Strangling Kimberly Daily, a 16-year-old Special Olympian from South Hill, “felt like a dream, like it wasn’t happening,” the man on trial for killing her told a Pierce County sheriff’s detective three years ago.
“She, um, got up to go, and I killed her,” Tyler Savage told detective Mark Merod on Aug. 23, 2010, during a taped interview at the sheriff’s headquarters. “I just choked her from behind.”
Prosecutors played the confession for jurors Wednesday during the fourth day of Savage’s trial. He’s charged with aggravated first-degree murder in Daily’s death and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted as charged.
The prosecution alleges Savage, 21, raped and killed the girl, who had the mental functions of a fifth-grader.
Savage has pleaded not guilty. His defense attorney, Les Tolzin, argued during opening statements that Daily’s death was an accident, the tragic result of a consensual sexual experiment gone wrong.
The evidence prosecutors introduced Wednesday and Merod’s testimony were both chilling and damning.
Under questioning from Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, Merod told jurors how he coaxed a confession out of Savage that hot August day.
It had been nearly a week since Daily disappeared from her South Hill home. Savage was the last person seen with her and up to that point had been “cooperating” with them to find her.
The detective described sitting next to Savage at a picnic table where another detective had been questioning him.
Merod testified he scooted close to Savage and told him it was time to do the right thing.
“I told him I knew he killed her,” the detective testified. “I told him he needed to do what was right, that we needed to go find her.”
Merod described how Savage broke down crying and then led detectives to an overgrown lot where they found the girl’s naked body lying in a blackberry bramble with her bicycle on top of her.
Savage then confessed to killing the girl, Merod testified, so he and his colleagues placed him under arrest and drove him downtown for further questioning.
Detectives taped that interview, and it was replayed for jurors, who took notes furiously as the nearly 40-minute recording aired in Judge Linda Lee’s courtroom.
Merod and another detective begin by asking innocuous-sounding questions: How long had Savage known Daily? Did they ride the same bus to school? How did they communicate about meeting up that day? What did they do once they met?
Savage answered each question clearly and quickly: “Since ninth grade,” “Sometimes,” “Via Facebook,” “Hung out and talked.”
Merod asked Savage what happened to Daily.
There was a long pause, followed by what sounds like crying.
Merod broke the silence: “It’s all right, Tyler. It’s going to be all right.”
Finally, Savage answered.
“She, um, got up to go, and I killed her,” he said. “She died and I threw her in the sticker bushes.”
Savage said he then tied Daily’s underwear around her neck, “to make it look like something else” had happened to her, went home and played video games.
“I tried to forget it happened,” he told Merod.
Savage went on to tell the detective he did not have sexual intercourse with Daily but touched her vagina and breast after she died, again “to make it look like something else.”
“It was stupid,” he said.
Savage also told detectives he knew what he did was wrong but that he didn’t confess right away because, “I was afraid.”
He also couldn’t articulate why he did it.
“I don’t know,” Savage said. “It just happened.”
When the tape ended, Lindquist resumed questioning Merod. He asked the detective whether he’d heard Savage say, at any time, that Daily had asked to have sex that day.
Defense attorney Tolzin objected to the question, but Lee allowed it.
“No,” Merod said.
Tolzin then got to cross-examine the detective.
He began by pointing out small discrepancies between what Merod wrote in police reports and said during depositions and what he testified to Wednesday, at one point debating with the detective whether “sobbing” and “crying hysterically” were different things.
Tolzin then asked Merod whether he saw any scratches or other wounds on Savage’s face or arms in the days after Daily’s disappearance. The detective said he had not.
Tolzin finished by questioning Merod about a search-warrant application he wrote in the wake of Savage’s confession. The defense attorney asked why he included some facts in the application — which was filled out under oath — and not others.
“When you write your police reports and applications, you’re supposed to put in the whole truth, correct?” Tolzin asked.
“I put in the relevant information that I feel is important at the time,” Merod answered.
Testimony is expected to continue Thursday, with the state possibly resting its case.