By CHELSEA DAVIS Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Bruce Pollard’s girlfriend gave her account of what happened the day of Kenneth McDaniel’s murder and what unfolded in the days following.
McDaniel, 70, was killed on March 11, 2012, at the Cinema X Theater he managed in downtown Ottumwa. Bruce Pollard is accused of using a pry bar to beat McDaniel over the head and across the neck, as well as possibly strangling him.
The afternoon of March 11, 2012, Pollard and his girlfriend, Amanda Collins, got into an argument at her home, 522 Camille St., where Pollard often spent the night.
He left on foot, though they remained in contact that night through text messages and cellphone calls. She said when he left he was wearing a blue striped shirt that she had previously bought for him as a gift.
Between 10 p.m. and midnight, he returned to Collins’ home in a taxi cab, she said. But he was in clothing she had never seen before.
“When I asked him about it, he didn’t really want to answer back,” she said. “He said he threw [the blue striped shirt] away because he got in a fight ... over in the alley by Walgreen’s.”
But the morning after Investigator Aaron Vose searched the Promise Center downtown, Marlys Breon-Drish, the center’s director, called police after finding two shirts, a dark blue striped polo and a light blue T-shirt.
While she had found the shirts in the cushions of a chair before Vose’s search, she thought nothing of the stains and threw them in a pile of clothing.
The stains were visually “consistent with dried blood,” Vose said. Only the dark blue striped polo was submitted to DCI for testing, and blood from both Pollard and McDaniel was identified.
The defense attacked the shirt, questioning why police failed to locate it during their search of the facility. Defense attorney Natasha O’Hollearn also used the center’s guidelines as evidence to support their contention Pollard was mentally ill.
The light blue T-shirt also had what appeared to be blood stains on it, which, if it had been worn under the polo shirt, the stains would correspond with those on the polo, Vose said.
And during a search of Pollard’s cellphone, a photograph, taken by Pollard in February 2012, was found. In the photo, he is wearing a dark blue, striped polo with a light blue shirt underneath.
When he walked in the night of March 11, 2012, Collins said Pollard had cuts on his head, though they didn’t go to the hospital until the next day, where it was determined that he had a concussion. In the following days, Pollard suffered from two seizures.
It was unusual for Pollard to get into a fight, she said, though she knew he carried weapons because he was afraid of a local man. He preferred to avoid confrontation by walking away, she said.
On March 13, 2012, the day McDaniel’s body was found, Pollard called Collins, asking her to pick him up from the Promise Center. But she found him near Cinema X, she said, talking to Ottumwa Officer Jeff Williams.
“He said they weren’t releasing anything to the public,” she said Pollard told her when he got into her van.
Two days later, on March 15, 2012, Collins was interviewed by Ottumwa police, the same day a search warrant was conducted at her home and the same day Pollard was arrested.
But that morning, Pollard had met with a counselor, she said, and had been trying to get in to see a mental health doctor for months. Prior to March 11, 2012, Pollard had been hospitalized in Des Moines for “mental health issues,” said defense attorney Natasha O’Hollearn.
He suffered from nightmares and would wake up in a panic, Collins said, though he didn’t like talking about them.
Police Chief Tom McAndrew (a lieutenant at the time of the murder), said he located Pollard sitting on a bench outside Ottumwa Regional Health Center clinics the morning of March 15, 2012. A backpack was sitting underneath the bench, he said.
“When I walked toward the backpack, he became very anxious about me picking it up,” McAndrew said. “He said I could not search the backpack.”
But after a search warrant was obtained, McAndrew discovered pornographic magazines inside the backpack, the majority of which were consistent with those found at Cinema X.
Collins’ mother, Dixie Day, also took the stand to read a letter she had received from Pollard while he was incarcerated.
Prosecutor Brown prepared jurors for the letter during opening statements, saying Pollard described killing McDaniel in the letter.
During testimony Thursday, Harris also showed the jury one of the two pairs of pants McDaniel was wearing at the time of his death, where a white stain could be seen near the fly, which was unzipped when the body was found.
“We could have [conducted a sexual assault kit], but we had no evidence of any kind of sexual assault occurring,” Harris said.
But, defense attorney Allen Cook asked Harris, didn’t Pollard tell you that McDaniel was trying to sexually accost him?
“The only thing Bruce Pollard told me was that Kenneth McDaniel sat next to him and he felt something on his leg,” Harris said.
Pollard told investigators that the door to the theater was locked when he was trying to escape from McDaniel.
On March 1, 2012, a young male told Ottumwa police that someone outside Cinema X had tried to lure him into the theater. But, Vose said, the description the boy gave did not match that of McDaniel.
Downtown video footage also shows two vehicles pulling up to Cinema X following the murder: a silver car two hours after Pollard was seen leaving the theater on March 11, 2012, and a white pick-up truck the next day.
The individuals who got out of each vehicle approached Cinema X and stayed for just seconds before returning to their vehicles and leaving, McAndrew said.
But the downtown camera’s angle meant officers could not see what the individuals did when they approached the theater, whether they opened the front door, tried opening it, rang the doorbell or did nothing.
Debbie Wiesler, whose family owns Cinema X and two similar businesses in other cities, told jurors she fully trusted McDaniel, describing him as “a good, hard worker.” Her parents, she said, viewed him as a member of the family.
The arrangements left McDaniel largely unsupervised. Wiesler said her family would visit to check on operations only a handful of times per year because they trusted him to run the business.
But the defense focused on the interaction between the business owners and McDaniel. Cook questioned whether Wiesler could have had knowledge of specific items Pollard allegedly stole from the theater. Prosecutors have said the pornographic items found at the Promise Center and in Pollard’s backpack are consistent with those seen at Cinema X.
The defense also raised questions about how well the family actually knew McDaniel.
“Kenny kept his private life to himself, is that fair to say?” Cook asked. Wiesler agreed. “So although you considered him to be like family there was a lot you didn’t know?”
Again, Wiesler said yes.
Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. today.
Matt Milner contributed to this article.