LIVE BLOG: Simpkins now representing himself in murder trial

Corey Perrine/Staff 
 Shane Simpkins and his defense attorney, Steven Smith look on as the third witness is called by prosecutors Wednesday, March13, 2013 at the Lee County Justice Center in Fort Myers, Fla. Shane Simpkins is charged with second-degree murder in the 2011 murder of 64-year-old Estero resident Mary Ann Zarb. Today marked the second day of the trial.

Photo by COREY PERRINE, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff Shane Simpkins and his defense attorney, Steven Smith look on as the third witness is called by prosecutors Wednesday, March13, 2013 at the Lee County Justice Center in Fort Myers, Fla. Shane Simpkins is charged with second-degree murder in the 2011 murder of 64-year-old Estero resident Mary Ann Zarb. Today marked the second day of the trial.

Mary Ann Zarb$RETURN$$RETURN$

Mary Ann Zarb$RETURN$$RETURN$

Corey Perrine/Staff 
 Christopehr Neuberger  is escorted out of the courtroom. As part of a plea deal with the state, Neuberger testified against Simpkins after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a 10 years of jail and 10 years probation Wednesday, March13, 2013 at the Lee County Justice Center in Fort Myers, Fla. Shane Simpkins is charged with second-degree murder in the 2011 murder of 64-year-old Estero resident Mary Ann Zarb. Today marked the second day of the trial.

Photo by COREY PERRINE, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff Christopehr Neuberger is escorted out of the courtroom. As part of a plea deal with the state, Neuberger testified against Simpkins after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a 10 years of jail and 10 years probation Wednesday, March13, 2013 at the Lee County Justice Center in Fort Myers, Fla. Shane Simpkins is charged with second-degree murder in the 2011 murder of 64-year-old Estero resident Mary Ann Zarb. Today marked the second day of the trial.

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EARLIER:

FORT MYERS — He mumbled. He fidgeted. He spat out only a couple of short sentences at a time.

Christopher Neuberger was hardly the perfect star witness for prosecutors, but the 27-year-old felon provided the one and only firsthand account Wednesday of the homicide for which Shane Simpkins stands trial in Lee County this week.

Taking the stand as required under a plea agreement, Neuberger told jurors that Simpkins, 26, a Cape Coral laborer, killed Mary Ann Zarb in April 2011 while they remodeled the grandmother’s Estero home. Prosecutors have said Simpkins strangled Zarb, then cashed four of her checks totaling $25,600.

Neuberger testified he was in another room of Zarb’s condominium, installing an attic access point one Monday morning, when Simpkins came to him.

“I was in the back bedroom working and he came in and told me she was dead,” said Neuberger, of Fort Myers.

During 90 minutes of testimony on the trial’s second day, Neuberger described how he and Simpkins loaded Zarb’s body into the back of her white Ford Edge, drove to the Lee-Charlotte county line and dumped her body in palmetto bushes. Zarb’s body wasn’t found for another two weeks, when both Neuberger and Simpkins separately led detectives to her location.

Neuberger has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the case and will receive a 10-year prison sentence, followed by 10 years of probation, for his role. He said he was paid $6,000 by Simpkins to help dispose of the body but denied any violence toward Zarb.

Neuberger’s account, consistent throughout his testimony, proves critical as no witnesses saw the killing and physical evidence is somewhat sparse.

Neuberger’s time on the stand, however, was less than stellar. He slouched forward and swiveled in his chair. Specific details were sparse, often elicited only when a lawyer prodded. His criminal history was disclosed — six or seven felony convictions, he said — and jurors were told his testimony was part of a plea deal.

Neuberger also said he never asked Simpkins about the circumstances of Zarb’s death, testifying he accepted Simpkins’ response of “don’t worry about it.” That prompted Simpkins’ exasperated lawyer, Steven Smith, to ask, “You let it go at that?”

Simpkins has pinned the homicide on Neuberger, saying he killed her after getting caught trying to steal jewelry.

Deputy chief medical examiner Robert Pfalzgraf, who performed the autopsy on Zarb, testified Wednesday he found fractures to cartilage near Zarb’s neck consistent with strangulation.

“Based on everything I know about this case, they were likely due to trauma, and obviously strangulation is one reason to get” those fractures, Pfalzgraf said.

Zarb also had seven broken ribs on the left side of her body, which were “highly unlikely to be CPR-induced,” Pfalzgraf said. He couldn’t say whether the fractures were suffered before or after her death.

Prosecutors called seven other witnesses Wednesday, including Simpkins’ ex-girlfriend of five years, Tiffany Sipp. She testified she didn’t see Simpkins until the late afternoon on the day of the killing, but said she hand-counted $20,000 in cash he had in a briefcase later that day.

Prosecutors are expected to rest their case Thursday morning, with Simpkins’ defense possibly finishing by the end of the day. Simpkins is also charged with kidnapping, unarmed burglary and larceny between $20,000 and $100,000. The murder and kidnapping charges carry a possible life sentence.

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