Machete slaying trial opens with 911 call, photos

ROGERS: defense says motive is unfathomable in attack on father, fiancee.

December 11, 2008 

Christopher Rogers was in Palmer Superior Court on Tuesday for jury selection. His murder and assault trial began on Thursday. Behind Rogers is defense attorney Craig Condie.

STEPHEN NOWERS / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS Buy Photo

PALMER -- Christopher Rogers Sr., 51, and Elann "Lennie" Moren, 55, had a lot to celebrate Dec. 1 of last year. It was their first anniversary together. And it was looking as if a house they'd put a bid on up Hatcher Pass was going to be their new home.

"It was a fairly happy day for these people," Palmer prosecutor Roman Kalytiak told a jury Thursday during opening statements in the Christopher Erin Rogers Jr. murder trial.

What happened early the next morning is straight out of horror movie.

"Erin" Rogers, as he's known, stands accused of killing his father and nearly hacking his father's fiancee to death with a machete that morning. Those assaults were followed by a spree of violence that left another man dead and two hospitalized with gunshot wounds in Anchorage. Rogers faces a separate trial on the Anchorage crimes next year.

The night before the machete attacks, Rogers Sr. and Moren had a few friends over to help them celebrate in their tiny rental house on Gunnysack Road, where they ate homemade pizza and talked of their wedding plans in June. Sometime after their friends left around 9, they went to bed, Kalytiak said.

Both the prosecution and the defense warned potential jurors during the screening process that this was a bloody, intense case. They didn't exaggerate.

The jury of three women, nine men and three alternates listened intently and grim-faced as the state laid out its case against the younger Rogers, 29, in Superior Court Judge Vanessa White's Palmer courtroom. Their attention intensified when they heard the sounds and saw the images they were warned about.

On Dec. 2, at 5:20 in the morning, police dispatcher Jennifer Hull got a disturbing call, Kalytiak told them.

A woman, moaning and struggling to keep conscious, had locked herself in her bathroom and was calling on her cell phone.

The prosecutor said she said things like, " 'We're dying over here. He just came in and started chopping us up. I can't walk. My arm is barely on my body.

" 'Please hurry.

" 'God have mercy ...'

"And you can imagine," the prosecutor went on, "she didn't say this in the tone I'm using now."

While he was addressing the jury, the courtroom door opened and Moren slipped in, dressed in a full-length black-and-white cape and a black fur-trimmed hat. Just before the prosecution played her 911 call for the jury, she got up and slipped out as quietly as she'd slipped in.

Neither the lawyers nor the judge said anything about it.

As Kalytiak tells it, on that cold winter morning, as Matanuska winds howled, the defendant came into his father's bedroom and started hacking the couple to pieces with a machete, striking again and again and again.

His father did his best to fight him off and to protect his fiancee, Kalytiak said. He shoved him out of the bedroom and into the kitchen where he collapsed and died naked on his back on the linoleum floor.

"This is how it happened," he told the jury. "You're going to hear much more, you're going to see much worse.

"I should also tell you what I'm not going to prove -- why he did this."

Once Kalytiak was finished, it was Rogers' public defender's turn to address the jury.

"Mr. Kalytiak is absolutely right about one thing," John Richard said in his brief opening. "We're not going to figure out why."

It was clear this wasn't going to be a whodunit case. Richard's opening statements went more along the lines of, what was Rogers thinking? What was his intent? Perhaps this was second-degree murder rather than murder in the first degree.

Among witnesses called to testify on Thursday was Curtis Vik, investigator with the Alaska State Troopers, who led the jury into the crime scene through a series of photos projected on a courtroom screen.

The photo tour started out in the driveway, then moved in closer, to the front of the house, to the arctic entryway, to the kitchen door, through that door and into that gory kitchen. And then into bathroom where Moren nearly bled to death while on the phone with the dispatcher. And finally into the bedroom where the attack began as the couple slept.

Blood was everywhere, in splatters, in drips, in pools. On the floor, on the kitchen cabinets, on the sink, on the refrigerator, on the seat of a chair. Imprinted on sheetrock where the victims slammed against the walls.

Throughout the proceedings, Rogers, in a light blue dress shirt, khaki pants, pink socks and slip-on shoes, rocked quietly back and forth in his chair. During some of the more graphic testimony, he grew flushed, wrinkled his forehead and tucked his chin close to his chest.

He was staying on the property at the time of the rampage because his father was acting as his third-party custodian following a drunken driving charge. The tiny outbuilding where he was sleeping was where the photo tour came to a close.

It was there investigators found a black machete sheath leaning against the wall, next to Rogers' bedside table, just below a set of white lace curtains.

The prosecution passed it, sealed in plastic, around for the jurors to see, along with other evidence from the scene.

The machete will make its appearance later.

The trial continues Monday afternoon.

Debra McKinney can be reached at dmckinney@adn.com or 257-4465.

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