Courtroom shocker; mistrial one more twist in high profile murder case (MO)

This was no ordinary day at court, then again this is no ordinary case.

On Tuesday, Laclede County Circuit Judge Kenneth Hayden, in a rare move, allowed members of the media to sit beyond the bar during what was supposed to be jury selections and potential opening statements in day two of the Susan Elizabeth Van Note murder trial.

Van Note is a Kansas City area attorney who is accused of first degree murder in the deaths of her father, William Van Note, and her father’s long-time companion, Sharon Dickson. The couple was attacked at their Sunrise Beach area home on Oct. 2, 2010. Dickson died at the scene, while William Van Note passed away two days later at University of Missouri Hospital after Susan Elizabeth Van Note had him removed from life support.

Nearly five years later, the high profile nature of the case and trial was immediately apparent upon entering the courtroom.

With 96 potential jurors, over a dozen members of the media, and nearly a dozen attorneys and courtroom employees plus Van Note and family members, the courtroom was filled to capacity as the defense team and prosecuting attorney team each had the opportunity to gauge potential jurors through a variety of related and unrelated questioning for official jury selection.

“Can you presume innocence?” Tom Bath, defense attorney, polled the juror pool. “If you can’t, that’s okay.”

Everything seemed to be moving along seamlessly, by the books, and it appeared the finalization of jury selections was imminent. Then the announcement came, shortly after an hour recess.

“A mistrial has been motioned and granted,” the judge said.

Reporters scrambled for a statement, but little could be said on the record regarding the case. The defense had concerns that the jury pool was tainted and feared some had been discussing the case amongst themselves. The defense made the motion and Judge Hayden granted.

“We offered suggestions on how it may be handled and the court ruled for a mistrial,” Camden County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Gilley told a scrum of reporters. “Kevin Zoellner (Assistant Attorney General) and I were ready to try a case, these things happen in this industry.”

It is unclear when or where the new trial will take place. It could be months as two week trials are difficult to reschedule and Judge Hayden said he would be busy until December.

The original first degree murder charges filed in Camden County and then transferred to Laclede County on a change of venue will stand.

Gilley described it as similar to a continuance of the case with jury selection to be redone. No jeopardy may be attached, because the jury was not seated, he added.

All rulings related to the trial that have been approved will stand and pending motions are still pending, according to Gilley.

During the pre-trial motion hearing Monday, a state’s motion attempting to block the possible defense that someone else committed the crime was overruled. A motion by the defendant regarding evidence from a Clay County, Mo. probate case was withdrawn. Another motion by the defendant to be able to present a defense that the attacker was in a family or close personal relationship with the victims based on the nature of the attack and injuries was granted except as to cross examination and/or rebuttal deemed allowable by the County or unobjectionable by the defendant. A motion to stop the presentation of an expunged conviction as evidence was also granted.

Judge Hayden also indicated that he is considering allowing cameras into the courtroom for closing statements and the verdict. Camera-access, if granted, would be an unprecedented move in the circuit.

While cameras in the courtroom is decided on a case-by-case basis, judges within the conservative 26th circuit have not historically allowed this access. Many of the courtrooms do not even allow cell phones.


Courtroom shocker; mistrial one more twist in high profile murder case
This was no ordinary day at court, then again this is no ordinary case.
Cody Mroczka/Amy Wilson
June 10, 2015
Lake News Online

Additional coverage:

Tainted juror behind mistrial in murder case against Susan Elizabeth Van Note
Late in the afternoon on Tuesday, June 9, after what appeared to be the final round of questioning in the jury selection process, the court announced a mistrial.
June 9, 2015
Lake News Online

The murder of a successful businessman and his longtime companion in the fall of 2010 left residents in the Shawnee Bend neighborhood where they lived with an uneasy feeling and sense of fear. From all accounts the victims, William Van Note and Sharon Dickson, were well liked and had plans to eventually marry. The bulk of Van Note’s wealth was to go to Dickson, with his daughter, Susan Elizabeth Van Note, also receiving a portion despite having what Susan herself characterized as a volatile relationship with her father.

