In less than four hours, a jury of 12 found Heather Leavitt, 36, Minot Air Force Base, guilty Thursday night of trying to murder her estranged husband, Timothy Leavitt, at his home on Feb. 1.
The attorneys finished the nearly week-long case with their closing arguments at 2 p.m. North Central Judicial District Judge Douglas Mattson sent the jury out for deliberation at around 4:20 p.m. and they reached their verdict shortly after 8 p.m. Since the courthouse was officially closed at that time Mattson made everyone leave the courthouse promptly after ordering up a pre-sentence investigation for Leavitt.
Leavitt was escorted by her family back to the courtroom when it was called back into session for the reading of the verdict. The calm, silent demeanor Leavitt had displayed throughout her trial and the closing arguments broke when she hugged those family members over the rail separating the spectators from the trial floor. She had a few smiles, tears and words for them. As the guilty verdict was read, however, Leavitt threw her hands to her face and began to cry.
A date has not yet been set for sentencing.
Leavitt was found guilty of stabbing her husband eight times during the early morning hours of Feb. 1 in the bedroom of his Minot home. The incident was discovered when Timothy ran from the front door of his home to a neighbor's house covered in blood. The family then placed a call to the police at around 4:45 a.m.
During closing arguments prosecutor Kelly Dillon, the deputy state's attorney for Ward County, said that not only was there "a lot of blood" on Timothy and in the bedroom of his home but that a police officer testified that Timothy "was so bloody that (the officer) couldn't see the injuries."
Those eight stabbings included two that punctured the lungs with one of them coming within a hair of severing a major artery, which would probably have led to his death.
Dillon said that after spending 10 years together, Heather knew her husband was a light sleeper. Timothy was awakened twice that night. The first time was at 3:20 a.m. to the sound of a garage door opening. Upon inspection, he determined that the home was secure and chalked the sound up to a dream. He was awakened again about an hour later when he was stabbed in the back by what he later described as a "big knife" with a black handle featuring "metal dots," which matched the description of knives they already owned.
In his closing statement, defense attorney Paul Probst wondered how a victim would not be able to identify his attacker, especially if it is his wife, but would be able to identify the type of knife used in the attack.
Of particular note is the different perspectives the two attorneys had on the meaning of the two sets of bloody footprints that were the first thing observed by police responding to the incident.
Dillon, using transparency overlay to make her point, showed that the smaller set of footprints that went from the bedroom, down the stairs, through the garage and then out of the garage door matched Heather's feet. She placed a transparency of an ink impression of Heather's foot over the bloody footprint to make her point. Probst doubted the accuracy of the match and encouraged the jury to imagine when they had walked with wet socks in the past and how the footprint "squooshes" out.
His other problems include the fact that the ink impression is a "blow up" and could easily be manipulated within the process to match the size and shape of the photograph of the bloody footprint. He also said that Heather's foot size matches that of some female investigators who had described the footprints they found there as much smaller than their own.
Dillon described how the larger set, Timothy's footprints, went down the stairs from the bedroom, out the front door and then to a neighbors house. The contested smaller set took a more wayward approach around the neighborhood, first traveling on the north side of the home and then south to 34th Avenue, west down the avenue to then going several blocks north on 15th Street where the perpetrator is believed to have entered a car. That spot is where the police K-9 unit lost the smell of blood.
Probst contested the idea that a woman such as Heather who had lived in and knew the neighborhood well would take such a weird way to leave the scene when all that would really be needed would be to go west directly to 15th Street and then in the car. He also said that anyone with wet feet would try to hurry in the frigid, North Dakota night in early February. He used the same idea to show disbelief in the idea that Heather would stay in the garage for an hour before going upstairs.
Dillon said that among all the blood in the bedroom, there were personal effects including a ponytail tie band and a black stocking cap that could easily have been Heather's that should not have been there. Timothy had said that they were not in the room when he went to bed.
DNA present in the cap was a match for Heather.
While motive doesn't have to be proven, Dillon did cast Heather as a vengeful wife, angered by her husband having an affair in Guam with a subordinate's wife, and that she was out to get even for "ruining her perfect life." In response, Probst said that the tight-knit military community learning of such an affair would give motive for many people to seek vengeance or to get even with Timothy.