Kansas couple pleads not guilty in murder case (MO)

A Johnson County, Kan., couple implicated in the death of William Van Note pleaded not guilty in Boone County Circuit Court on Sept. 17 to charges of forgery and murder.

Prosecutors allege that Desre Lechele Dory, 42, and Stacey Nicole Dory, 43, helped their friend Susan Elizabeth “Liz” Van Note, 44, forge a document that gave Liz Van Note power of attorney to make medical decisions that purportedly led to her father’s death.

Liz Van Note is an attorney with offices on East Red Bridge Road in Kansas City.

According to her website, she specializes in estate planning, including advanced medical directives.

William Van Note and his longtime companion, Sharon Dickson, were stabbed and shot on Oct. 2, 2010, at their home at the Lake of the Ozarks in Camden County. Dickson died of her injuries at the scene. William Van Note died four days later at University Hospital in Columbia after Liz Van Note ordered life support be discontinued.

The Dorys are charged with forgery and second-degree murder in the case. Liz Van Note is charged with forgery and first-degree murder in the death of William Van Note.

According to unsealed grand jury indictments, on or about Oct. 4, 2010, “William B. Van Note was killed by being denied life sustaining medical treatment as a result of the perpetration of the class C felony of forgery …”

Van Note died Oct. 6, 2010, at the hospital.

The night of the attack, neighbors said they did not hear gunshots or any commotion coming from William Van Note’s house.

Charges have not been filed yet in Dickson’s death, according to Camden County Prosecutor Brian Keedy. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster appointed Keedy to work with Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight on the multi-jurisdictional case.

Those who knew William Van Note and Dickson said they planned to marry. Van Note owned an accounting firm for years on the Liberty Square. Dickson formerly owned D’Agee Flowers, also on the Square.

Liz Van Note and the Dorys are being held in the Boone County jail. Keedy said the cases remain under investigation.

“It’s been my experience that more information usually comes forward even after you’ve filed charges,” Keedy said.

Attribution:

Kansas couple pleads not guilty in murder case
Angie Anaya Borgedalen
September 27, 2012
Liberty Tribune
http://www.libertytribune.com/news/article_c8c4e83a-bca6-5c87-ab02-420101c30745.html

Additional coverage:

Weapon in murder case was a piece of paper, prosecutor says
Lawyer is accused of using forged document to arrange her father’s death, in case that involves a deadly assault and a sizable inheritance.
Donald Bradley/Laura Bauer
September 22, 2012
The Kansas City Star
http://www.kansascity.com/2012/09/22/3828866/murder-weapon-in-van-note-case.html

Prosecutors say the killer came through the front door in broad daylight.

No sneaking, no slinking in the shadows. She walked into the bright lobby of University Hospital in Columbia and down busy corridors toward the victim, a 67-year-old millionaire who had survived a late-night attack in his lakefront home. He lay still after surgery, a tube in his throat, a machine doing his breathing.

When the woman entered the hospital’s trauma ward that day in October 2010, prosecutors say, she raised the murder weapon.

Nobody screamed. Nobody ran for cover.

It was a piece of paper. The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care gave the woman, a Lee’s Summit lawyer, the authority to make decisions on the man’s behalf if he became incapacitated. William Van Note would not want to be kept alive by life support. His signature was at the bottom.

So after discussion — it’s unclear how long — doctors shut off the ventilator and pulled the tube from their patient’s throat. Over several hours, Bill Van Note, who had been a prominent Liberty businessman, died, slowly.

His longtime girlfriend, Sharon Dickson, 59, had died four days earlier, on Oct. 2, 2010, in the same attack in the three-story Sunrise Beach, Mo., house at the Lake of the Ozarks. Deputies responding to Van Note’s 911 call found a grisly scene: Van Note, a bullet wound in his forehead, frantically and futilely trying to save Sharon, who had been shot three times in the head and slashed with a knife.

Now, in a case two years in the making and one that has caught the eye of legal experts, prosecutors say Van Note didn’t sign the power of attorney document. A grand jury indictment Sept. 7 accused the woman who came to the hospital that day, the victim’s 44-year-old daughter, Susan Elizabeth “Liz” Van Note, of forging his signature — after shooting him didn’t get the job done. She is charged with first-degree murder and felony forgery.

