Daniel Betournay knew what he was doing when he suffocated his younger sister and her best friend, a prosecutor said Monday. But perhaps no one will ever know why.
“The question everyone wanted to know when this trial started was ‘Why?’ We may never know why this incident happened,” Deputy Prosecutor Joe Golden said.
“One thing we do know is two girls are dead, two 14-year-old girls, who died violently for three to five minutes before being suffocated.”
Golden’s remarks came in closing arguments in the trial of Betournay, 15, in Walla Walla County Superior Court. The youth is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the Dec. 14, 1994, deaths of his sister, April, and her friend, Beth Garbe, both 14.
He has confessed to killing the girls, but his lawyers contend he suffered from diminished mental capacity and cannot be found guilty of murder.
The defense rested its case without calling Betournay as a witness. His attorney, William McCool, asked Judge Yancey Reser for permission to ask Betournay a single question - regarding Betournay’s putting a plastic bag over his own head - and to limit the prosecution’s cross-examination to that question. Reser refused.
Betournay’s biological mother, Brenda Kelley, testified for the defense. She said she gave birth to Betournay when she was 16 and drank alcohol “by the gallon” during her pregnancy. Betournay and his sister were placed in foster care when Betournay was 18 months old and later adopted by the Betournay family.
Kelley, of Tacoma, did not say why the children were removed from her care. After her testimony, she sat on a bench next to Judy Betournay, the boy’s adoptive mother, and sobbed.
In his closing statement, Golden said evidence showed Betournay intended to kill the girls. He pointed to Betournay’s description to police of how he “sealed” the bags over the girls’ heads.
“Mr. Betournay knew exactly what he was doing. In fact, he’d done it to himself (put a bag over his head during a suicide attempt), but he removed it when he realized, ‘Hey, I can’t breathe.”’
The defense had earlier suggested Betournay left the girls tied up, expecting his mother to rescue them before they died.
But, Golden said, Betournay must have known they were dead because later that night he called authorities and told them, “I believe you’re looking for me.”
“If he didn’t know these girls were dead, why’d he call dispatch?” Golden asked.
Golden also cited evidence of premeditation, a crucial point in obtaining a first-degree murder conviction.
“It’s a slow process. He had to chase them down, tie them up, place bags over their heads, tape them. He had opportunities to realize what he was doing and stop,” Golden said. “Mr. Betournay had time to reflect on what he was doing while his sister was screaming and begging and telling him she loved him.”
McCool, who spent more than an hour reviewing instructions to the jury, is to complete his closing statement today.