ROCKFORD (WREX) — The woman in the car with Andy Ascher the night he was shot and killed back in 1993 took the stand in a murder trial against the man accused of pulling the trigger.
On Thursday, a new murder trial against 52-year-old Patrick Pursley began. Pursley was convicted in the 1993 death of Ascher, but was granted a new trial after ballistics tests led experts to doubt the gun presented in his original trial was the weapon used to kill Ascher.
Now, he’s fighting for his innocence as the people who lived through the murder and investigated the case took the stand against him.
Becky Myers was dating Andy Ascher when he was killed. When she took the stand Thursday, she recounted the deadly night from decades ago. On April 2nd, 1993 Becky says she and Andy attended a comedy club around 9:30 p.m., couldn’t get in and decided to head to her brother’s condo. She says the couple were sitting inside Andy’s red Ford Explorer, when a tall, skinny man walked up to the car.
“I heard somebody say ‘This is a stick up. Hand me your money. I heard the door open and I heard somebody say ‘yeah.’ I looked up and I was in shock because I thought Andy was getting up to go inside,” she said.
She said she could not see the face of the man who shot Ascher because the suspect was wearing a dark colored ski mask. She said she could only see some dark skin around the eyes. Myers said the suspects legs were thin, he wore dark clothes, and he headed East after the shooting. On the stand, Myers described hearing three noises; two popping noises and another noise that sounded different. She then recalled seeing smoke coming out of Ascher’s ears and realized he had been shot.
During her testimony, Pursley’s defense team questioned statements she made during the original investigation in 1993. She said her memory had faded and she couldn’t remember everything now. For example, the defense asked if she described the suspect’s attire as a hoodie, or a sweatshirt with a zipper. The defense maintains closer to 1993 she told officers the suspect’s hooded had a zipper. While Myers could not recall exactly, she said if she made specific statements so soon after the murder happened, then she trusts the statements are true.
Pursley’s girlfriend at the time, Samantha Crabtree, also appeared in court Thursday. However, she told the court she was using her Fifth Amendment right and did not answer questions related to the case. Assistant State’s Attorney Jim Brun asked Crabtree if she bought the Taurus gun which Purlsey is alleged to have used in the crime. She used her 5th Amendment right. Crabtree was joined in court by her personal attorney, who argued to Judge McGraw and other attorneys present why she should not testify. Crabtree’s attorney said he had concerns statements and testimony she had given in previous years could be cross examined by attorneys, opening up Crabtree to be found guilty of perjury. Meanwhile, the defense has previously stated they believe Crabtree was originally coerced by police in 1993 to give the statements that she did.
Several retired Rockford Police Officers took the stand to account for their work on the murder scene back in 1993. Forensic and ballistics specialists did, too.
The state’s firearm testing expert, Dan Gunnell, took the stand to testify how he recorded the original ballistics evidence in 1993. Gunnell testified that the test bullets he fired along with evidence he was given in the case led him to believe the Taurus gun found in Pursley’s residence was without a doubt the firearm used in the crime. During the defense’s cross examination, Gunnell was asked why a later report in 2013, he said it wasn’t inconclusive those bullets were used in the crime. Gunnell replied it’s a semantics issue and he never said the bullets didn’t match, but rather he couldn’t describe them they same way he did in 1993. Gunnell says the metals used in bullets and casing are soft and malleable, and over time can change, especially through repeated handling.
Ballistics are at the center of Pursley’s new trial. While in prison, Pursley spent the bulk of his time trying to convince courts to retest the evidence using a more advanced system that links shell casings to guns. His efforts eventually made Illinois the only state in the country that allows retesting of ballistic evidence in appeals using technology that’s primarily used to put criminals behind bars, not exonerate them.
The second day of testimony will pick back up Friday at 9 a.m. 13 News Reporter Mary Sugden will be there to provide updates as they happen.