Also charged in the case, with forgery and second-degree murder, are one of Liz’s high school classmates and the classmate’s husband, for allegedly signing the power of attorney as witnesses to William Van Note’s signature.

Camden County Prosecutor Brian Keedy says Liz Van Note’s preparation of the document shows the premeditation required for first-degree murder. What killed her father, Keedy alleges, was being removed from life support.

“It really does come down to murder by legal form,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. “A fascinating case. I’ve never seen one like it.”

Liz Van Note’s attorney, Tom Bath, won’t deny that her father didn’t sign the document.

Bath acknowledged Thursday that his client “produced (the document) without his signature” — but only because she couldn’t find one her father had actually signed.

And he said nothing gathered at the scene — hair, fiber, DNA and fingernail scrapings — puts her there when her father was shot and his girlfriend was murdered.

“It’s hard for me to believe that a 44-year-old, middle-aged woman could have carried this out by herself,” Bath said.

Prosecutors haven’t said she acted alone.

At an arraignment in Columbia, Van Note, a divorced mother of one and a lawyer who specializes in end-of-life matters, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and forgery. The couple accused of signing the document as witnesses — Stacey Dory, 43, and Desré Dory, 42, of Shawnee — also have pleaded not guilty.

No one has been charged in Dickson’s murder; authorities say they’ll file charges in due time.

If the allegations are true, they bear out a tale of a family done in by money and greed. William Van Note and Dickson planned to marry soon, friends say. Such a union could change who got what from his extensive estate, which some put at nearing $10 million.

“This doesn’t happen to people — it’s what you see on TV,” said David Ayers, a lake friend who had known the couple since the late 1980s. “This doesn’t really happen.

“But it did. It’s so sad.”

‘A perfect match’

If left up to Match.com, Bill and Sharon might never have met.

He was often loud and brash; she was sweet and tender.

But after meeting through friends, Bill and Sharon clicked from the beginning. By the early 1990s, she was running a flower shop in one of several buildings he owned on the Liberty Square.

“They just gelled,” said Brenda Toates, who used to work for Sharon and now owns the shop, D’Agee & Co. Florist.

For years, Bill was Toates’ landlord. “I think he was ornery and she made him laugh. It almost seemed like a high school romance all the time when they were together.”

But Bill doesn’t evoke cuddly recollections from everyone in Liberty. While close friends there describe him as caring and generous, his business style hit many associates wrong. Some thought him stingy, gruff and abrasive. In fact, when he was killed, some wondered if he had finally angered someone enough to actually do him in.

His Liberty persona was not the same fun-loving man whom friends at the lake and other close friends remember.

As one Liberty resident put it: “They saw something that some of us here — who knew him when he was building the millions — didn’t.”

But nearly everyone says Sharon was the best thing that ever happened to him. She calmed him. Smoothed the roughness, cooled his temper.

“They were totally opposite personalities, but they complemented each other,” said longtime friend Muriel Daniels. “That’s why they were a perfect match. If they both had been like Bill, they would have been horrible.”

They were together at least 20 years. He had given her a ring several years ago, and they had begun talking seriously about marriage in the year before they died, friends said. Bill had been married twice before, Sharon once.

“Bill told me one time it wasn’t important” that he and Sharon marry, said Ayers, who repaired and winterized Van Note’s boats and helped him build the lake house where they were shot. “He told me he would make sure she was taken care of, both before and after.”

At the lake, Bill and Sharon had many friends, Linda and Ed Tober among the closest. The Tobers had retired to the Lake of the Ozarks from the St. Louis area. The two couples often traveled together, boated and hung out with other friends at the lake.

The last time the Tobers took a boat ride with Bill and Sharon, on a late summer afternoon a couple of weeks before their deaths, Bill played a tape of an old Ink Spots song, “I’ll Get By (As Long As I Have You).” In his deep singing voice, he serenaded Sharon as friends soaked in the moment.

“Sharon just sat there with a big smile on her face,” Linda Tober remembered.

By early October 2010, with cold weather coming to the lake, Bill and Sharon were preparing to leave for their Florida home in Port Charlotte after stopping in Liberty for a family dinner.

The last day at the lake, however, would be spent with the Tobers. They drove north that day, a Saturday, to Versailles for the Old Tyme Apple Festival. By 5, after the four shared some liqueur to toast Bill and Sharon leaving for Florida, Ed and Linda headed home.