The months of speculation on who murdered the wealthy couple and why turned into years. As time passed, the likelihood that the person(s) responsible would ever be brought to justice seemed to fade.

Many had hoped the answers to what happened on the night of Oct. 2, 2010 would become clear as the trial of accused murderer Susan Elizabeth Van Note got underway on Monday, June 8 in Laclede County. But late in the afternoon on Tuesday, June 9, after what appeared to be the final round of questioning in the jury selection process, the court announced a mistrial.

A tainted juror was later given as the reason for the mistrial declared by Judge Kenneth Hayden.

Potential jurors were dismissed. More details are expected to be available on Wednesday, June 10.

Missouri Assistant Attorney General Kevin Zoellner and Camden County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Gilley were handling the prosecution. The case had been moved from Camden to Laclede County on a change of venue.

Susan Elizabeth Van Note is charged with the brutal murder of Dickson and her father in an odd and twisted story. Van Note allegedly used a forged power of attorney/durable will document to convince doctors she was his legal representative. He was subsequently taken off life support.

The charges alleging the forgery and murder of her father were filed in Boone County. She was later charged with murder and forgery in Camden County in September of 2013 for the death of her father and for the murder of Dickson.

In the years prior to the trial, Susan or “Liz” Van Note as she is called, found herself not only embroiled in the criminal aspects of the case against her but the civil side as well after her rights to Van Note’s estate were challenged.

William B. Van Note, 67, and Sharon L. Dickson, 59, died after suffering gunshot and knife wounds at their lake home. Dickson was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy indicated she had died from extensive blood loss from multiple stab wounds that had perforated her lungs and aorta. She had also been shot several times. Van Note was transported to a Boone County hospital with life threatening injuries. He died several days later after being removed from life support. Prosecutors maintain he was improving prior to his death.

Van Note was able to call Morgan County 911 before he lost consciousness. He told dispatchers Dickson had been shot and he thought he had been injured, too. He did not identify the assailant.

The 911 call was routed to the  Camden County Sheriff’s Department. Deputies responded to the Van Note’s home on the lake’s westside shortly after 11 p.m. the night of Oct. 2. The body of Sharon L. Dickson was found in the home’s upstairs master suite. Van Note was found near Dickson, with multiple stab wounds and a gun shot to the head. Detectives said Van Note had attempted to revive Dickson.

An autopsy indicated she had died from extensive blood loss from multiple stab wounds that had perforated her lungs and aorta. She had also been shot several times.

The couple had been seen returning home about 5 p.m. that evening after visiting with friends.  No one in the neighborhood reported hearing anything that evening prior to be awakened by sirens and dogs barking. Van Note had apparently left a message on a friend’s answering machine, asking for help. That call is believed to have been placed prior to him calling 911.

Barbara Van Note told investigators her daughter was at home with her and her son at their Kansas City area home when the attacks took place.

Later, detectives would connect a call made from Van Note’s cell phone made that night within the same time frame as the 911 call.

The court documents allege Van Note conspired to kill her father by having him removed from life support using a forged power of attorney. Within two days of his being taken to the University of Missouri, she showed up at the hospital with the document signed by two friends who initially said they were witnesses to William Van Note’s signing the documents.

The friends, Stacey and Desre Dory later changed their stories after being charged with second degree murder and forgery.

During the investigation when questioned about her relationship with her father, Susan Van Note said it was troubled. When asked if she had ever thought about killing her father, she told investigators, “I did as a teenager. I was going to run him over with his boat … and then he stopped skiing.”

Susan Van Note was a practicing attorney in the Kansas City area prior to her arrest. She is the only surviving child of William Van Note. Susan Van Note has one son.

Susan Elizabeth Van Note goes on trial Tuesday in the slaying of her father and his girlfriend
Donald Bradley
June 7, 2015
The Kansas City Star

The murder trial of a Lee’s Summit lawyer accused of shooting her millionaire father and then forging his signature to have him taken off life support begins Tuesday in Lebanon, Mo.

