Testimony begins in Rigo trial - KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: newswest9.com |

Testimony begins in Rigo trial

Joshua Keith Rigo, left, listens during juror selection Monday in his trial for the murder of Kristi Dawn Slatten. Photo by Timothy P. Howsare Joshua Keith Rigo, left, listens during juror selection Monday in his trial for the murder of Kristi Dawn Slatten. Photo by Timothy P. Howsare

By Timothy P. Howsare and Dennis Palmitier, The Pampa News

Testimony began Monday afternoon in the trial of Joshua Keith Rigo, the Amarillo man accused of strangling to death Lefors resident Kristi Dawn Slatten on New Year's Day 2013.

Shortly after the jury was seated at 4:05 p.m. in the 31st District courtroom, Gray County District Attorney Franklin McDonough presented his opening statement to the jury. Judge Steven R. Emmert, who is presiding over the trial, advised jurors that the opening statement is not evidentiary, but provides "a road map to tell you where the case is going."

McDonough began by pointing out the irony of Slatten being killed on New Year's Day. "While everyone was beginning a new year in their lives, Kristi Dawn Slatten's life was ending," he said. "All of this evidence is the state's evidence and reason to charge Mr. Rigo for the crime of murder."

McDonough said Slatten's underwear was found in Rigo's pocket and guns taken from her house were found in the vehicle that Rigo stole from her house. McDonough said Rigo planned to give the weapons to his father in Amarillo as Christmas gifts. The district attorney said evidence shows the defendant and Slatten were together on the evening of Dec. 31 and that at 12:06 a.m. on Jan. 1 Slatten called her husband in Corpus Christi. McDonough said that call was the last time anyone heard from her.

During the day on Jan. 1, Slatten's father-in-law, Robert Slatten, went into her house to check on and found her dead body naked from the waist down. Upon making that discovery, her father-in-law called 911.

Rigo left Slatten's house in a 2008 Chevrolet Avalanche owned by her husband, Jerod. Investigators determined the vehicle was equipped with On Star GPS navigation, and the Texas Department of Public Safety requested On Star to activate the system. The truck was located on U.S. Highway 60 two miles west of Panhandle heading toward Amarillo. It was stopped by Carson County Sheriff Cam Terry and the Panhandle Police Chief Sacey Hardman. Rigo and another man, Steve Preston Dean, were arrested and booked into the Carson County Jail. Dean was arrested on the unrelated charge of falsifying identifying information.

The first witness called to the stand Monday was lead investigator Texas Ranger Jason Dudley. Dudley said Slatten's Blackberry Torch mobile phone was found on the truck's console and that her purse with driver's license and debit and credit cards were found in the back seat of the vehicle. When Rigo was searched, Slatten underwear were found in his coat pocket, Dudley said.

Terry notified the Gray County Sheriff's Office of the arrest, and the criminal investigation began when the GCSO called Dudley, who is stationed at the DPS office in Pampa. Dudley began his investigation by securing a search warrant to a residence in the 800 block of North Dwight Street in Pampa, where Rigo was known to be staying. Dudley said they found in Rigo's room a bottle of MD 20/20, a fortified wine, that matched another bottle found at Slatten's residence. Investigators also found a drawing on a piece of paper of a tattoo identical to a tattoo on Rigo's person that was purchased for Rigo by Slatten at an Amarillo tattoo parlor on Dec. 28.

On the day after the murder, Jan. 2, Dudley secured another warrant seeking DNA evidence on Rigo's person through testing done at Northwest Texas Hospital. Dudley said swabs were taken from underneath Rigo's fingernails and inside his mouth. Additionally, Rigo's pubic area was combed seeking additional DNA evidence.

During his cross examination of Dudley, defense attorney Harold Comer asked if Slatten and Rigo were acquainted and Dudley said yes. Comer then asked if the two were more than acquainted and he said he didn't know. Comer continued by asking if any of Slatten's DNA was traced to Rigo, and Dudley said no. Comer said a hair was found near Slatten's crotch, chest and mouth, which Dudley acknowledged. However, Dudley admitted that a comparison was never made to Rigo's hairs. After Comer finished questioning Dudley, McDonough asked Dudley if there was any evidence indicting that Dean could have been the killer, and Dudley said no.

Emmert ended the testimony shortly after 5 p.m. The juror will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Gray County Courthouse.

thowsare@thepampanews.com