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Kasner murder trial begins in shooting death of neighbor

Joanna Kasner, on trial for murder of Bend-area neighbor Valerie Peterson, listens to testimony in court Wednesday beside defense attorney T.J. Spear
Mike Allen/KTVZ
Joanna Kasner, on trial for murder of Bend-area neighbor Valerie Peterson, listens to testimony in court Wednesday beside defense attorney T.J. Spear

Defense lawyer cites delusions, paranoia; neighbor's 911 call brings tears

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The grim details of a woman allegedly gunning down her neighbor, shooting a dog and threatening other neighbors with the gun one winter day in a quiet, rural neighborhood north of Bend were laid out in court Wednesday as the murder trial of Joanna Kasner got underway.

The courtroom was packed for opening arguments and initial testimony from witnesses and family members of Valerie Peterson, who was out walking dogs in the Boonesborough neighborhood when the fateful encounter took place on Jan. 16, 2019.

Deschutes County Circuit Judge Stephen Forte is hearing the trial without a jury, as agreed to by Kasner, 50, and her attorney.

The attorneys’ opening statements were brief, with defense lawyer Michelle McIver not denying that Kasner shot and killed her neighbor. Instead, she said Kasner was having delusions caused by paranoia and believed people around her were plotting to “cause her great pain and suffering.”

But first, Deputy District Attorney Stephen Gunnels laid out the sequence of events that day, saying Kasner made some bizarre calls to Deschutes County 911 shortly before the killing, which occurred around 11 a.m.

Gunnels said Kasner shot Peterson six times, also hitting her in the face. He said she also shot a dog and pointed the gun at neighbors, later chasing an officer with a knife and throwing it at her.

Peterson’s widower, Stephen Peterson, was the first person to take the stand as the prosecution began presenting its case. He noted that January 16 was his day off, and the next day was to be his wife’s 59th birthday.

Peterson said before Valerie left for her daily walk, he gave her an early birthday present first, then  went back to sleep. Peterson recalled that when he woke up, he was confused why she was still gone, so he called her phone, but she didn’t answer. Eventually, he saw officers with guns pointed at Kasner’s house.

Valerie Peterson’s younger sister, Melissa McPherson, also took the stand, noting that her sister had a stroke four years ago Wednesday and had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer a year later.

After learning what had happened, she said, “I felt helplessness. It breaks my heart to know I couldn’t be there to save her, holding her hand.”

Neighbor Pamela Adler testified next, taking the stand wearing a button with a photo of Valerie Peterson and the words, "Until we meet again," also worn by many other family, friends and supporters in the courtroom as well.

Adler said she knew Peterson and also knew of Kasner, but not personally.

She said she was in her home when she heard three quick gunshots, so she ran outside and yelled for whomever was doing so to stop. She then saw Peterson lying on the ground, “yelling and moaning for help.”

The prosecution played a recording of the frantic 911 call Adler made after finding Peterson rolling wounded in the street. Adler began to cry on the witness stand as the recording played, as did much of the gallery – and Kasner herself.

Adler concluded her testimony by recounting how Kasner also pointed the gun at her and said, “Get out of here or I’ll shoot you!”

Another neighbor, Dwayne Johnson, was the fourth person to testify. He said he saw Valerie Peterson out for her walk daily, and they’d wave at each other. That morning, he said, he heard a noise “like somebody pounding,” so he went outside and saw the woman “rolling in the street.”

At one point, Wednesday’s proceedings were interrupted and the courtroom cleared for several minutes when someone in the gallery suffered a medical issue.

Kasner was indicted on charges of murder, attempted murder, menacing, first-degree animal abuse and unlawful use of a weapon. Her trial is scheduled to last six days, extending over the next several weeks, with witness testimony continuing Friday morning.

McIver later said witness testimony could take until Monday to conclude. A break is then scheduled until the trial resumes on April 14.

Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts
murder trial

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Mike Allen

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