rolling the evidence in a ball would be the worst possible way of integrity of evidence. Wirth said she didn’t recall if it was rolled into a ball but that Max grabbed the items and put them into the blanket and carried them back to her truck.

Apo then asked about Max and Steven’s relationship but Rivera objected and the subject was changed.

Arrival at Haʻikū Home: Charli’s Mother Told of Findings

She said no one made any phone calls while she was driving because there was no service. She noted that Phaedra was trying for a while to reach her mom but was unsuccessful.

When they reached Kim and Johnny’s house around 7 p.m. the police had not arrived yet.

Wirth said that she was the one to tell Kimberlyn about what they had found near Nua’ailua. Apo asked why she did and not her daughter Phaedra. “It didn’t seem right at the time for Phaedra to go through what she’s going through to break the news to her mom that her sister was dead.”

Apo asked if she believed Charli was dead after finding the items at Nua’ailua.

“With rotted flesh, yes, I believed with her clothes and empty rolls of masking tape, I believed she was dead, but I’m not a scientist or anything like that,” said Wirth.

Apo asked if Kim seemed upset or in a good mood when they had arrived to the house, Wirth was under the impression that Kim was in a good mood and that she started ‘tearing up’ when Wirth broke the news.

Apo mentioned rumors that were going around about a dead body being found in Ke’anae that very night. Wirth nodded her head before Rivera could object.

Apo then asked if she had washed her car that night because of the maggots on the truck. Although her statement to police said the car was washed, she said she didn’t do that.
She also noted Johnny was ‘really mad’ and yelling at Max and that he was the one that took the clothes from her truck and placed them on the ground.

When Apo asked who washed down her truck she said Max did after the police took pictures of evidence and had left.

Justice for Charli

“Are you here for justice?” Apo asked. “Yesterday you wore a shirt with a symbol on it (a unicorn), a necklace which is a pendant of Charli’s face, and you were asked to cover both of them up.” Wirth had zippered up her jacket during her testimony yesterday.

Apo asked if it was true that as the jury was walking out of the room she walked half way to the jury stand and opened her jacket so jurors could see her shirt? She replied, “I guess so.”

“And so the cameras could see it?” “No,” she replied.

Apo asked if she wanted to be front page news like Scott’s sisters had been while on the stand. Rivera objected.

Apo noted that Wirth was instructed by Rivera to not show the unicorn and Wirth said she wasn’t aware she couldn’t wear a unicorn shirt.

Apo: “The whole reason you did that is justice for Charli?”

Wirth: “Yes, I am here for justice for Charli.”

Apo: “Making sure Capobianco is found guilty right?”

Wirth: “I think justice – I think everyone has a right to a trial and I’m not one who (inaudible) guilty or innocent that’s your job.”

The day ended with juror questions being read by the judge. However, the day ended before the jurors came back to the room. Wirth will take the stand on Wednesday morning to answer questions from the jury. Max is expected to take the stand on Wednesday morning when trial resumes.

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