The murder trial of Waitsburg’s Leslie M. Moreno, 27, is drawing to a close as final arguments are expected to wrap up this morning followed immediately by jury deliberation.
The jury on Thursday was given instructions, agreed upon by prosecutors and the defense, to consider the charge of first-degree murder with a deadly weapon in a domestic violence situation.
However, jurors will also have three lesser charges at their disposal if they can’t agree on that charge — in descending order, second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter or second-degree manslaughter.
Or they can declare Moreno not guilty of a crime related to the death of her boyfriend, Waitsburg man Marcus J. Allessio, 25, who was fatally stabbed on Dec. 28, 2018.
The Walla Walla County Superior Court trial is set to resume at 9 a.m. at the county Fairgrounds Community Center, held there to allow for pandemic-related safety measures.
Moreno’s attorney, Julie Carlson Straube, will make her closing argument to the jury at that time.
The eleventh day of the trial began quietly Thursday, with just a few spectators to see two rebuttal witnesses called by Walla Walla County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jennine Christensen.
On the stand were Melissa Santana, a friend of Moreno’s, and Debbie Allessio, mother of the victim, Marcus Allessio.
Santana was the last person to be with Moreno before she was arrested that day, and she answered some brief questions about the night of the arrest. Debbie Allessio answered some questions about details of stories brought up throughout the trial’s testimony.
Jurors were dismissed then, evidence for jurors and jury instructions were agreed upon by the attorneys and the room was emptied for the morning.
Included in the evidence, at last, was Item 26 — the text messages between Moreno and Marcus Allessio that had been debated for inclusion all trial long.
Then, after lunch, jurors returned along with about 40 people in the spectating area to hear closing arguments.
Judge M. Scott Wolfram read the jury their instructions, and then Christensen proceeded.
“He was trying to leave,” she began, “he was trying to leave, and she stopped him.”
Christensen ran through moments of the trial with the jury, often pointing back to what she said were inconsistencies in Moreno’s testimony and the evidence presented.
The prosecutor left up a picture of the knife that punctured Marcus Allessio’s heart, demonstrated how it had to be held for such a cut and went frame by frame through security footage captured of the altercation between Moreno and her boyfriend in Waitsburg.
“That knife went through a body,” Christensen said. “That takes time, and that takes force.”
Nevertheless, Christensen said, it was an all-around tragic situation.
“She does not have to rejoice in his death ... All the evidence here shows that she loved him and was horrified by his death ... But a moment in time is all it takes ... She walks out with a knife after an unarmed man, her threat wasn’t good enough, so she stopped him.”
Christensen said there was no doubt that Moreno was a “desperate woman” with financial distress, mental health issues and a troubled past.
“And Marcus Allessio was making things worse at that point,” Christensen said. “It is very possible he assaulted her in that moment. It’s very possible she was scared in that moment. The problem is — he left.”
Christensen debated the validity of psychiatrist April Gerlock’s evaluation of Moreno and told jurors her opinion is just an opinion.
“She cherry-picks the information she relies on,” Christensen said of the expert who said she believed Moreno has PTSD, depression and battered-woman syndrome.
Christensen reminded jurors of their duty to review the evidence presented in the case and the parameters of the murder charge, applying the definitions found in Washington state law — premeditation and intent.
“There are a lot of victims in this case,” Christensen said, referencing childhood trauma, family dynamics, drug addiction, mental health and eventually homicide. “Sympathy plays no role ... It’s a sad story, but that sad story doesn’t give her the right to murder him.”
Moreno’s defense attorney, Carlson Straube, will give arguments next. Then the jury will meet to discuss the testimony they heard and examine the evidence admitted by the court after which they are expected to render a verdict.