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Asbill murder trial opens with witness describing fatal attack

The trial against a man accused of bludgeoning a Vietnam War veteran to death with a golf club in June 2012 started today with tearful testimony of a woman who says she witnessed the attack.

Kiara Ward, 25, of Washington, testified she had been sitting in the living room of 54-year-old Donald William Mack just before 1 p.m. June 3, 2012, when Travis Asbill, 31, struck the sleeping Mack several times in the head with the club. The attack continued until the head of the club broke off, prosecutors say.

"It was very hard," Ward said of the strikes, which she described as "baseball-style." "I could hear the golf club hitting his head."

Prosecutors said Ward had been staying temporarily with Mack at his one-bedroom apartment in the 100 block of Almond Street. Stranded in Medford a few days earlier while on a road trip, she had been looking for a place to stay and wound up at Mack's home, which was a regular haven for people who were homeless, in trouble with the law or illegal drug users, prosecutors said.

"The people in his world were the ones who didn't have a place to stay," said Jackson County deputy district attorney Karen Loomis.

On the day of the fatal attack, four people were staying with Mack, who was disabled and used a walker.

(Correction: The number of people staying there has been corrected.)

Ward testified that she first met Asbill about 10 hours before the attack when another regular resident of the home, the 17-year-old sister of Mack's caretaker, brought Asbill and another woman back to the apartment.

They stayed overnight. Ward said she fell asleep for a few hours and awakened at 5 a.m. to smoke methamphetamine with them, then left when heroin came out.

At some point, Asbill asked Ward if Mack used drugs to keep girls at his apartment.

"Right away I said no," Ward said, adding Asbill did not believe her.

Asbill and Ward then went to a market for some food and, when they returned, saw Mack sitting out front. Asbill started a conversation about "sex offenders and child molesters" with Mack when they returned, his voice getting progressively louder as he spoke, Ward testified.

"It startled me," Ward said.

They all walked back inside, with Asbill retiring to the bedroom. Ward said she and Mack sat down in the living room. Mack fell asleep. A few minutes later, Asbill walked back into the living room, golf club in hand. He prodded the couch near where Mack sat. When Mack didn't stir, Asbill struck, Ward said.

"I hopped up out of my chair a little bit and I said, 'Don't do that,'" Ward said.

Asbill threatened her and she withdrew. Prosecutors said he continued to hit Mack with the club until the head broke. He fled, but was arrested at 8:30 that evening and has remained jailed on a murder charge.

The 17-year-old apartment resident also saw the attack, prosecutors said. She fled to the bedroom and locked herself in. Mack died en route to the hospital.

Ward later looked Asbill up on the Internet and went to police.

Loomis said the teen and another witness also will describe the attack for the jury. Medical experts will also testify Mack died from blunt force trauma to the head and how the injury shapes were consistent with a golf club head, Loomis said.

Defense attorney Sara Collins pointed to changed statements from witnesses and the fact that several of them are currently behind bars.

"Witness credibility is crucial in this case," Collins said. "You're going to hear inconsistent stories."

She also pointed to that lack of evidence in prosecutors opening statements.

The prosecutors painted a picture for you," Collins said. "What (they) said in their opening argument is not evidence. It's how they want you to view the evidence."

Loomis said they lack some evidence — fingerprints on the golf club, blood spatters in the apartment and on Asbill's clothes — from the crime scene.

She said, however, witnesses will explain why fingerprints cannot be lifted from the golf club shaft because of the type of material it's made with and that blood pooled on the couch.

Collins asked for a mistrial after Ward testified that she looked at Asbill's photograph on Medford Mugshots website. Collins argued that jurors knowing of his past criminal history could prove prejudicial, but Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia denied the motion.

— Ryan Pfeil