Closing arguments given in murder trial

JOHNSTOWN – Closing arguments were given today in the murder trial of a man accused of killing his mother in her Ephratah home in July.

“By the time they put my client under arrest, the train had already left the station,” defense attorney Robert Abdella told the jury this morning, saying authorities lack the proof to convict his client.

The defendant, James F. Dibble, 30, faces charges of second-degree murder and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, and two counts of fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, all felonies; and fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, a misdemeanor.

Police arrested Dibble on July 2 in the death of Gwenda L. Lisman, 58, who was found July 1 by a neighbor at Lisman’s home at 227 Mud Road, authorities said. Dibble shot his mother in the head with a rifle she borrowed from a neighbor to deal with a rodent problem in her garden, officials said.

“The police were in a rush to judgment,” Abdella said in his closing arguments.

“The trial should not be the first time all the evidence is looked at,” he said.

He said authorities took the “puzzle pieces” that didn’t fit their case and molded them to fit their theory. He also claimed witnesses proved Lisman was the aggressor in the days before her death.

He said the case is a “circumstantial case at best.” He said authorities failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt because there are no witnesses to the crime, no evidence of blood on Dibble or his clothing, no time of death and no proof the bullets came from the rifle found at the scene.

Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira was scheduled to give her closing arguments after Abdella this morning. The defense and prosecution concluded their cases in Fulton County Court on Monday.

Sira called Kristine Robinson, a forensic investigator with the state police, to the stand Monday. Robinson testified she found traces of Dibble’s DNA on the suspected murder weapon. However, she said, the DNA

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of another person, who couldn’t be identified, also was on the weapon.

Robinson said the weapon had an inadequate trace of DNA to identify another person.

“I cannot rule out anybody,” she said, “including the defendant.”

She also testified Dibble’s DNA was found with other DNA on the victim’s right ankle.

Robinson stated no DNA was found on any of the casings found at the scene of the crime.

During cross examination, Abdella asked if more DNA samples could help Robinson identify the source of the blood stain found in a closed dresser drawer next to the victim. She said it is possible, but she only had Dibble and the victim’s DNA to compare DNA in the stain.

She said the DNA in the stain belonged to an unidentified male.

Previous testimony from other investigators said the blood in the drawer didn’t appear to be related to the incident because it appeared to be older.

In his closing arguments, Abdella pointed out no one knows the identity of the DNA in the blood stain in the drawer and the lead investigator didn’t know about the stain.

On Monday, Abdella asked Robinson if DNA can be transferred when someone is handed a gun with bare hands, and she indicated it could be transferred. She said she can’t determine when DNA was placed on the weapon.

Donald Sweeney previously testified he gave Lisman the rifle to deal with a woodchuck problem. He said he placed 10 bullets in a plastic baggie and gave the gun to Dibble about two weeks before the death of Lisman to give to his mother. When the gun was turned over, Dibble wasn’t wearing gloves, he said.

Sira also called Maria Rauche of the State Police Firearms Division, who conducted various tests on the suspected murder weapon.

She testified the two projectiles found at the scene are consistent with a .22-caliber rifle, but they can’t be matched to the gun recovered at the scene. She said two of the casings found at the scene matched the rifle found.

Abdella called his only witness, Matthew Sweeney.

Sweeney testified that on June 30, he traveled by Lisman’s residence between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. and she waved while gardening in her yard. He also stated her green Mercedes was in the driveway.

However, Fulton County Sheriff’s Investigator Bryan Novak previously testified he found a receipt in Dibble’s bag for the purchase of syringes at Walmart dated June 30 at 4:22 p.m. Another witness testified Dibble was using his mother’s green Mercedes when that purchase was made.

The jury was expected to begin deliberations this afternoon.