By TOM MOOR
South Bend Tribune
6:58 PM EST, November 14, 2012
SOUTH BEND -- Perhaps the biggest unanswered question heading into Tarrance Lee's murder trial was whether a body found in Chicago last month was that of Lee's estranged wife, Trina Winston.
Several of Lee's acquaintances had already reportedly told police that they had seen Winston's body and helped dump it on Aug. 16, leading to Lee being charged with murder before a body was even found. However, the prosecution remained mum on whether a body discoved Oct. 23 was indeed that of Winston.
The prosecution hopes that question is now answered after a forensic dentist testified in court Wednesday that the body found on the south side of Chicago belonged to Winston.
Dr. Sanford Block, a dentist who also works in the Chief Odontologist Office of the Cook (Ill.) County Medical Examiner, said there were "numerous" similarities after studying Winston's teeth compared to X-rays she took during a trip to the dentist on Aug. 3. That included, most notably, having the same 10 teeth missing when comparing the X-ray with the examination of the teeth from the body found.
Block's testimony was heard during the first day of Lee's murder trial in St. Joseph County Superior Court. Lee is accused of killing Winston in their Hickory Village apartment in Mishawaka.
Lee was granted a bench trial this week, meaning Judge John Marnocha -- not a jury -- will determine if Lee is guilty of murder.
Dr. Stephen Cina, Cook County's chief medical examiner, testified in court Wednesday that he ruled Winston's death a homicide by unspecified means. He said he could not find an exact manner of death because the body was mostly decomposed, but added the facts surrounding the investigation helped make up his mind.
Cina and Block were two of eight witnesses the prosecution called to the stand. The trial will continue today.
Perhaps some of the strongest testimony came from a longtime acquaintance of Lee's, Andre O'Neil.
O'Neil testified Wednesday that Lee admitted killing Winston and also said he saw her body at Lee's and Winston's apartment on Aug. 16.
O'Neil said shortly after seeing the body, he left the apartment and called police, as Lee and two other men carried Winston's body down a staircase so they could dispose of it.
O'Neil added that he had been hanging out with Lee the night he eventually saw Winston's body. He said Lee kept making references that he had killed Winston and needed help disposing of the body, but Lee and others thought he was joking.
But later that night, O'Neil testified, the four went to Hickory Village and Lee lit a candle in an upstairs bedroom, exposing Winston's body.
"He pulled the cover off and said, 'See, I'm not playing,'" O'Neil said.
Lee's attorney, Jeffrey Sanford, attempted to discredit O'Neil by reading aloud a long list of past crimes he reportedly committed
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Ann Walker, of South Bend, who shares a 9-month-old baby with Lee, also took to the stand. She saw Lee the morning after he is alleged to have driven to Chicago.
"He looked tired; his eyes were red like he didn't get any sleep," Walker said. "He said he had been digging a hole all night. I asked him why. He said I was nosy and took me to work."
Sanford asked Walker whether it was unusual that Lee was tired or that he didn't return the night before like he said he would. She said neither of those was uncommon.
Anthony Bontrager, a member of the St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit, testified that cell phone records put Lee in the Chicago area on the night of Aug. 16.
Staff writer Tom Moor:
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