Neighbor testifies about victim, accused of stabbing in Worcester
WORCESTER — Jurors considering the 2014 fatal stabbing of Andrew T. Wagner by his fiancé heard evidence Wednesday that he had no defensive cuts to his hands and that a neighbor who tried to save his life did not observe any signs of struggle.
“I didn’t see anything to show that she was hit, or strangled, or anything,” neighbor Theresa DeRoy said of fiancee Stephanie Fernandes.
Wednesday was the second day of the trial of Fernandes, 39, a former townswoman charged with the murder of Wagner, 31, at their townhouse at 25 Angelo St. on May 7, 2014.
Prosecutors alleged in Worcester Superior Court on Tuesday that Fernandes murdered Wagner, a Connecticut corrections officer, with premeditation, while her lawyers said she was a battered woman who acted in self-defense.
Lawyers for both sides have acknowledged that the couple acted badly towards each other during their approximately five years together. There were no witnesses to what happened; Prosecutors argued Tuesday that the evidence in the case implicates Fernandes.
At the heart of the state case is the testimony of DeRoy, a longtime nurse who told jurors what she observed — and did not observe — during emotional testimony Wednesday.
DeRoy testified that she lived next door to Wagner and Fernandes for several months in the duplex house she and the couple moved into in early 2014.
The two apartments were side by side – a photograph showed the proximity of their outdoor terraces – and DeRoy was at home when Fernandes rang his doorbell the night of the stabbing.
DeRoy said she went out to dinner that night with a man she was living with at the time and his daughter, returning home a bit late, likely after 10 p.m.
She said they had been home for about 15 minutes when Fernandes came knocking on her door several times.
“Come, come, come,” she recalled telling Fernandes, adding that she couldn’t get more information from him.
Blood on the kitchen floor leading to the bathroom
DeRoy became emotional as she described what she saw inside the apartment next door, describing blood on the kitchen floor leading to the bathroom.
“Andrew was in the bathroom, face up, lying in a pool of blood,” she said, wiping her eyes.
The nurse cried as she described how she and the man she lived with — a former EMT — tried to save Wagner’s life.
Wagner, whom DeRoy said he spoke to more often than Fernandes had before that night, was covered in so much blood, she said, that it was hard to tell where his wound was.
DeRoy fought back tears as she described the sound of Wagner’s labored breathing, as well as her attempts to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when she stopped.
DeRoy testified that Fernandes “screamed” at them to save Wagner’s life and acted hysterically, at one point “jumping” over his body while his companion performed compressions.
The mate, Mark Stevens, yelled at Fernandes to get off Wagner, DeRoy said, at which time she appeared to calm down.
DeRoy said around this time that she asked Fernandes what had happened.
“She said, ‘Well, he hit me, so I hit him,'” DeRoy recalled. “All of a sudden, she wasn’t hysterical anymore.”
In their opening statement, prosecutors had drawn attention to the reported change in tone. Under cross-examination, DeRoy confirmed that the interaction occurred after Stevens yelled at Fernandes to “shut up.”
DeRoy testified that Fernandes also told her that Wagner had threatened her with a gun and tried to strangle her.
“So I said, ‘So you stabbed him?’ And she said, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know,” DeRoy recalled.
No mark on Fernandes showing injury
DeRoy said she did not see any marks on Fernandes that would show she had been punched or strangled. She said she saw a gun, which police say was holstered, on a sofa when she entered the apartment.
DeRoy also testified that she heard nothing from the apartment during the time she was home before the doorbell rang.
A medical examiner from the medical examiner’s office, Andrew Elin, testified Wednesday that Wagner appeared to have been stabbed once in a critical neck artery and would likely be dead within minutes.
Wagner, he said, had no cuts on his hands or anywhere else that would indicate he had tried to defend himself against a sharp object.
Elin said the acute force injury to Wagner’s neck appeared to come from front to back and in a downward direction. He partially tore an artery connected to the heart, he said, which usually results in blood squirting out of the neck.
Assistant District Attorney Terry J. McLaughlin told jurors on Tuesday that neighbors did not see a “stain” of blood on Fernandes when she first knocked on their door, DeRoy confirmed on the stand Wednesday .
