Prosecution opens murder trial

McCONNELSVILLE – The stage was set and the many players laid out Tuesday in the first day of a murder trial for Malta resident Thomas Matthew “Matt” Pace, who is accused of stabbing and killing a man who got involved in Pace’s dispute with a former friend.

The prosecution called its first three witnesses in the case Tuesday and in its opening statement outlined a version of events: an escalating day of tension between Pace and Dustin Drone’s pal, Danny Jones, which concludes with Pace driving to Jones’ nearby home and fatally stabbing Drone when confronted.

“This case will revolve around what it means to purposely kill another,” Morgan County Prosecutor Mark Howdyshell told a panel of jurors in his opening statement.

Columbus-based defense attorney, J. Tullis Rogers, opted to withhold the defense’s opening statement until just before the defense presents its witnesses and evidence. But Rogers said the case will ultimately hinge on the fact that Pace was acting in self-defense.

During opening statements, Howdyshell pointed to an ongoing tension between Jones and Pace as the start of the fighting that resulted in Drone’s death on Nov. 2. Pace, Jones and the two men’s wives had all been friends at one point, said Howdyshell.

“That friendship dissolved, at least in part. Danny Jones and Thomas Matthew Pace were no longer friends. In fact, they could probably more accurately be called enemies,” said Howdyshell.

Jones’ wife, Kathy Jones, was attending a birthday party at Pace’s nearby home, while Drone and Danny Jones were watching an Ohio State University football game at the Jones’ home. Upset that his wife was not home, Danny made several calls to Pace’s home and later sent Drone to the home under the pretense of bringing Kathy her dog, explained Howdyshell.

Kathy ultimately went home, but according to Howdyshell, Pace also came to the Jones residence that night and a verbal altercation between Danny Jones and Pace ensued.

How Drone became involved in the fight was not made clear Tuesday.

The prosecution’s first three witnesses – two Morgan County Sheriff’s deputies and a paramedic with the Malta & McConnelsville Fire Department – were the first three to arrive on scene after the stabbing. All three testified they found Drone, already without a pulse and covered with a blanket at the end of Jones’ driveway, at 9507 State Route 37, Malta.

“We tried to talk to him. He didn’t respond. Deputy (Derek) Bragg said he could not get a pulse,” Morgan County Sheriff Deputy Alex Mayle testified.

Mayle testified that Danny Jones reported hearing Drone say “Ouch. You cut me,” before seeing Pace drive away.

Ohio Assistant Attorney General Paul Scarsella, who also represented the prosecution, showed jurors several pictures of Drone’s dead body, which was covered in multiple bloody lacerations. According to a coroner’s report, the fatal laceration punctured Drone’s heart, “causing him to bleed out quickly,” said Howdyshell.

Blood, and where it was found, was given much attention during the testimony.

Several droplets of blood were found on Danny Jones’ driveway, but several feet away from where Drone was ultimately found dead in the grass, pointed out Rogers during his cross examination.

Rogers also asked several questions about a bloody Ohio State University shirt, found soaking in a sink in Danny Jones’ garage.

“You do know Danny has been washing blood off his shirt?” Rogers asked Mayle.

Mayle indicated he had found the bloody shirt and photographed it as well as a couple of knives soaking in a liquid next to the sink.

Morgan County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Bragg testified that he had noticed blood on Pace’s steering wheel and gear shift when he and a supervisor arrested Pace later that night.

Mayle also testified that Kathy Jones told of her husband firing multiple shots into the air after her return home that evening. Mayle only found one of the spent shell casings in his investigation, he said.

Last to testify was paramedic Josh DeWinter, who said that he and another paramedic stayed on scene with a different deputy while the responding deputies left. DeWinter said they stayed near the body until the arrival of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and could confirm the body was not tampered with in that time.

The trial continues today in Morgan County.