Nevada County murder trial begins; Michael Sturgell accused in death of Pamela DeGrio
The prosecutor displayed an image of homicide victim Pamela DeGrio in front of the Nevada County jury.
Deputy District Attorney Ed Grubaugh on Wednesday said only one person knows exactly when DeGrio, 67, died — the person who shot her five times in the head.
Grubaugh pointed to Michael Sturgell, 72, who faces a murder charge in connection with DeGrio’s February 2018 death. According to Grubaugh, DNA evidence at her North Bloomfield Road home and on Sturgell’s shoes link him to the death.
“That’s willful,” the prosecutor said. “That’s deliberate. That’s premeditative. That’s straight-up murder.”
Sturgell has pleaded not guilty.
Defense attorney Sam Berns, who represents Sturgell, said jurors will hear no evidence showing his client was at DeGrio’s home when she died. Additionally, Berns said prosecutors can’t prove a gun once in Sturgell’s possession is linked to the fatal shooting.
“What happened to Pamela DeGrio is a tragedy,” Berns said. “Michael Sturgell didn’t do it. Michael Sturgell wasn’t there.”
Attorneys spoke to jurors during opening statements in Sturgell’s murder trial. The trial, which began Wednesday, is expected to last three weeks.
DeGrio died sometime between Feb. 4 and Feb. 6, 2018. One of her daughters couldn’t reach her by phone, leading to the discovery of DeGrio’s body, Grubaugh said.
Evidence led authorities to identify Sturgell, divorced from DeGrio for decades, as a suspect. On the table next to DeGrio lay a note with his name and phone number. Officers found a Diet Pepsi can and paper towel in a kitchen trash can, the prosecutor said.
According to Grubaugh, Sturgell’s fingerprint was found on the soda can. DeGrio’s blood and Sturgell’s DNA were on the paper towel. Additionally, authorities found red marks on Sturgell’s shoes when he was arrested days after DeGrio’s death.
“That blood is a DNA match for Pamela DeGrio,” Grubaugh said of the shoes.
Officers realized a .22-caliber revolver and a shotgun were missing from DeGrio’s home. Two months after her death a Butte County man surrendered some weapons he’d bought from Sturgell to authorities. One of them was a .22-caliber with a serial number registered to DeGrio’s brother and gifted by him to DeGrio, Grubaugh said.
“It’s the gun stolen from her home,” he added.
Berns told jurors the revolver has characteristics of the weapon that was used to kill DeGrio, but that prosecutors could not prove it was used in the homicide. Additionally, Berns argued the weapons stolen from DeGrio’s house have no connection to the slaying.
Berns repeatedly told the jury it would hear no evidence that his client was at the scene when DeGrio died.
“His phone number is on her coffee table,” Berns said. “That’s not a quick ‘Here’s how you get in touch with my killer.’ That’s something else.”
Berns told jurors no witness saw the fatal shooting, and that his client has offered no confession.
“You’re not going to see any evidence that Michael Sturgell had any motive to kill Pamela DeGrio,” he added.
To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.
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