“It was just a nice day together,” Linda said. “Next thing we know, we got a call.”

Oct. 2, 2010

As usual, Sharon had gone upstairs to bed before Bill. He later fell asleep downstairs.

Sometime in the night, a noise awakened him. A dog barked. Bill got up to investigate. Somebody hit him on the back of the head.

When he came to, he had been shot, the small-caliber bullet entering the right side of his forehead.

He immediately went up to check on Sharon in the master bedroom. She was likely already dead from three gunshots to the back of her head. Also, she had been badly cut with a knife.

Bill called a friend’s house, but no one answered. “We need some help over here,” he said in a message left on the answering machine.

At 11:22 p.m., he called 911. He asked the dispatcher to tell him how to save Sharon’s life. He said he was doing CPR. He said he thought someone might still be in the house.

When the first deputies arrived, Bill was still conscious and alert. He told them what had happened, the best he could.

He didn’t know who had attacked them.

The blow to his head? Like a light bulb exploding, he said.

Mike Schmidt, at the time a sergeant with the Camden County sheriff’s office, remembered the next day being a beautiful, cool fall morning at a beautiful lake home.

“Then I went inside,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt, who has since retired from the sheriff’s office and now runs Mid-Missouri Investigations, declined to speak about specific evidence other than to say some of it was “unique.”

Early on, investigators wondered if the killings were professional hits.

Neighbors hadn’t heard anything. No strange cars had been seen on the four-mile road leading out of the cove. A boat, running little more than idle, could approach by stealth.

A major case squad was mobilized to track leads. That first day, Schmidt would make notifications to family members, including Bill’s daughter in Lee’s Summit.

He first called Lee’s Summit police so they could send an officer to her home in case she took the news too badly.

Then he called Liz Van Note and told her that her father had been badly injured and his significant other was deceased.

Her reaction?

“She tried to be distraught,” Schmidt said. “She tried to play the role.”

Friends say Liz and her father had long had an acrimonious relationship. She went long periods without talking to him, they said.

When she was angry at her father, Liz wouldn’t let him see her son — his grandson.

A longtime friend of Bill’s said she once asked him about his relationship with his daughter.

“She hates me because I left her mother,” Daniels remembers Bill answering.

While Bill stayed in the Northland after the marriage ended, his ex-wife, Barbara, moved to Overland Park with Liz and her brother, William Jr. The brother, known as Brad, died in 1983 at age 16 after a lifetime of health issues.

Liz graduated from Shawnee Mission South in 1986. She used her summary in the yearbook to lavish praise and love on her mother without mentioning her father.

In 2005, Barbara Van Note went to prison for theft and was ordered to pay restitution of more than $108,000 to her own mother’s estate. Her crime? Forging her mother’s name to a financial power of attorney document, enabling her to get money from a trust fund.

In recent years, she has worked with Liz in her law office.

At this point, Bath says he has seen nothing that would convince a jury to convict his client. He said Bill called Liz earlier that evening to get her advice on a legal matter.

“I’m not saying they didn’t have ups and downs,” Bath said. “But she told me she loved her father and would never do anything to hurt him.”

Two-year investigation

Within 48 hours of the attack, Liz Van Note showed up at University Hospital in Columbia with the power of attorney.

Privacy laws prohibit University Hospital officials from discussing a patient’s care.

“I can tell you that we have to deal with the legal documents that are presented to us, so if a durable power of attorney appears valid, we rely on it,” spokeswoman Mary Jenkins said.

Investigators back in Camden County quickly subpoenaed the document in October 2010.

Yet nearly two years passed before Liz Van Note would be indicted.

Why so long?

“People want to know what finally happened to get the indictment,” said Keedy, the Camden County prosecutor. “I can’t say yet. It will come out.”

The charges came out of Boone County, where Bill Van Note died, but Keedy is leading the prosecution because Sunrise Beach, where the attack occurred, is in Camden County.

He describes an investigation that involved hundreds of leads and multiple jurisdictions, including Jackson County and Johnson County in Kansas. The Missouri Highway Patrol assisted, as did the Missouri attorney general’s office. At one time, the FBI joined in.

It’s unknown whether investigators found the gun. Neighbors at the lake say divers searched waters off their docks.

