The Ottumwa Courier

July 17, 2013

Murder scene, timeline detailed in Pollard trial

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Witnesses gave a detailed description of the chronology of events surrounding Kenneth McDaniel's murder and the intricacies of the wounds he sustained.

Bruce Pollard has been charged with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the death of McDaniel, the Cinema X Theater manager, on March 11, 2012.

Opening statements painted starkly different pictures of the suspect, the victim and the theater.

Iowa Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown said McDaniel "had a simple life and a relatively meager existence, but he had a brutal and horrific death."

During Pollard's second interview with police on March 19, 2012, Brown said "in this instance, Bruce Pollard admits to killing Kenneth McDaniel."

"Bruce Pollard's version of what happened is that Kenneth McDaniel sexually came on to him, which is why the attack happened," Brown said.

But that wasn't the only time Pollard admitted to killing McDaniel, Brown said. Pollard also wrote a letter to his girlfriend's mother in which "he details how he killed Kenneth McDaniel."

The defense presented a different scenario. Attorney Allen Cook described Cinema X as a place "most people in Ottumwa probably wished never existed."

Cook also described McDaniel, who lived under the projectors in the theater and generally kept to himself, not often venturing into the community.

He said Pollard's troubled childhood -- "wrought with violence, substance abuse by his parents, a lot of anger" -- led to problems in his adolescent and adult life.

"You will likely find that Bruce Pollard suffers from PTSD as a result of his childhood experiences," Cook said.

This contributes to the defense's assertion of "diminished responsibility," which "essentially means that Bruce Pollard had some mental condition which did not allow him to form a specific, premeditated intent to kill," he said.

But diminished responsibility is not Pollard's primary defense, he said. He also alleges that Pollard was acting in self-defense, according to his statement that he was "sexually accosted" by McDaniel.

Six witnesses testified on Wednesday: Jim Williams, Cheryle McDaniel, Amanda Kilgore, Marlin Ray Hesse, Steve Harris and Dr. Michele Catellier.

Williams, of Oskaloosa, placed the 911 call at 11:06 a.m. March 13, 2012 after discovering McDaniel's body just inside the front door of the theater.

A family member's last day with McDaniel

The next witness, Cheryle McDaniel, is Kenneth McDaniel's sister-in-law. She would regularly bring meals to him at the theater and run a few of his errands.

She said McDaniel believed he needed to "stay there because of other people trying to break in at different times."

"He never had a mean bone in his body," she said. "He was just a gentle man. I never even heard him swear."

At 5 or 5:30 p.m. March 11, 2012, she brought him dinner at the theater from Sonic. After running another errand, she returned and gave him his change, a $5 bill and a quarter.

Before she went home, she told McDaniel that he was welcome to come to her and her husband's home the next day. He never showed up, but she said that wasn't out of the ordinary.

Cook recalled a statement she had made earlier this year.

"You told me that because Kenneth ran a porn theater, you and your husband were concerned that they would think he was gay," Cook said to Cheryle, with which she agreed.

But Cheryle also told Brown that McDaniel had never been romantically involved with a man.

Investigation of crime scene begins

Kilgore, a member of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation crime scene unit, arrived at Cinema X around 3:07 p.m. March 13, 2012.

She walked through the scene with the jury, photograph by photograph, showing them the outside of the theater, McDaniel's body as one would walk into the theater and the details of the scene, including blood stains and the pornographic materials on the shelves.

There was no sign of forced entry, she said, and the light outside the theater was on. The front door has three locking mechanisms: two keyed locks and one sliding bolt.

His body was approximately 3 feet from the front door, she said. At first glance, she could see blood on his neck, face and head. During her investigation, she also found blood on the front counter, two shelving units and on the carpet.

While looking behind the front counter, she saw a $5 bill sitting outside the cash box and a quarter at the bottom of the steps leading up to the projectors and McDaniel's cot.

She found $51.25 in the bottom of the cash box underneath the coin tray. Fingerprints were lifted from the cash box, the front door, the counter top and glass cases.

Kilgore also requested that blood stains from the body's left hand be analyzed due to the possibility that they may not have been McDaniel's blood.

