CLARION – The murder trial of Damien Lawrence Ditz, 22, of Clarion got underway before Judge James Arner on Tuesday at the Clarion County Courthouse.
Ditz is accused of killing Katrina Seaburn, 22, of Curwensville on March 1, 2017 during an argument over money.
Ditz is charged with criminal homicide, aggravated assault, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.
For criminal homicide, the jury of seven women and five men will decide whether Ditz is guilty of murder of the first degree, murder of the third degree, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.
On Tuesday as the trial opened, Clarion County District County District Attorney Mark Aaron asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree because the killing was premeditated and done with malice.
He said Seaburn was shot in her car outside of the residence of Ditz’s relatives in Washington Township, Clarion County, when the couple argued over money that Ditz allegedly owed the victim.
Later, they drove to Ditz’s cousin’s residence, and during the drive they argued about $130 Ditz loaned to his cousin that belonged to Seaburn. When they pulled up to the residence, Aaron said Ditz brandished a .45 caliber Glock, pointed it at her, and fired a hollow point bullet into her chest, killing her instantly.
Afterward, authorities allege Ditz repeatedly lied to the state police about what happened and didn’t admit that he shot Seaburn until more than three months later after his story fell apart.
Ditz’s attorney, Adam Bishop of Pittsburgh, said the evidence shows that it was an accident, and instead asked the jury to find Ditz guilty of involuntary manslaughter because although he was reckless in his handling of the firearm, he didn’t kill her intentionally.
Bishop said the handgun went off when Ditz gestured during the argument.
“It was a tragic mistake,” Bishop said.
Ditz’s cousin, Brandon Stroutmin; his sister, Jennifer Graham; and Stroutmin’s wife, Lacey Stroutmin, all testified Tuesday that they were inside the residence when they heard a “bang.” Brandon Stroutmin and Graham looked out the window and saw Ditz standing outside of Seaburn’s vehicle and he was distraught.
They ran outside and Ditz told them the gun was on the dash, it slid off, hit the center console, the gun fired and shot Seaburn.
Ditz called 911 and they performed CPR and mouth-to-mouth until emergency responders arrived.
Testimony alleges that Ditz was distraught and was crying and said repeatedly, “it should have been me.”
Aaron played a recording of Ditz’s 911 call for the jury. During the call, Ditz was crying uncontrollably and it was difficult to understand what he was saying. Eventually, Graham got on the phone and received the instructions for performing CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which she relayed to Lacey Strautmin.
When the recording was being played in the courtroom, Ditz slumped over in his chair at the defense table and began to cry.
After the recording was played in the courtroom, the court then took its regular mid-afternoon 15-minute break at 2:45 p.m. But court didn’t reconvene until 4 p.m. when Judge Arner announced Ditz suffered a medical emergency and couldn’t continue. Arner said the trial would resume at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.