Susan Elizabeth Van Note, 48, is also charged with killing her father’s longtime girlfriend in the late-night attack on Oct. 2, 2010, in a three-story home at the Lake of the Ozarks.

The girlfriend, Sharon Dickson, 59, died at the scene. William Van Note, 67, was taken to a hospital in Columbia, where he died four days later after his daughter showed up with a durable power of attorney for health care dated Sept. 23, 2009. His signature was at the bottom.

Or so doctors thought when they shut off his ventilator and William Van Note died, slowly.

Investigators say Susan Van Note produced the document from one she’d prepared for a client three days before the shooting. Also, two persons listed as witnesses to William Van Note’s signature admitted to detectives that Susan Van Note brought the document to them after her father had been shot, court documents say.

Prosecutors say the daughter went to her father’s Sunrise Beach, Mo., house that night to kill the couple because she wanted to get her hands on his money. She was executor of his will, but it named Dickson as the prime beneficiary.

Susan Van Note was an attorney who specialized in “end-of life” matters.

During questioning, she acknowledged a volatile relationship with her father. She said that when she was a teenager, “I was going to run him over with his boat, but then he stopped water skiing.”

A friend of William Van Note’s remembered him saying of his daughter: “She hates me because I left her mother.”

What would seem particularly damaging to Van Note’s defense is evidence that allegedly shows her cellphone pinged a transmission tower seven miles from her father’s home. The call was made five minutes after her father called 911, court documents say.

Susan Van Note’s mother, Barbara Van Note, told investigators that Susan was home in Lee’s Summit with her when the shootings occurred. Lee’s Summit is 119 miles — two hours — from Sunrise Beach.

In 2005, Barbara Van Note went to prison for forging her mother’s name to a power of attorney. She was ordered to repay $108,000 to a trust fund.

In the months leading up to Susan Van Note’s trial on two counts of first-degree murder, defense attorneys argued that investigators cut corners in getting the cellphone records.

“Camden County detectives never sought a warrant for this information prior to executing the investigative subpoenas,” a motion said.

They later withdrew the motion.

Monday, the judge will hear arguments about whether Van Note’s legal team will be allowed to use a “someone else did it” defense. No evidence gathered at the scene — hair, fiber, DNA — puts her in the house at the time of the crime, the attorneys say.

Jury selection is set for Tuesday morning.

The case was moved to nearby Laclede County. The trial is expected to last 12 days.

The Missouri attorney general’s office is assisting county prosecutors.

William Van Note, who had been a prominent Liberty businessman, and Dickson had been together 20 years. Friends say the two had what seemed like a high school romance.

“He was ornery, and she made him laugh,” a woman said of the couple shortly after Susan Van Note was arrested.

Court documents say that William Van Note had a net worth in 2009 of nearly $8 million. After his death, Susan Van Note assumed the role of executor of the estate.

In September 2012, a grand jury indicted Susan Van Note for both murders and forgery. Investigators had seized Van Note’s laptop computer from her Kansas City law office and found the power of attorney document for her father filed under the name of a woman who hired Van Note to prepare the same kind of document for her.

A judge set bond at $1 million — an amount that typically keeps someone locked up, especially someone who had filed bankruptcy three years earlier.

But about three weeks after her arrest, someone showed up at the jail in Columbia with a cashier’s check for $1 million.

“She’s got more friends than I do,” Tom Bath, one of her attorneys, said at the time.

An attorney for Andrew Dickson, Sharon Dickson’s son, then asked a judge to remove Susan Van Note as executor of the estate. A judge agreed and froze the assets.

Van Note’s replacement, David Holdsworth, a Liberty attorney, quickly filed a petition asking that she be ordered to return any estate property she had used for herself.

Van Note claimed she couldn’t because she had used the money to post her bond. She was found in contempt and sent back to jail.