DeRoy said Fernandes was wearing a tank top and sweatpants when she knocked on his door, and walked, not ran, as she led her to her apartment.
During cross-examination, Fernandes’ attorney, Peter L. Ettenberg, obtained testimony that Fernandes did not appear to know where his phone was.
“I don’t know,” DeRoy replied when Ettenberg asked if Fernandes appeared to be in shock.
Ettenberg also asked DeRoy if she was aware that police had spotted bruises on Fernandes the night of the murder; she replied that she was not.
Ettenberg told jurors on Tuesday that police mentioned spotting the bruises during their questioning of Fernandes. He faulted the officers for not attempting to photograph other parts of Fernandes’ body which he said were also bruised.
A neighbor found a knife
DeRoy testified Wednesday that after paramedics arrived and took over, she leaned against the bathroom sink to make room, at which point she found a knife.
Police filed photos of the knife, with blood near the tip, into evidence on Tuesday. DeRoy said officers had to take her fingerprints from when she touched the knife.
Elin, cross-examined by Darren T. Griffis, another attorney for Fernandes, agreed that it was not possible to rule out an accidental stab wound from the photographs he saw of the injury.
Elin also told Griffis that he could not say how long a small bruise found on Wagner’s arm had been there or how he received it.
Elin confirmed to Griffis that the tests indicated that Wagner had probably been drinking alcohol before his death. Pooled blood measured 0.03 BAC, Elin said, while a measurement in the eye recorded 0.07.
Prosecutors showed jurors Tuesday numerous photos of pinch bottles labeled as evidence in various parts of the couple’s home. Defense attorneys noted that police photographed a vial inside Wagner’s car.
Neither side has so far presented a theory to the jurors regarding the importance of this evidence.
Ex-soldier remembers Wagner as a friend
Daniel Distefano, a former state trooper, also testified Wednesday, who recalled a close friendship with Wagner that suffered after Fernandes came on the scene.
Distefano, in testimony that began Tuesday, told jurors that he suffered from memory and speech problems as a result of a work-related injury.
Distefano said he retired from the state police in 2021 after he was “violently assaulted” by a motorist he pulled over to help. He said he suffered, among other injuries, head trauma.
Distefano, who before becoming a soldier in 2015 served as a West Springfield police officer for about seven years, said he had been close friends with Wagner since college.
Distefano wept as he described Wagner and his parents as unusually kind people who took the time to get to know each other. He recalled that Wagner often arranged a meeting among friends as he chatted with Distefano’s parents before leaving.
Distefano, as Wagner’s sister did on Tuesday, testified that her relationship with her friend fell apart after Wagner reunited with Fernandes in 2009.
Distefano said he went from talking to Wagner daily to long periods of time without hearing or seeing him.
In cross-examination, Ettenberg asked several questions that appeared to be aimed at challenging Distefano’s credibility.
He expressed skepticism when Distefano, who testified that he met Fernandes at a restaurant attached to a Springfield strip club where she worked shortly before Wagner began dating her, said he didn’t couldn’t remember his version of that conversation.
Ettenberg also suggested Distefano was a regular at the Mardi Gras strip club, a claim the former officer denied.
Distefano said that while he went to a restaurant attached to the club to visit a woman who worked there several times, he never went to the strip club itself.
Ettenberg, while questioning Wagner’s sister, asked Distefano if he had seen the text messages Wagner and Fernandes had exchanged.
Distefano answered no. Ettenberg argued that the posts reveal a toxic relationship to Wagner’s threats that underlie his claims of domestic violence.
The jurors will see
Before ending Wednesday, jurors were scheduled to visit 25 Angelo St. and two other locations near the city.
Jurors were required to enter the townhouse, while they were only required to pass the other locations – one on Pilgrim Avenue and another on Nanita Street.
Superior Court Judge James Gavin Reardon Jr. told jurors the locations were selected because they would be referenced during the trial. He did not specify their meaning in court.
Asked about the T&G locations outside the courtroom, Ettenberg said one was where Fernandes’ mother lived, while the other was a Fernandes apartment where she and Wagner had lived before moving to Angelo Street.
The trial will resume on Thursday.
Contact Brad Petrishen at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BPetrishenTG.