The zippers were down on both pairs of pants McDaniel was wearing and the belt was buckled, Cook noted.

McDaniel's friend tries to enter theater during time of murder

Hesse, a friend of McDaniel's, said McDaniel would only lock the front door using the sliding bolt if he had to go to the restroom, but otherwise left it open during business hours.

Hesse said it would be unusual to see no DVDs in the glass case. In photos of the crime scene, the glass cases were empty.

He last saw McDaniel the day of the murder. He arrived at 1 p.m. March 11, 2012 and stayed for an hour but returned later around 6 p.m. and tried to enter the theater. The outside light was on, but he couldn't hear any "ruckus" inside.

"The door was locked so I rang the bell, but no one answered," he said, so he left.

Search of the neighborhood begins

Ottumwa Police Investigator Steve Harris said after examining the scene, he began to do a "neighborhood canvass."

"You never know who's going to see or hear or pick up something," he said, "so we like to talk to people around or in the general area to see if they observed anything."

They then learned that Bridge City Appliance (Cinema X's neighbor) had surveillance video footage pointing out onto the street.

At 5:51 p.m. March 11, 2012, video footage showed Pollard walking past Bridge City Appliance toward Cinema X.

The Ottumwa Police Department's downtown video camera footage of the area was also reviewed and Harris said Pollard was seen entering Cinema X at 5:52 p.m. March 11, 2012 and leaving at 6:12 p.m. During that time, Hesse tried to enter the theater at approximately 6 p.m.

Unusual injury leads to search for unique murder weapon

One injury in particular, on McDaniel's head, stood out in Harris' mind: "two dashes that were next to each other in a straight line with a small space between them."

"My first thought was it looked like a defect caused by either the back of a claw hammer or a pry bar," he said.

A yellow piece of debris was also discovered in the wound, leading Harris to believe police should begin looking for a yellow instrument, because he found nothing in the theater that could have been used in the murder.

Autopsy points out hemorrhaged muscle, fractured cartilage in neck

Dr. Michele Catellier discussed the results of the autopsy of the body on March 14, 2012.

McDaniel had several abrasions and lacerations, some of them patterned, on his head, which produced "very little internal damage in the head."

Because some of the wounds had linear components earlier described by Harris, Catellier said the "first thing that comes to mind is that these may be patterned, and a common instrument that produces this is the back of a claw hammer."

McDaniel had significant injuries to his neck. Several of the abrasions were adjacent to tears of the skin, she said.

"Contact [with the neck] included significant force," she said.

The highway bone was fractured and many of the layers of muscle had hemorrhaged. The thyroid cartilage was also fractured, "so there was significant blunt force injury here," she said.

If only pressure was applied to the neck, then "considerable friction force" had to have accompanied it to cause the skin to tear, she said.

"Most likely there was at least a combination of blows to the neck," she said.

The official cause of death was "blunt force injuries of the head and neck with probably a component of asphyxia due to strangulation," she said.

She also said there was likely "some degree of struggle."

Pollard's girlfriend speaks, leads police to Promise Center

On March 15, 2012, law enforcement sat down with Amanda Collins, Pollard's girlfriend. She told investigators that Pollard had come home the night of March 11, 2012, in a taxi cab. She also said Pollard had arrived in different clothes than when he had left.

Pollard was picked up in the 200 block of Commercial Street, one street south of East Main Street.

So officers began a "sweep" of that block, Harris said, and began pulling doors to see if they would open. One did, the back entrance to the Promise Center.

During a search of the center, officers discovered pornographic DVDs and magazines matching those found at Cinema X. Earlier that day, officers found Pollard at Ottumwa Regional Health Center with a backpack containing pornographic DVDs.

On the first floor, officers found a pile of clothing, where they saw a dark-colored polo shirt that was submitted to DCI for DNA comparison because it had what appeared to be blood on it, Harris said.

Harris also found a toolbox with a yellow pry bar lying on top, with what appeared to be dried blood and fingerprints. Several flecks of paint also appeared to be missing off of two of the prongs, he said.

"Everything about that tool clicked as being exactly what I was looking for," he said.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday and is expected to last six to seven days.

— For updates throughout the trial, follow @ChelseaLeeDavis on Twitter.