FORT EDWARD -- Matthew Slocum testified in his own defense Wednesday, telling a Washington County jury that he saw his then-girlfriend Loretta Colegrove shoot his stepbrother.
Slocum, charged with three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of his stepbrother, mother and stepfather, was on and off the witness stand in less than a half-hour.
He was the last witness in the case. Closing arguments and deliberations are scheduled for Thursday morning.
Speaking in a very low voice and seeming near tears at times, Slocum told the panel he awoke to the sound of a gunshot early on the morning of July 13, and opened his bedroom door to see Colegrove shoot his stepbrother, Joshua O’Brien, in the face.
“She pulled the gun on me and told me to get back in the room,” he said.
He said she followed him into the room, dropped the gun and began crying and hugged him.
“I said, ‘What are you doing, what did you just do?’” Slocum said.
Slocum said Colegrove gave him a can of gasoline and a lighter and he set the house on fire after the shooting, saying he didn’t want anyone to see what had taken place.
He didn’t testify about the shootings of his mother or stepfather.
Direct examination by defense lawyer Michael Mercure lasted about six minutes.
On cross-examination, Washington County District Attorney Kevin Kortright asked him about a letter he sent Colegrove from jail in September in which he wrote “I wish I could take it all back, but it’s too late now” and offered an apology to their infant son.
Kortright also pointed out that Slocum sent a letter to his brother in which he wrote that he didn’t remember what happened on the night of the homicides, and fled “because I didn’t want to get blamed for something I didn’t do.”
He denied telling police that Colegrove was not responsible for the killings, as two police officers and a social services caseworker previously testified.
The defense has blamed Colegrove for the killings.
The defense called Slocum to the witness stand as its fourth and final witness. The other defense witnesses included a New Hampshire pawn shop employee who told of Slocum and Colegrove visiting his store the afternoon of July 13 to sell coins and jewelry, and how they seemed “in a very good mood.”
The defense called the man, Jeff Cossett, to the stand in an effort to show that Colegrove was a participant in the crime and not a victim or witness.
Earlier Wednesday, the jury heard from a second police officer who said he heard Slocum confess to shooting his mother. The police officer was the last prosecution witness in the case.
Washington County sheriff’s Investigator Bruce Hamilton corroborated the earlier testimony of a State Police investigator who told the jury that Slocum said he “shotgunned” his mother July 13.
“He said he knew he was going back to prison for the rest of his life,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also said that Slocum twice in his presence said his girlfriend was not involved in the killings, once to investigators on July 13 and later when discussing a child abuse report with a social services caseworker.
Hamilton said Colegrove was initially viewed as a suspect along with Slocum, but was ruled out based on evidence.
“He stated she shouldn’t be charged, she had nothing to do with it,” Hamilton quoted Slocum as saying.
Hamilton was the last prosecution witness, and Kortright rested his case. The defense case was expected to start later Wednesday.
The jury was also told Wednesday that the fire that destroyed the victims’ home was deliberately set by someone who used an “accelerant” to help the fire along.
The seven-man, five-woman panel heard testimony Wednesday morning from two state fire investigators who investigated the fire that destroyed the victims’ home and the first firefighter on the scene.
State Fire Investigator William McGovern said his accelerant-detecting dog, Braith, alerted officials to four spots around the southwest corner of the home on the day after the fire, which was allegedly set by Slocum. Samples of material were collected from these areas, he said.
State Senior Fire Investigator Richard Daus testified about the cause of the fire as determined by the investigation by Washington County fire investigators and state Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
He told the jury that natural and accidental causes were eliminated, and the fire was deemed arson.
“We were able to eliminate heating, cooking, smoking, electrical, weather-related causes such as lightning,” he said. “We determined the area of origin was the southwest corner, a utility room, and the cause was an intentionally set fire.”
Buskirk Fire Chief Mike Moses told the jury that he arrived at the Turnpike Road, White Creek, home of Slocum’s family minutes after the 4:09 a.m. fire call July 13, and found “95 percent” of the home ablaze.
He said there was no one outside the home, but a sport utility vehicle with doors open and interior dome light on was next to the home, loaded with about a dozen guns and several bags of clothes.
He said he lived two doors away from victims Dan Harrington and Lisa Harrington.
The jury was being shown numerous photos of the home as it was ablaze and the remnants after the fire was put out.
Inmate takes stand
The fourth witness of the day was a jail inmate, Michael Therrien, who testified that Slocum gave him several versions of events while the two were in Washington County Jail together but ultimately said he killed his mother with a shotgun.
“He told me at one point his girlfriend committed the murders and that he set the house on fire and took his mother’s car,” Therrien said. “As time went on, he told me there had been a lot of disagreements between his girlfriend and his mother ... and it ended with him killing his family.”
Therrien said he also overheard Slocum boast to other inmates that he was a “murderer.”
On cross-examination by defense lawyer Garfield Raymond, Therrien acknowledged that he had been told authorities would “look into” moving him from a central New York prison after he told of the Slocum conversations.
But he added “they promised me nothing” and “I’m here today because it’s the right thing to do.”
After Therrien’s testimony, Judge Kelly McKeighan found that the inmate’s mention of a letter from Slocum’s lawyer to police and prosecutors pertaining to his questioning by police “opened the door” to that issue being litigated in the case.
McKeighan had previously ruled that Slocum’s alleged confession was legally obtained by police, and there would be no testimony about Mercure’s efforts to keep police from questioning Slocum before he was arrested.
But the judge found that Therrien’s mention of a conversation with Slocum about that issue brought that issue out for exploration by the defense.
Defense lawyer Christian Morris had sought to bar Therrien’s testimony because the defense was not notified of his possible testimony in a timely manner as required by law.
McKeighan rejected the request and allowed the testimony.
Lisa Harrington was Slocum’s mother, Dan Harrington his stepfather. Both were shot to death before the fire destroyed their home, and Dan Harrington’s son, Joshua O’Brien, was also shot and killed.
The bodies of all three were found in the burned rubble of the home after the fire was put out.
Slocum, 24, lived in the home and faces three charges of second-degree murder and counts of third-degree arson, criminal possession of a weapon and two other lesser charges in the deaths.
His defense team has blamed his Colegrove, who fled with Slocum after the deaths but has not been charged. She testified against Slocum.