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Neighbors Growing Together | May 22, 2018

Syperda awaiting verdict from judge

Murder trial concludes Monday with final arguments
May 08, 2018
Photo by: John Lovretta/thehawkeye.com Defense attorney Kym Auge gives her closing argument during Michael Syperda’s first-degree murder trial in the death of his estranged wife, Elizabeth Syperda, Monday, May 7, 2018 at the Henry County District Court in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Elizabeth Syperda disappeared in July 2000 and her body has never been found.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News

 

Michael Syperda appeared less jovial strolling into the courtroom Monday morning anticipating final arguments from a state prosecutor sure of Syperda’s guilt and his defense attorney firmly stating the state does not have a case that proves a guilty verdict without a reasonable doubt.

Syperda, 58, was arrested Nov. 30, 2017 in Rifle, Colo. after a grand jury convened, and the state charged him with first degree murder of his estranged wife Elizabeth Syperda, who disappeared from Mt. Pleasant July 17, 2000. Elizabeth was 22-years-old at the time of her disappearance.

In the first row of the gallery sat Elizabeth’s mother Donna Forshee and her brother Michael Forshee, who held hands as Judge Mark Kruse reconvened court.

The state’s case, led by Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown, revolved around three questions: Is Elizabeth dead? If so, is Syperda responsible for her death? And was the alleged murder of Elizabeth premeditated?

While Brown concluded that the state has proved a resounding “yes” without a reasonable doubt to each of these questions, Syperda’s defense attorney Kym Auge fought back using evidence gathered through her cross examinations of witnesses to claim “almost everyone in this case had an agenda” to convict Syperda.

“It is glaringly clear the state has an agenda, and it’s not to find the truth,” Auge said in court Monday, May 7.

The state, however, held firm, standing by witness testimony that corroborated their allegations that Syperda did in fact murder Elizabeth.

Brown began by reiterating the mounting evidence that Elizabeth did not just disappear but is dead. Through witness testimony, the state can conclude there is a five-hour window between July 16, 2000 and July 17, 2000 when Elizabeth disappeared, leaving behind her wallet on the kitchen table of the apartment she shared with her then-roommate and romantic interest Sara Thomas Beckman at 608 E. Madison Street.

Elizabeth, who Brown described as a young woman of minimum resources back in 2000, also had recently opened a bank account in her maiden name, Forshee, July 8, 2000, not long after leaving her husband, Syperda, and not long before she disappeared. There was $80 in the account in September 2000 and no activity on the account since July 13, 2000.

Furthermore, Elizabeth failed to pick up her final paycheck from her place of employment at Experian in 2000 in the amount of $68.

Brown, anticipating the defense’s argument against using this as evidence, questioned why a woman who was planning on leaving on her own to start a new life wouldn’t gather all the financial resources she had at the time to do so.

“(That) Elizabeth may live on a tropical island somewhere baffles the mind,” Brown said. “If Elizabeth were not dead, she would have claimed her money and reconnected with her family. Think of the resources it would take to completely disappear. It is not plausible.”

The day Elizabeth was filed as a missing person, she was entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. Any contact she would have had with law enforcement over the past 18 years would have brought her name up on the missing person database, prompting a call to the Mt. Pleasant Police Department.

“Not one hit on the NCIC computer,” Brown said.

As to the question of whether Syperda is responsible for Elizabeth’s disappearance, Brown recounted the witness testimonies that quote Syperda saying he was going to kill Elizabeth.

Brown cited the three times Elizabeth was separated from Syperda and his reaction to each time she left. Brown quoted the testimony of former friend of Elizabeth, Harper Tracey, previously known as Brenda Benda, who spoke about the repeated stalking behavior, threats and hostility Syperda demonstrated toward Elizabeth for the month or two Elizabeth lived with Tracey in 1998.

“[Elizabeth] was scared to death of this man,” Brown said. “Scared she will lose her life, and he will be the one to take it. He told her he could make her disappear. That’s exactly what we have here.”

These prior acts identify Syperda as a person who would eventually kill Elizabeth, Brown said, adding that former friend from Elizabeth’s hometown of Truckee, Calif., Shannon Gerber, had a similar impression of the fear Elizabeth had of Syperda in 2000.

Although Elizabeth didn’t necessarily leave Syperda in June of 2000 when she left to visit her mother and brother in California for her brother’s high school graduation, Brown said this physical separation of the couple led Syperda to feel a loss of control over Elizabeth. That’s what “lights him up” a mere six weeks before Elizabeth went missing, Brown said.