Turley, the Georgetown law professor, thinks expert medical witnesses could prove pivotal in a trial.

Would Bill Van Note have survived? If a jury believes he would have, that raises the importance of a forged document terminating his care, Turley said last week.

“Even if he would have died the next day, it’s still murder,” Turley said.

That’s fine with Keedy. He says Van Note “was improving.”

As for the Dorys, saying they witnessed Bill Van Note’s signature could be seen as merely helping a friend trying to help her father, Turley theorized.

Milt Harper, a Columbia attorney representing the couple, said Thursday: “As time unfolds, a complete investigation will show that the Dorys had no legal culpability in the murder of Mr. Van Note and the other person.”

Where will money go?

As for Van Note’s estate, a legal battle is already well under way, although the criminal proceedings will likely halt any action in probate court.

One point that is clear: Whoever ends up claiming the inheritance should benefit substantially from the fact that Van Note died in 2010.

Under a quirk in tax law that year, and that year alone, there was an opportunity for his estate to pay no federal tax.

The next year, the estate tax returned — and could reduce a $10 million inheritance by millions.

Van Note had a will, prepared in late 2003, that named Dickson as executor. If she couldn’t serve, the job would fall to a longtime friend of Van Note’s. But because the will was filed in Florida, the friend had to step aside because he did not meet requirements of being either a Florida resident or a family member.

So Liz Van Note, her father’s only surviving child, was named executor.

According to the will, he bequeathed three rental properties in Liberty to his daughter, along with assets including his jewelry, cars and life insurance proceeds.

All his cash, his retirement accounts and three pieces of real estate, including the lake home and Florida residence, would go to Dickson, but only if she survived him.

She didn’t. By four days.

The will didn’t specifically say what should happen to the many other properties that Van Note owned.

It did say he would like to be buried next to his son in Liberty. He was.

Recently, Liz and Dickson’s son, Andrew Dickson, faced off in court over $40,000 cash found in a safe deposit box registered to her father and his mother.

After Liz Van Note was indicted, Andrew Dickson asked a Clay County judge to remove her as executor of the will. On Sept. 12, Clay County Circuit Judge Larry Harman suspended her authority until the criminal case is resolved.

Dickson told The Star last week that he didn’t know Liz well despite his mother’s 20-year relationship with her father.

He acknowledged that his mother planned to marry Bill, and that the nearly two years since the murders have been filled with anguish.

“I have been really troubled in trying to figure out who would want to kill my mother,” he said. “She was a person who was liked by almost everyone she met, so this is particularly difficult for me to understand.

“My wish is that my mother’s killer is promptly brought to justice.”

For now, Liz Van Note sits in a jail in Boone County. Her bond is $1 million, cash only.

The phone still rings at her law practice on Red Bridge Road. The phone greeting says:

“Due to a family emergency, the office is temporarily closed.”

Missouri lawyer accusing of killing father by forging medical records to deny life-saving care
Alan Scher Zagier/Associated Press
September 29, 2012
Daily Reporter
http://www.greenfieldreporter.com/view/story/14efc7812e664648abbce7d4276c8a70/US–Death-by-Forgery

LIBERTY, Mo. — The golden years were shaping up nicely for accountant William Van Note.

The 67-year-old retiree had several boats and a waterfront vacation home at central Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks. He could jet off to a winter getaway on Florida’s Gulf coast, and had plenty of money in the bank after a career preparing taxes and renting out downtown office space in Liberty, a country town 15 miles north of Kansas City.

And soon, after 20 years together, he and longtime companion Sharon Dickson were going to wed, hoping that the union would be a new start after previous failed marriages.

They never got the chance. In October 2010, an intruder shot the couple in their lake home, killing Dickson and leaving Van Note critically wounded with a gunshot wound to the head. He died four days later, after his daughter told doctors that he would prefer to die rather than be kept alive by medical intervention.

What happened next set the stage for a unique legal case: Van Note’s daughter, Susan, was accused by prosecutors of pulling the trigger and forging her father’s signature on the document doctors relied on to end his medical treatment. The case, which essentially accuses her of “death by forgery,” has captivated the small Missouri community since her September arrest. Legal experts say it’s a case with little, if any, precedent.

“He died as a result of them removing life support, not as a result of the gunshot,” Camden County prosecutor Brian Keedy said. “If you commit a felony, and somebody dies as a result, there is a criminal responsibility for that death.”

