Judge Jane Tidball keeps a tight schedule in her Jefferson County courtroom, but because a couple of jurors showed up late on day two of Michael Tate’s murder trial, the start of testimony was delayed for more than twenty minutes. Once the jury was finally seated, the victim’s wife of nearly twenty years, Kris Fitzgerald, took her seat just five feet from Tate, a friend of her son, Michael, who is already serving 62 years for his role in the murder of his father.
Most of Kris Fitzgerald’s testimony focused on the various electronics that the two Michaels, both runaways, had stolen during two separate burglaries at her home. The first, on November 7, 2004, occurred while the rest of the Fitzgerald family was at church; the second was the following day, when Michael Fitzgerald’s father, Steven, was sleeping upstairs after having worked the night before.
The next two witnesses called by the prosecution testified about two break-ins at a vacant daycare center not far from the Fitzgerald family home, where the two Michaels had brought their stolen loot and set up camp. A realtor had called police early on November 8 to report a break-in at the center, only to return later that day and find a whole new batch of stolen electronics, along with Cheetos and cereal. The refrigerator had been plugged back in, and there was milk and generic soda inside. The realtor called police for the second time that day. They responded, and arrested Michael Fitzgerald as he walked by the center.
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The testimony then shifted back to the break-ins at the Fitzgerald family home and the subsequent murder of Steven Fitzgerald. A crime-scene specialist from Westminster described for the jury the gruesome pictures that she’d taken that day, and detailed the boys’ haphazard attempt at a cover-up. They’d placed the broken handle from one of the knives that they’d used in a garbage can and thrown bags of recyclable cans on top of it; they’d hidden the blood-stained dishwashing gloves in a vent down in the basement and ditched their dirty clothes in a closet upstairs. And they’d moved garbage cans in front of the body in an effort to conceal it.
By the time Jessica Fitzgerald got home from school and had a neighbor call the police, Steven Fitzgerald’s body lay cold on the garage floor – but Jessica didn’t see it. The jurors did, though, in pictures that showed blood splatters all over the walls and on the shovel that had been used to finish him off, which leaned against the wall.
The photos also showed that the freezer had been raided, and someone had eaten Dreyer’s cookie dough ice cream. The phone lines had been cut, as had the wire that led to the automatic garage-door opener. Steven Fitzgerald’s penny jar had been spilled on the floor.
While Michael Fitzgerald was arrested at the daycare center that evening, Michael Tate didn’t return until later that night. He snuck inside and slept in the attic. -- Luke Turf