The assault by Syperda of Elizabeth and Beckman in the Hy-Vee parking lot June 16, 2000, is yet another example Brown cited as a reason for Syperda to seek to get rid of Elizabeth, saying that with charges of domestic battery against him, her disappearance ensured a lesser charge for his actions that night without Elizabeth to act as a witness against him.

“If (Elizabeth) is no longer around, she can no longer testify against him,” Brown said.

The evidence that allegedly identifies Syperda as responsible for Elizabeth’s disappearance is similar to the evidence that allegedly identifies him as her malicious killer, Brown said.

Syperda had been threatening to kill Elizabeth since at least 1997, corroborated by witness testimony, repeatedly telling her what was going to happen if she didn’t come back to him each time she tried to leave.

June 2000 when Elizabeth left Syperda to be in a relationship with another woman was the last straw. “He is unhinged,” Brown said. “He is on a slow boil this whole time, all building up to when she went missing July 17, 2000.”

Brown cited Elizabeth’s emerald and diamond ring, found in Syperda’s apartment at 415 E. Madison St., as the strongest piece of evidence to secure his conviction. According to witness testimony throughout the trial, Elizabeth was hardly seen without the ring on the ring finger of her right hand. Given to her as a high school graduation gift by her mother, Elizabeth “cherished” this piece of jewelry, Brown said.

“(Syperda) had no reason to have it,” Brown said, reminding the court that the ring was found buried beneath papers in an unlocked safe in the back of the closet of his master bedroom during a search of the home on Sept. 5, 2000. “This is a piece of evidence assisting in proving Syperda caused Elizabeth’s death.”

Brown also reminded the court that the witness statement of Jarrod Krabill proves Syperda was the last person to see Elizabeth alive on July 17, 2000. A former co-worker of Syperda, Krabill testified that Syperda told him the morning of July 17, 2000, that Elizabeth had been at his apartment until 5 a.m. that day.

“We don’t have her body. I can’t tell you her neck is broken or that she was stabbed to death or beaten or strangled,” Brown said. “But we have plenty of evidence that shows what his state of mind was. Justice requires the defendant be guilty.”

As Brown took his seat, Auge stood up to make her case for Syperda’s innocence, calling out the inconsistencies of witness testimony throughout the entirety of the trial and pointed to the “general issues” made by law enforcement involved in Elizabeth’s case.

The inconsistencies Auge pointed out in her argument, however, the state defended as insignificant to the overall facts of the case. For example, Auge reminded the court that the night before Elizabeth disappeared July 16, 2000, Beckman testified to returning home to find Elizabeth asleep on the couch. Later, Beckman said that Elizabeth woke up while Beckman was home and the couple had an amicable breakup that night before Beckman left for work around 10 p.m.

“Look at (inconsistencies) for what they are,” Brown rebutted. “Inconsistencies have to matter … On (Beckman’s) core facts, she has never wavered.”

The defense reminded the court that when it comes to Elizabeth’s emerald and diamond ring, she had sole access to Syperda’s home at 415 E. Madison St. for 12 days following the June 16, 2000 incident in the Hy-Vee parking lot after which Elizabeth and Syperda were granted a no contact order.

“We have no idea what was left behind, but we do know Elizabeth had exclusive use (of the house) during those 12 days,” Auge said.

The defense also reminded the court that Krabill, who testified that Syperda told him he had seen Elizabeth July 17, 2000, is a felon and has an admitted vendetta against Syperda for sleeping with his ex-wife.

Auge argued that when it comes to law enforcement’s investigation into Elizabeth’s disappearance, there were actions that should have been taken to rule out potential witnesses and suspects that simply were not done, such as investigating anyone aside from Syperda for her disappearance.

Law enforcement failed to determine the whereabouts of Beckman during the time of Elizabeth’s disappearance, instead relying on her statements. “Everything she said was taken as gospel truth,” Auge said.

They also failed to determine the whereabouts of Beckman and Elizabeth’s friend in New London, Scott Luvaas, at the time of Elizabeth’s disappearance and failed to conduct a search of either Beckman’s or Luvaas’ apartment at the time.

“Why was everything not done to confirm, check, cross-check and corroborate who was last to see Elizabeth?” Auge questioned, adding that law enforcement did not investigate any of Beckman’s neighbors at the time of Elizabeth’s disappearance.

Finally, Auge reminded the court that even Mt. Pleasant Police officer Lyle Murray testified to his concern that there still has not been a crime scene in this case.

“The only evidence produced was that (Syperda) was a jealous boyfriend and husband. That does not make him a killer,” Auge said. “We are no closer to knowing the answers to the who, the what, the when, the where and the how as it relates to Elizabeth’s disappearance.”

Judge Mark Kruse, who is presiding over the trial, will reconvene when he comes to a verdict. Syperda waived his right to a jury.

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