Victim’s friend: Defendant spied on slain student
Winfield ? An Arkansas City man accused of raping and killing a Cowley College student two years ago had spied on the woman for at least six years, a friend testified Monday.
Justin Swartzel was among prosecutors’ first witnesses as trial began for Justin Thurber on charges of kidnapping, raping and murdering 19-year-old Jodi Sanderholm in January 2007. Thurber, 25, could face the death penalty if convicted of killing Sanderholm, who was a member of the Cowley College dance team.
Sanderholm’s body was found in the Kaw Wildlife Area several days after she went missing. Her car was found submerged in a nearby lake.
Swartzel testified that Thurber told him that he began spying on Sanderholm when he was 13, watching her as she swam in her backyard pool and through a window as she dressed.
A woman who had dated Thurber for three years testified he began wanting her to participate in violent sexual behavior before she broke up with him a month before Sanderholm’s death.
The woman also testified that Thurber told her the Kaw Wildlife Area would be a good place to get rid of a body “because it would just wash away.” Thurber went to the area at least three times a week, she said.
The Associated Press is not naming the woman because she testified about possible sexual abuse.
Also Monday, two women who worked with Thurber at the Subway restaurant in Arkansas City testified that Thurber harassed and stalked them.
Prosecutors also used cell phone experts to make the case that cellular records show that Thurber was in Arkansas City and around the Kaw Wild-life Area around the time that Sanderholm went missing.
In a 90-minute opening statement Monday, prosecutor Vic Braden told jurors the evidence will show that Thurber’s stalking habits and aggressive sexual behavior led to Sanderholm’s rape and murder. Braden painted a picture of the days leading up to Sanderholm’s disappearance as well as the last hours of her life. He also said DNA evidence links Thurber to the crime scene.
Braden said Sanderholm was dragged about 30 feet from a car to where she was found. The autopsy showed that strangulation was the cause of death.
“The person who took Jodi to that place, bruised and battered her body and violated her is in the courtroom,” he said. “His name is Justin Thurber.”
Defense attorney Ron Evans’ opening remarks lasted just three minutes. He asked the jury to spare Thurber’s life if they decide to hold him accountable in the death.
Spectators in the courtroom included the mother and sisters of Kelsey Smith, an 18-year-old Johnson County resident who was raped and killed in 2007 after being kidnapped outside a Target store in Overland Park.