Thursday, December 23, 2010

'Traditional Family Values' in the Oil Region

Man charged in Titusville death

Police say suspect buried girlfriend in snow

by Kristi Cummins for The Derrick:

It’s hard to tell that someone was murdered near the quiet apartment complex at 820 Rockwood Drive in Titusville.

There’s no crime scene tape, no crowds, and the only sound that could be heard Wednesday morning was the scrape of a shovel on snow nearby.

But late Tuesday night, Titusville police officers had reported to the scene — based on a confession from Michael Brooker — where they found the body of Renee R. Gates, 23, of Titusville, buried in the snow.

Brooker, 35, of Phoenix, Ariz., had gone to the Titusville police station Tuesday night to report what he’d done. After confessing, he was arraigned in court early Wednesday on one count of criminal homicide, and he is being held without bail.

Sandy Murphy remembers her neighbor as kind and caring, which made the news of the apparent homicide all the more shocking.

“Renee was a wonderful, wonderful person,” Murphy said. “She was friendly, outgoing, and just as sweet as they come.”

When Murphy was recently hospitalized, Gates was the first to visit her, offering to do anything she could to help Murphy out.

Murphy had no idea what happened sometime over the weekend between Gates and Brooker that led to her death.

“I didn’t hear a thing. I am absolutely stunned by this,” Murphy said.

Other residents of the Titusville Apartments agreed, saying even though they had been home at the time of the murder — and when police came to the scene to look for Gates’ body Tuesday night — they never heard a thing.

“We’re very sad about this,” said Diane Wagner, site manager at Titusville Apartments. “Our hearts and prayers go out to her family.”

.. .. ..

At about 11:10 p.m. Tuesday, Brooker entered the Titusville Police Department, where he told Capt. Glenn Ciccarelli that he had killed his girlfriend, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed by police with Titusville District Judge Amy Nicols. Brooker was then interviewed by Officer Aaron Madden.

Brooker said about three days ago, either Saturday or Sunday, he went to Gates’ apartment, where they got into a physical fight.

During the fight, Brooker said he pushed Gates and then she scratched his face. The affidavit noted Brooker had visible scratches on his face.

Brooker told police he then punched Gates in the face, and she ran into the apartment’s master bedroom. She jumped out the bedroom window, turned right, and ran toward the apartment complex’s storage sheds, about 50 feet away.

In the affidavit, Brooker said he followed Gates out the window and caught her just as she reached the side of the storage sheds.

He took her back to the side of the building, about 10 feet away from the storage shed, when Gates began to scream.

According to the affidavit, Brooker said he put Gates in a headlock to stop her from screaming and continued to drag her back to the bedroom window.

Once he let her out of the headlock, Brooker said Gates fell to the ground but was still conscious.

Brooker told police he then placed his foot on Gates’ neck and stood on her throat “for quite a bit.”

When he removed his foot, Gates was not moving, he told police.

Brooker re-entered the apartment through the master bedroom window and retrieved a shovel to bury Gates’ body in the snow.

Brooker said he placed the shovel by the front door of the apartment. The clothes he was wearing, he told police in the affidavit, were covered in Gates’ blood.

At about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Ciccarelli and Officer William Dilley located Gates’ body buried in the snow just where Brooker said she had been.

.. .. ..

Two sources told the newspaper that Brooker and Gates met while working in a carnival together.

In the court documents, Brooker is described as 6 feet tall with brown hair and blue eyes.

Nicols said Brooker was “very polite” when he was arraigned before her early Wednesday morning.

“He was very detached,” Nicols added.

Titusville police said there were no visible wounds or ligature marks on Gates’ body.

Crawford County Coroner Patrick McHenry said an autopsy will be conducted at the Erie County Coroner’s Office to determine the cause of death.

Nicols said Brooker was being held at the Crawford County jail without bail but was moved to a local hospital after an apparent suicide attempt.

Titusville police were assisted at the scene by state police, and an investigation is continuing.

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