Three inmates who befriended Daniel Whiting in the Erie County Corrections Facility and Holding Center told jurors in Whiting’s murder trial last week that the Lackawanna truck driver admitted killing his wife and told them how he was going to get away with it.
The murder of Ashley Whiting in the couple’s Lackawanna home last summer as their children slept initially unnerved residents because Daniel Whiting said an intruder was responsible for killing her and stabbing him.
But Whiting was later charged with fatally stabbing his 21-year-old wife. Investigators say after he killed her, he stuck the knife in his leg and inflicted other cuts on himself to bolster his story that an unidentified intruder bypassed the alarm system at their house on Madison Avenue, came upstairs and slashed the couple while they slept.
Whiting, 28, was hospitalized for 10 days after the attack but arrested when he was discharged July 11.
Inmate Brandon Moore testified that the first time Whiting talked to him about the night Ashley was killed, Whiting said they had argued, he “blacked out” and when he regained consciousness, he was injured, and “there was blood everywhere.”
But Whiting later said what he might present as a defense, Moore said.
“He told me he wants his lawyers to make the jury believe his ex-wife set it (the murder) up,” Moore testified.
Whiting and his first wife were in Family Court last year regarding a child custody dispute. Whiting told detectives that his most recent appearance “went bad” and he and Ashley were fighting about it.
Two other children, Ashley’s 2ø-year-old son and the couple’s 2-month-old daughter, lived with the couple and were sleeping in a crib and bassinet next to their parents’ bed when their mother was stabbed.
While Moore and two other inmates testified against Whiting, defense attorney Andrew LoTempio challenged the credibility of the “jailhouse snitches” and implied they were trying to get better deals for themselves.
“Consider the source,” he told jurors. “Who am I talking about? Jailhouse informants, snitches, criminals.”
Lotempio also went after the investigators, accusing them of not being thorough once they settled on Whiting as their only suspect.
“You just assumed because he was the target that everything he said was a lie,” LoTempio said.
And he also suggested that when Whiting was being interviewed in the hospital, investigators deliberately concealed the information that Ashley Whiting had died, hoping to prompt a confession.
“If she was still alive, she could have said who stabbed her,” LoTempio said. “He asked five times how Ashley was ....”
Ashley Whiting did not live long after she was stabbed. However, police said her eyes were moving when they arrived but she couldn’t tell them anything. The knife had severed her vocal cords.
When inmate John Mrozek testified, he described how Whiting went into detail about the killing and indicated to him that Ashley Whiting’s slaying was planned and not the result of an argument that escalated.
According to Mrozek, Whiting said he left the side door of the house slightly open that night so it wouldn’t look like it was forced and would explain why the alarm system didn’t go off. He said Whiting also wanted police to think someone could have entered a window through a vent for a portable air conditioner – something Whiting is heard asking about later in a taped interview with a detective.
“He ended up stabbing her multiple times,” Mrozek said he was told. “He said he stabbed himself in the side of his left leg to make it look like he couldn’t do it himself, since he’s a rightie. He got his own blood on the bed. He said then he called his wife’s cousin to come get the kids and then called 911.”
Mrozek also accurately described the murder weapon, a chef’s knife with the handle covered in plastic wrap.
“He said that wouldn’t match what was in the house, so they couldn’t match it to him,” Mrozek said.
Investigators said the tears on the plastic wrap did not match what was in the Whitings’ kitchen and that Whiting told them at one point it would be a “miracle” if his DNA showed up on the knife.
Mrozek also recalled Whiting’s demeanor when discussing the crime.
“When he was talking about it – he looks at you with this kind of goofy smirk, like he’s smarter than everybody else,” he said.
And, although Whiting told several inmates the marriage was rocky, Mrozek said Whiting told him he had a way to hide that, too.
“He said they were planning a vacation, so they couldn’t say she was unhappy,” he said.
During the interviews with detectives heard earlier in the trial, Whiting talked at length about a planned trip to Disney World, how a settlement from a truck fire would help cover their expenses and how they would drive there in Ashley’s new car.
Nevertheless, Lackawanna Police Detective Brian Lakso can be heard on the recording telling Whiting, “I can’t believe there’s a nut guy going around stabbing people. I’ve got to find out the reason for this.”
Ashley Whiting was stabbed a total of 30 times, and the man who did it was in the bedroom the entire time, according to the opening statement by Assistant District Attorney Colleen Curtin Gable.
Curtin Gable told the jury that an intruder would not have been able to flee from the house without leaving blood on the carpet or stairway. She said a child’s bouncy seat was at the top of the stairs when rescuers arrived and had to be moved for them to get to the bedroom. She said a neighbor heard loud sounds of a man and woman arguing and then silence before she heard police sirens coming to the house.
She also said Whiting claimed he told his wife to put pressure on her wounds while he called 911. Other than what Whiting tells the dispatcher, the only sound that can be heard on the recorded 911 call is 2-year-old Chase crying.
In his opening statement, LoTempio told the jurors to expect the testimony from Whiting’s fellow inmates and asked them to be skeptical.
And, although he said “there’s more to the story,” he also indicated his client may not take the stand.
“Daniel sits here an innocent man,” LoTempio said. “He doesn’t have to prove anything. He doesn’t have to say anything.”
Judge Kenneth E. Case told jurors to return Monday morning, and testimony is expected to be concluded Tuesday.