Missing or murdered: What happened to Linda Skeek?
As the trial for a man accused of killing his wife in 2016 began Thursday morning, the defense told jurors the state can't prove she's dead, let alone killed by her husband.
Thomas Skeek, 37, is on trial for murder and tampering with evidence charges in the disappearance of his wife, 32-year-old Linda Skeek.
According to court documents, Thomas contacted police to report his wife missing on Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, when she didn't show up for work. A Jan. 7 alert from the Anchorage Police Department sought help from the public in locating Linda. By Jan. 16, APD announced Linda's disappearance was "suspicious." Four days later, a subsequent alert notified the public of charges against Thomas.
A significant detail in the case has been unknown for years. Neither police nor prosecutors would say whether Linda's body was ever recovered.
That changed during opening statements, as jurors learned investigators were never able to locate her remains.
"At the end of this trial, at the beginning of this trial, it is about Linda Skeek," prosecutor Saritha Anjilvel told the jury. "It is about her relationship with those around her, including the man who killed her."
Anjilvel said the state will prove Thomas killed Linda in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2016, then disposed of her body.
Prosecutors plan to introduce blood evidence found in the home along with receipts and surveillance video they believe proves Thomas tried to clean up a crime scene. They'll also present information from a woman Thomas was having an extramarital affair with, who allegedly moved into the home soon after Linda disappeared.
During opening statements, Anjilvel said Wednesday would have been Linda's 36th birthday.
"Instead of looking at pictures of her smile on Facebook, and I’ll show you some right now," she said, "her family is attending a trial where we are gonna present pictures of her blood."
The state showed jurors photos of the home on Morningside Loop, photos of presumptive blood stains, and photos of a crawlspace where investigators found another possible blood stain and a pair of gloves.
"It is a tragedy to which all of us will witness over the coming days and weeks of this trial, and it is the story of her death that you will hear, and the chain of events that followed it that you will piece together," Anjilvel said.
When it came time for the defense to present its opening statement, large printouts of missing person notices for Linda were displayed, along with a map of the neighborhood where she lived.
"Linda was lost, before she went missing," defense attorney Emily Cooper told jurors, painting a picture of a weekend drunk, who was also having an affair, and wandered away.
"Her choices are what lead to her disappearance," Cooper said. "Her choices are what lead to the initial delays in the investigation, and ultimately, her husband being falsely accused of murder."
Cooper focused on the fact that investigators haven't found Linda's body, calling the state's evidence weak and circumstantial.
"The state is wrong when it says this case is about Linda Skeek," she said. "This case is about whether the state can prove their case, whether they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Thomas is guilty of murder, and they cannot."
She also took aim at Anchorage police, saying their investigation was delayed, and valuable evidence could have been lost during that time.
"Other surveillance video, other data, other suspects, physical evidence," she said, "These things were all lost because APD couldn’t get to this case fast enough."
The state chose Barbara Barnett as its first witness. Barnett lived in the unit above the Skeek's home, and claims she heard a fight that silenced Linda forever.
She said it started in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2016, when Thomas showed up in a car she hadn't seen before, then started banging on the door.
"I heard Thomas yelling very loud, swearing, screaming," she said. "He was calling her names."
Eventually, Barnett says, he entered the home.
"I hear Linda say, 'I don’t want a break, I want a divorce.' I heard her say she didn’t love him anymore and that she wanted him to leave," Barnett testified. "She wasn’t swearing or screaming, she was just more pleading with him."
That's when things escalated, according to the witness.
"I heard him just go into a rage," she said, tearfully. "I could hear things banging against the wall and it sounded like things were being throwing and maybe glass breaking."
She told the jury what happened next, she not only heard, but felt — a jolt Barnett claims knocked a photo off her wall.
"It was louder than a thump or a thud, it was like a loud bang. It sounded like someone got thrown into the wall," she said.
Prosecutor James Fayette encouraged her to share what she heard following the bang.
"Nothing," Barnett said. "Not a sound. I never heard Linda again."
The state was not able to get through all of Barnett's testimony Thursday, and will resume with its questioning of her on Monday.
During opening statements, Cooper cautioned jurors against believing Barnett's account of what happened.
"Her story has never once been the same over the three years of testifying and being interviewed," Cooper said. "And at the end of this case, I’ll stand here again and urge you not to give very much weight to the state's first witness in this case."
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