Nearly two years after an Estero grandmother’s body was found hidden in the woods near the Lee-Charlotte county line, a Cape Coral man charged in her death is expected to stand trial this week in her killing.
Jury selection is scheduled this morning in the second-degree murder case against Shane Simpkins, one of two men charged in the death of 64-year-old Mary Ann Zarb.
Investigators said Simpkins, who was doing home construction for Zarb, and a co-defendant, Christopher Neuberger, 27, of North Fort Myers, killed Zarb for her money, totaling about $25,000. Zarb was missing for two weeks before Neuberger led investigators to her body.
While medical investigators couldn’t pinpoint a cause of death, in large part due to decomposition of Zarb’s body, detectives have pieced together a homicide case against the two men. Independent of one another, both men led investigators to the spot where Zarb’s body was dumped. Zarb was also found with several broken ribs, but a medical examiner and University of Florida anthropologist couldn’t determine whether they contributed to her death.
The two men have blamed the other for the killing, offering different accounts of Zarb’s death.
Neuberger told investigators Simpkins forced Zarb to write several checks, then made her go to the bank to cash them. Simpkins then killed Zarb in her home, Neuberger said. The two men used Zarb’s car to transport and dump her body in southern Charlotte County off rural Huffmaster Road, located a few miles east of Interstate 75, Neuberger told investigators.
Neuberger has agreed to testify against Simpkins in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence, followed by 10 years of probation. He would plead guilty to second-degree murder.
Simpkins’ lawyer, Steven Smith, declined to comment about his client’s defense. Simpkins previously told investigators he cashed Zarb’s checks and helped bury the body. But he pinned the murder on Neuberger, saying Neuberger killed Zarb after getting caught stealing her jewelry.
Simpkins, however, was spotted on at least four different occasions — twice at Home Depot, twice at Wal-Mart stories — using Zarb’s credit card or with a large amount of cash after Zarb cashed the checks. He also knew Zarb better, helping her move into her Estero home in January 2011, and was one of four people arrested at Zarb’s home, where drugs were found.
While a Lee County judge scheduled jury selection for Tuesday, it’s possible the case could be delayed as prosecutors interview witnesses produced last week by Simpkins. They included Simpkins’ father, a few Lee County inmates and one man whose contact information wasn’t available.
Prosecutors said the trial would likely last all week, possibly spilling into next week. Simpkins faces life in prison if convicted. He’s also charged with kidnapping, unarmed burglary and larceny between $20,000 and $100,000. The kidnapping charge is a felony punishable by up to life in prison.
A plea agreement has been offered, but Neuberger hasn’t accepted, prosecutors said Monday. The specifics of the offer weren’t disclosed.