Prosecution rests in Columbia murder trial

Prosecutors in the murder trial of a North Carolina man accused of fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend in Columbia last May rested their case Tuesday in Howard County Circuit Court.

The prosecution's case, which began on May 7, included testimony from the victim's neighbors, the lead investigator for Howard County police, an acquaintance of the defendant, and the defendant's sister, who testified that he spoke of hurting people, specifically the victim, and committing suicide days before the homicide, according to Howard County State's Attorney spokesman Wayne Kirwan.

The defendant in the case is Ryan Patrick Matthias, 44 of Charlotte, N.C. Matthias is facing first- and second-degree murder charges in connection with the May 2013 death of Deborah Castellano, 47. Castellano, who had moved to Columbia from New York state months earlier to begin working at Maryland Live! Casino, was found dead the morning of May 4 in her car parked outside her apartment in the 9600 block of Basket Ring Road in Columbia.

Matthias, who had dated Castellano when they lived in New York, was identified as a suspect after police said he became upset with Castellano because she was seeing other men. Using bank, rental car and cellphone records, police were able to compile enough evidence to determine that Matthias could have traveled to Columbia to carry out the killing.

No weapon or DNA evidence was found linking Matthias to the crime scene, which has led defense attorneys to argue that the evidence is circumstantial.

Stephanie Owens, Matthias' sister who lives in North Carolina, testified last week that her brother had dated Castellano as recently as January 2013 but moved back to North Carolina in March after the relationship soured, Kirwan said. In the charging documents, police said Matthias was arrested on March 18 in New York in connection with a domestic violence incident involving Castellano.

Owens testified Matthias took the breakup hard and had hopes the couple would get back together, Kirwan said. Meanwhile, Castellano had moved to Columbia to work at Maryland Live, according to police. On Tuesday, a friend testified she moved to Maryland to get "a fresh start."

In the early morning hours on May 1, days before Castellano's death, Owens testified that her brother called her from Maryland, incredulous that Castellano may have been dating, Kirwan said. Juan Jose Ticas, a neighbor of Castellano's, testified last week that Matthias showed up at Verona Apartments, where the victim lived, on April 30 asking if Castellano was seeing other men, Kirwan said.

Owens also testified that she was "concerned for Deborah's safety," and reached out to a family member on May 1 on Facebook to convey her concerns, Kirwan said.

Also last week, Michelle Peterson, of Staunton, Va., testified that she received a call from Matthias, an acquaintance she said she last corresponded with in 2010, at 6:30 a.m. on May 4 stating he was in the area, Kirwan said. On May 8, Peterson testified Matthias called her again, asking her to provide a false alibi that they were together the weekend of May 4-5, Kirwan said.

Peterson testified that she told Matthias she would not help him, Kirwan said.

On Tuesday, the prosecution called Pfc. Vickie Shaffer, the lead investigator, to testify. During cross-examination. defense attorneys called into question the police investigation and specifically questioned why a dumpster near the crime scene was not searched for a potential weapon.

During opening statements, defense attorney Theodore Turnblacer said the police "rushed to judgment," and that the defense would produce a witness who reported seeing a white man -- Matthias is black – near a dumpster after hearing gun shots at 4 a.m. on May 4.

Shaffer testified that police did not search the dumpster because "in my experience. ... I've never known a person to leave a weapon at the scene."

Also on Tuesday, a Howard County police officer testified, using data from an Ellicott City cellphone tower, that a cellphone linked to Matthias was used near the crime scene at 2:30 a.m. May 4.

After the state rested its case, the defense filed a motion for acquittal, citing that the evidence was not sufficient. The motion was denied by Judge Timothy McCrone, who is presiding over the trial.

The trial is expected to continue through the end of the week and possibly into next week, with closing statements likely occurring on Friday, Kirwan said.

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