The awful truth is Kimberly Daily is dead. She was strangled with her underwear and left among the South Hill blackberry brambles three years ago.
Tyler Wolfgang Savage killed her. His lawyer admitted as much Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court.
The question facing a jury hearing evidence in Savage’s trial is whether Daily was the victim of premeditated murder or a tragic accident in which a sexual experiment went wrong.
Attorneys for both sides laid out the road maps they hope jurors will follow in the coming weeks in arriving at one of those choices.
Savage, 21, is charged with aggravated first-degree murder and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted as charged.
Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, who is helping to try the Savage case, told jurors it was murder, plain and simple.
Savage, then 18, lured the 16-year-old Daily into the woods near their homes, choked her unconscious, sexually assaulted her and then killed her by strangling her with her underwear, Lindquist said during his opening statement.
“It is very clear this was a rape and murder by the defendant,” the prosecutor said.
Daily was 16 but development disabilities gave her the mental capacity of a fifth-grader, Lindquist said.
That made her an easy target for Savage, he said.
“This is a case about a vulnerable victim,” Lindquist said, pointing out that Daily competed in Special Olympics and enjoyed riding her bicycle. “Kim liked the defendant. She liked him well enough that she willingly followed him to a secluded area in an abandoned lot where he sexually assaulted and murdered her.”
Lindquist said Savage eventually confessed to killing the girl “when she tried to leave” and led detectives to her body. The prosecutor then showed jurors a crime-scene photo of a naked Daily lying in the brush with her bicycle on top of her.
“After it was done, he went home to play video games,” Lindquist said.
Guilty as charged, the prosecutor said in conclusion.
Defense attorney Les Tolzin then gave his opening. He painted Daily as sexually curious and said it was she who made arrangements the day she died — Aug. 17, 2010 — to get together with Savage, who planned to stay home and play video games.
“She wanted boyfriends,” the attorney said. “She wanted boys that would kiss her and hold her and treat her like the woman she wanted to be. She had a crush on Tyler.”
At one point that day, the two wound up in the vacant lot, and Daily initiated sex, telling Savage what she wanted him to do, the defense lawyer continued. That included tying her underwear around her neck, he said.
Savage touched the girl but did not have intercourse with her, Tolzin said, adding his client was uncomfortable with what was happening. Forensic investigators did not find any of Savage’s DNA during a sexual-assault exam of Daily’s body, he added.
“It was consensual,” Tolzin said.
Savage panicked when the girl died, and he covered up her body and ran away, the defense attorney said.
“It was an accident, but he didn’t think anyone would believe him,” Tolzin said. “Tyler did not premeditate Kim’s death. He did not rape Kim.”
His client is not guilty, the defense attorney said.
Savage sat impassively during both opening statements. Gone was the long hair and wispy goatee and mustache he wore at the time of Daily’s death, replaced by a short haircut and clean-shaven face that makes him look almost bookish.
The trial could last a month or more and is expected to include testimony from Pierce County sheriff’s detective Denny Wood, whose credibility is sure to be attacked by the defense team. Wood is the subject of an ongoing Internal Affairs investigation after he admitted having an inappropriate relationship with the widow of a homicide victim in another case.
Savage, too, is expected to testify at some point.