Opening statements began in the trial of William J. Deparvine, accused of killing a Tierra Verde couple in 2003.
By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
Published July 22, 2005
TAMPA - Just before Thanksgiving two years ago, Karla Van Dusen was driving behind her husband, Richard, in his meticulously refurbished red 1971 Chevy Cheyenne truck. They were on their way to St. Petersburg to sell the Chevy to a man they'd just met.
It was the last trip they would ever take.
On Friday, prosecutors said William J. Deparvine, the St. Petersburg man who bought the truck, was the last to see the Tierra Verde couple alive before their bodies were found in November 2003. Charged with two counts of first-degree murder, Deparvine, 53, listened impassively as witnesses described the couple's last hours during the first day of his trial.
"The evidence will show that William Deparvine was the only person who had the motive and opportunity" to kill the Van Dusens, said Hillsborough prosecutor Jay Pruner. A convicted felon, Deparvine was arrested in January 2004, three months after the couple's bodies were found lying face down in a dirt driveway near Old Memorial Highway in northwest Hillsborough County.
He met Richard Van Dusen, 58, after responding to a classified ad in the St. Petersburg Times for the Chevy truck. Deparvine is accused of shooting Van Dusen and his 49-year-old wife in the head at close range.
Friends and family members of the victims cried as witnesses on Friday described the Van Dusens' last hours. Billie Farris, Karla Van Dusen's mother, traveled from North Carolina for the trial.
Called to testify Friday, Farris, 72, said she talked to her daughter hours before her death. The couple had been planning to drive north to their new home in South Carolina and visit with family shortly before they were murdered, she said. Farris said her daughter called from her cell phone while she was driving to St. Petersburg in the couple's Jeep Cherokee.
"She said "I'm driving behind Rick. We're going to meet the man who bought the truck. He said he knows where we can get the paperwork done tonight,' " Farris said.
The next day the Jeep was found parked in a lot about a mile away from where their bodies were found. Inside the car, investigators found a blood spattered interior, two cell phones, and a woman's purse, its contents dumped on the floorboard. Outside, they found the identification card of Henry Sullivan, a man whom Assistant Public Defender John Skye tried Friday to implicate in the crime.
"He reallly has no particular alibi as to where he was that evening," Skye said of Sullivan.
A career criminal, Sullivan, lived near Deparvine in a St. Petersburg apartment complex at the time of the murders. Questioned shortly after the crime, Sullivan told police he didn't know how the card wound up near the Jeep. He said he replaced the ID card a couple months after losing the one that was found. A search of his home turned up two 9mm guns, but Sullivan was not charged.
Skye told jurors Friday that police had arrested the wrong man. The ID card and the gun pointed to Sullivan as the murderer, he said.
"The evidence is going to show every action that Mr. Deparvine did is that of an innocent man," Skye said.
In his opening statement Friday, Skye hinted at a defense strategy to dispute DNA evidence that police and prosecutors say links Deparvine to the murders. Prosecutors say DNA found in blood smeared on the Jeep's steering wheel matched DNA taken from an ice cream spoon Deparvine discarded after the crime. Skye said there was an "innocent and reasonable" explanation behind the match. He did not offer any details, but he pointed out that no blood was found on the Chevy truck the Van Dusens sold Deparvine, which investigators found parked near his apartment.
"They took his truck. They processed it to death. They found nothing," Skye said.
Skye also criticized the way investigators handled their questioning of his client, saying they tried to bully a confession out of him with false evidence.
"Every time that they said that they found his DNA at (the) crime scene, it was a lie," Skye said.
Deparvine is also charged with armed kidnapping and armed robbery. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.