After two-and-a-half days of jury selection, 12 jurors heard the opening statements of both the prosecution and the defense this afternoon at the Calaveras County Superior Court, as well as the first witness’ testimony in the case of Sean McGeough.
The 56-year-old defendant sat reclined in his chair during the proceedings, his arms folded across his chest. Held at the Calaveras County Jail under a $2 million bail amount, McGeough shaved off his full, white beard and wore a white button-down shirt and tie during the first day of his trial for the alleged 2016 murder of his 54-year-old sister, Stephanie McGeough.
During his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Brad Jones painted the defendant as a financially unstable man who harbored animosity toward his mother and sister, in part due to a retracted promise of money.
The prosecution alleged that the defendant strangled Stephanie McGeough while staying at her San Andreas apartment in September of 2016 and fled in her Chevrolet Tahoe SUV to Sparks, Nev., where he was arrested several months later.
McGeough’s badly decomposed body was found by a sheriff’s deputy under a pile of laundry and other household items at her ground-floor unit in Creekside Apartments on Sept. 21, 2016, after her landlord had expressed concern over the alleged victim’s missing car and a foul odor coming from the apartment, Jones said.
The body had a plastic bag over the head and a nylon strap wrapped three times around the neck, tied with a partial knot, Jones stated, and the time of death was determined to be approximately nine days prior to its discovery.
Jones said that surveillance footage of Sean McGeough using his sister’s debit card at an ATM and a widespread mess with open drawers left in her usually clean apartment would be shown as evidence that the defendant murdered his sister.
In his opening statement, Public Defender Richard Esquivel argued that the victim had a history of mental illness and had been suicidal “for a long time.” He alleged that the two siblings had been drinking and smoking marjiuana excessively during McGeough’s stay at his sister’s home, and that Stephanie McGeough intentionally strangled herself with the nylon strap before the defendant discovered her body and left the scene.
Sean McGeough’s ex-girlfriend Shelley Collins was the first witness called by the prosecution. Collins testified that she ended the two-year relationship and kicked McGeough out of her San Diego area home around June of 2016 because he had refused to get a job.
The following month, she received an “upbeat” call from him informing her that he was staying at his sister’s home in San Andreas, that she was letting him use her car, and that the two were “getting along really well,” she said.
Around Sept. 5, 2016, Collins recalled receiving a second phone call from McGeough in which he sounded agitated.
“He told me he was gonna kill himself and take his mom and his sister with him,” Collins stated.
After hanging up on him, Collins said she tried calling McGeough back multiple times but could not get through.
Collins testified that she had heard the defendant mention suicide one or two times prior, and that he had referred to his sister as “crazy” on the few occasions she was mentioned during their relationship.
She also stated that McGeough had asked her to call his mother, identify her address and retrieve his birth certificate after the two had separated.
Collins said the defendant did not appear to have a close relationship with his mother or his sister, and that he had once told her that his mother had promised to give him some money and a car, “but never did.”
During a cross-examination of the witness, Esquivel called into question Collins’ mental state, asking if she was on any medications. Collins replied that she was on roughly 10 different medications.
When asked if McGeough had ever been abusive or issued threats during their relationship, Collins replied that he had not.
The defendant faces a felony charge of first-degree murder. If found guilty, he may be sentenced to 15 or 25 years to life in prison.
The trial is projected to last up to eight days, with a closing arguments expected on Nov. 20.
11/18/19 Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Sean McGeough was additionally charged with grand theft auto. That charge was vacated in 2017.