Nevada County jury finds ex-husband guilty in murder of Pamela DeGrio
A jury took less than an hour Thursday to convict Michael Sturgell of the murder of his ex-wife, Pamela DeGrio.
DeGrio, 67, was shot in her North Bloomfield home sometime between Feb. 4 and Feb. 6, and her body was discovered after one of her daughters couldn’t reach her by phone. Evidence led authorities to identify Sturgell, 72, divorced from DeGrio for decades, as a suspect.
Sturgell’s trial began April 10 and wrapped up Thursday morning in Nevada County Superior Court. During closing arguments, the prosecution laid out the DNA and cell phone evidence that tied Sturgell to the crime, while the defense tried to poke holes in those theories.
“You’ve heard a lot of what-ifs, for about 75 minutes,” Deputy District Attorney Ed Grubaugh told the jury, adding, “There are infinite possibilities, you are told. You are being asked to believe the unreasonable.”
In the end, said Pamela’s former husband, Bud DeGrio, the jurors agreed.
“Evidently the jury didn’t get ‘what-iffed,’” he said after the verdict. “It’s a relief, but I don’t know how much closure there is. It’s tough, without a motive … It’s very raw, even today. Maybe this will give her family some sense of justice.”
During closing arguments, Grubaugh called DeGrio’s murderer a “coward” who shot her from behind and left her to rot.
The prosecutor laid out the evidence linking Sturgell to the homicide, including DNA recovered from a Pepsi can and a wadded up, bloody paper towel apparently used during the shooting, which both were found in a trash can. Sturgell’s shoes had blood splatter from DeGrio, he said. And, Grubaugh said, Sturgell sold a .22 revolver missing from DeGrio’s house — which was believed to be the murder weapon — several weeks after her murder.
Grubaugh also established a possible timeline for the murder using cell phone records that gave Sturgell plenty of time to commit the crime.
“He had the time, the opportunity and the desperation,” Grubaugh said, saying Sturgell left not just a trail of crumbs but loaves of bread.
Sturgell’s attorney, Samuel Berns, agreed that DeGrio had been murdered in cold blood. But, he said, his client was not responsible.
“There is no proof Michael Sturgell was actually present at the time of the murder,” Berns said. “In fact, there is pretty strong evidence he wasn’t there.”
According to Berns, Sturgell had done work for DeGrio in the past and it was possible he had left DNA evidence on the roll of paper towels during a previous visit to her home. Similarly, DNA could have been transferred to the Pepsi can and to Sturgell’s shoes at any point in time and that evidence did not link him to the murder, Berns argued.
Berns noted that Sturgell had stolen multiple firearms from a friend at around the same time and told the jury evidence that placed Sturgell in the area only links him to the gun thefts.
“Michael Sturgell has the inclination to steal guns from friends and sell them for peanuts,” Berns said. “But you can’t use that fact to convict him of murder.”
The defense attorney also sought to cast doubt on the time of death and on the strength of the criminal investigation, claiming law enforcement had tunnel vision.
“What kind of idiot would kill someone and then sell their gun a couple of weeks later to someone he knew? It’s the next level of stupidity … It makes no sense,” Berns said, before making the argument that Sturgell would not clean up a trail of blood and then leave a bloody paper towel in the garbage.
“What kind of idiot would leave evidence of his guilt? I’m looking at him,” Grubaugh retorted, telling the jury a not guilty verdict would be a travesty of justice. “He’s guilty six ways from Sunday.”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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