Susan Elizabeth Van Note, who goes by Liz, is a 44-year-old attorney who specializes in end-of-life issues, and advertised herself for offering “compassionate representation of clients.” She’s jailed on a $1 million cash bond, facing charges of felony forgery and first-degree murder.

She has pleaded not guilty, and if convicted could face a lengthy jail sentence or the death penalty. She has not been charged in the death of her father’s girlfriend; prosecutors say they are pursuing the cases separately.

Friends of both victims and the suspect describe a troubled father-daughter relationship weakened by the divorce of Susan Van Note’s parents three decades ago. The couple had two children, but William Van Note’s only son and namesake died as a teenager. They are now buried next to each other.

But the relationship appeared to have recovered somewhat, at least enough that Van Note felt comfortable letting his daughter handle some of his affairs. Liz Van Note, who lived with her mother and teenage son in the Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit after a 2006 divorce, helped her father manage his commercial rental properties on Liberty’s historic downtown square, said floral shop owner Brenda Toates, a Van Note tenant.

Van Note built his payroll and accounting businesses from modest beginnings, said Joseph Frederick, a retired airline mechanic in Kansas City who first started getting his taxes done by Van Note more than four decades ago, when Van Note’s office was in a basement. Van Note’s jovial demeanor didn’t fit his profession’s buttoned-down stereotype, according to Frederick.

“Income tax season isn’t always the happiest time of the year,” he said. “But he’d always make you feel better when you walked out of his office. He was just an all-around, good-natured guy. I’ve never seen him down. He was always upbeat.”

Van Note had sold several of his businesses years ago, but continued to work during tax season when not vacationing at the lake or his home in Port Charlotte, Fla., Toates said.

His daughter, meanwhile, was struggling to make ends meet. Records reviewed by The Associated Press show that Liz Van Note filed for bankruptcy in federal court in September 2009. She listed $254, 938 in assets and $374,072.86 in debt owed to 10 creditors, including American Express, Wells Fargo Bank and a children’s hospital. She’d previously worked for Merrill Lynch before attending law school, and listed a monthly income around $3,300.

When the shooting happened, fearful friends and neighbors initially wondered whether the crime was committed by a pro. The crime scene was clean and there were no signs of forced entry into the home. Some whispered that the assailant might have gotten away by boat.

Keedy, who is prosecuting the case, declined to discuss whether Liz Van Note’s alleged forgery was premeditated, or a response to her father’s unexpected survival from the attack. Prosecutors have also declined to discuss specific evidence about the shooting. But they have said that Liz Van Note enlisted a high school classmate and her spouse, Stacey and Desre Dory of Shawnee, Kan., to act as witnesses to the forged documents. The Dorys were indicted on felony forgery and second-degree murder charges; they have pleaded not guilty and their attorney, Milt Harper, says they are “going to be vindicated.”

The document she’s accused of forging is known as a durable power of attorney. People can use a power of attorney to dictate whom they want making medical decisions for them in emergencies or if they are near death and unable to speak for themselves.

Dickson was slated to inherit Van Note’s cash and several homes. But her death would have likely meant that Van Note’s daughter would get most of the estate’s proceeds, which were likely worth millions of dollars more than the partial estimate on file.

William Van Note’s estate was valued at $1.6 million. The will leaves Van Note’s personal property, such as cars, jewelry and furniture, to his daughter, along with life insurance proceeds and the three rental properties in Liberty.

Four months after her father’s death, the Florida home was sold by Liz Van Note for $238,000, records show. Three days after her arrest, Dickson’s adult son filed a court petition to remove Liz Van Note as the principal beneficiary and will executor, citing the criminal cases.

Toates, the tenant who knew Van Note, said that his daughter’s arrest didn’t come as a surprise to many in Liberty.

“It happened on a Saturday, and she unplugged him on Wednesday,” Toates said. “A lot of people did not understand that.”

Legal experts said the prosecution’s unusual strategy could make obtaining a murder conviction more difficult.

“If this is all they have to go on, it’s pretty thin,” said University of Missouri law professor Rod Uphoff, a former public defender who represented accused murderer Terry Nichol after the April 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. “Maybe the prosecution’s got more (evidence). But by itself, it seems they’ve got a lot of work ahead.”

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