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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Testimony ends in Chiesa trial

Testimony ends in Chiesa trial

By MIKE MORRIS

Testimony about her slain dog brought Donna Chiesa's testimony to a crying halt yesterday, delaying her husband's double-murder trial briefly so she could calm herself.

Donna Chiesa's words brought her husband to tears, too, and gave the jury a closer look at the problems the Chiesas perceived with the Hannameyer and Truman families, with whom they share an easement road along Highway 12 in Wallace.

On June 25, 2002, Peter Chiesa, now 65, shot and killed Leslie Hannameyer and Annette Truman while Truman's then-11-year-old son, Ben, ran for help and heard bullets whiz past him.

Donna Chiesa told the court that when she talked to her husband later that day, he said "I screwed up. I killed them."

The women and their sons were clearing tree branches from the shared drive that morning, and Peter Chiesa saw them. He called the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department and told a dispatcher he was going to kill his neighbors. Armed with a handgun and a shotgun and with ammunition strapped to himself, he drove down to where the women were cleaning up.

By the time deputies arrived, the women were dead.

Yesterday marked the last day of testimony in the Calaveras County Superior Court trial. Jurors must decide what degree of homicide Peter Chiesa will be held accountable for. While admitting to the killings, Chiesa pleaded not guilty. He's charged with two counts of first-degree murder, but the jury's options include first- or second-degree murder or voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. The district attorney is not seeking the death penalty for a first-degree murder conviction.

Defense attorney Clyde Blackmon has called several witnesses — including Donna — to testify about Peter Chiesa's brain damage, which affects his anger and impulse control, and to talk about how his anger had increased since suffering a stroke in 1993. She said he would forget words and "became frustrated — angry with himself, angry with his brain."

Three years later, he underwent heart-bypass surgery, and she noticed his behavior change even more.

She told the court about Peter's rage at tripping over a chair, and his concerns about leaving the ranch because everyday tasks like grocery shopping were becoming too stressful.

At the time of the shootings, she said Peter was taking at least five medications, including Prozac, an antidepressant.

His wife's testimony yesterday also painted a picture of the 10-year-long dispute she and her husband had with the Trumans and Hannameyers.

She burst into tears and could barely speak while describing finding her dog dead in her driveway with a bullet hole in its head. She told defense attorney Clyde Blackmon she suspected her neighbors killed the "cow dog," a border collie-mix, in November 1998.

Three weeks later, Donna said, Bill Hannameyer, Leslie's husband, approached her and was laughing about the dog being killed.

"We couldn't understand why he would want to hurt her," she said, breathing heavily and speaking slowly.

"Why is this such an emotional subject?" Blackmon asked.

"We didn't have children. (The dog) was our little girl."

Shortly after, Donna could no longer speak — only cry.

Visiting El Dorado County Judge Thomas Smith excused the jurors and let Donna Chiesa leave the witness stand to regain her composure. In the court hallway, she used an inhaler, and about 15 minutes later, was back on the stand listing her complaints with the Truman and Hannameyer families.

She had written several letters to them, expressing concern about such issues as the Truman and Hannameyer children riding their all-terrain vehicles on the shared drive.

She said her issues with Ron Truman, Annette's husband, included him allegedly stealing the Chiesas' gravel to install a barbed-wire fence on their property. She said someone cut the tail off her horse and then poisoned it, and vandalized one of their barns.

She said a Truman family friend hit her with an SUV.

Donna said she and Peter suspected their neighbors were responsible for many of the problems, but couldn't prove it.

She said she and her husband didn't hate the families — just disliked them.

Donna told Deputy District Attorney Seth Matthews other trespassers had also caused problems, including a group of young men who once told Peter they were his "worst nightmare." And she once armed herself to scare away a trespasser, she said.

After the court's noon break, Donna recounted the day of the shooting.

She worked in San Jose as an accountant during the week and had called her husband twice that morning to wake him up.

The Chiesas had paid $5,750 for a company to trim eucalyptus trees lining the easement road, and planned to use the cut branches for firewood.

The Trumans and Hannameyers said the lopped branches blocked the drive and scratched their cars.

After the shootings, Chiesa locked himself in his home, resulting in a three-hour standoff with deputies, during which time he threatened suicide.

He spoke to his wife by phone during that time, and she convinced him to surrender.

In describing her life after the shootings, Donna said, "God, the women were gone. He was in jail. Our lives were over ... it was hell."

The trial's final witness, Bennett Blum, a psychiatrist from Arizona, in rebutting defense testimony about the extent of the defendant's brain damage, said Chiesa had control over his actions.

"It shows that he had created a plan in his mind and he announced his intention to the police," said Blum, who teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The doctor said Chiesa's actions showed "one controlled behavior after another, after another."

Blum — who visited the crime scene yesterday before testifying — said Chiesa approached Hannameyer, 43, and shot her once within close range. He also said that after shooting Truman in the arm, Chiesa fired again at the 41-year-old to make sure he killed her.

"It shows that he knows shooting people is wrong because he called the police," Blum said. "He was not forced to pick up the telephone. He was not forced to dial 911 ... He chose to get into his vehicle. He chose to drive to where the gate was."

Rather than having jurors deliberate over the weekend, the judge called for closing arguments and final jury instructions to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday.


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