The murder trial of Benjamin Cayea began Friday morning, with both sides presenting their opening statements at the Tompkins County Courthouse. The 33-year-old Cayea is accused of strangling his girlfriend Shannon Jones ’15 on Thanksgiving last year, and was indicted on charges of murder in the second degree in December.
After Judge Joseph Cassidy, the judge presiding over the trial, reminded the jury — comprised of eight men and four women — that opening statements are not testimony and should not be considered as evidence, Assistant District Attorney for Tompkins County Diane Lama opened for the prosecution.
“‘I lost my shit, and I killed my girlfriend.’ Those were the words of the defendant Benjamin Cayea on Nov. 27, 2014, just several hours after he strangled and suffocated 23-year-old Shannon Jones to death,” she said.
According to Lama, Jones died of asphyxiation.
“The evidence will show that when the defendant strangled and suffocated Shannon throughout that entire process, until her heart stopped beating, he had only one intent, and that intent was to cause her death,” Lama said.
However, defense attorney Matthew Van Houten said he believes “intent is the central issue in this case.”
“There is no question about how Shannon Jones died, there is no question that Ben Cayea caused her death,” Van Houten told the jury. “What is in dispute, and what we will present to you, is that Ben did not intentionally cause Shannon’s death.”
Van Houten urged the jury to overlook the assumptions and presumptions that had been presented.
“Prosecution wants you to believe this is a simple case, that it’s a black and white case, that there’s no grey areas. Well, that just isn’t true,” he said.
Van Houten noted that he plans to probe the complexities of the relationship between Jones and Cayea, suggesting that “maybe the human beings involved in this case are more complicated than most human beings.”
Though he assured the jury that this was not “for the purpose of trashing her [Shannon] or tarnishing her reputation,” noting that Cayea is strongly opposed to attacking Jones’ character. Van Houten maintained that “the truth is the truth,” and that these contextual details “are factors in what ultimately happened in the case.”