Victim’s mother, defendant’s wife testifies in murder trial

CRYSTAL FALLS — After a full day of jury selection Monday, the trial for a man accused of murdering his step-daughter and then turning the gun on himself commenced in Iron County Trial Court. ABC Ten’s Chelsea Birdsall has the details.

Alfred Saario, 66, was arrested in July 2016, days after he killed his step-daughter, Jamie Lee James, 29, before turning the gun on himself. And now a year later, Saario is on trial for James’ murder, claiming self-defense. Iron County Prosecutor Melissa Powell and defense attorney Henry McRoberts kicked-off the morning with opening statements. Leona “LeAnn” Saario, James’ mother and Alfred Saario’s wife, was one of the first witnesses to take the stand today. Leona started off by describing her daughter as an athlete who loved nature and kids.

“She pretty much was, what I felt, was the heart of my family,” said Leona. “She would be the one to teach her little brother the soft side of life.”

Her testimony then detailed a strained relationship between her daughter and husband of thirteen years, which only got worse as time went on. She went on to say Alfred often called her daughter inappropriate names and worked hard to avoid her, even during holiday gatherings.

“Did the defendant ever talk about killing Jamie or about Jamie dying in the past?” asked Powell.

“He said he’d wish she’d get run over by a truck. He told her in the past that he’d buy her a rope for Christmas if she’d hang herself,” said Leona. “He would just make stupid comments like that.”

“Was there ever any comment about him actually shooting her or killing her?” Powell questioned.

“He said he would, but it wouldn’t be worth it,” Leona answered.

On the night in question, Leona relayed both her and her husband had been drinking and walked home from the bar with James, who needed to use the phone to arrange a ride to a funeral the next day. When Alfred got home, he upset their young son by speaking ill of James, and Leona went to console him. She stepped outside to have a cigarette a little later, unaware her daughter was still in the home and her a gunshot. As she rushed in to see what the problem was, anther gunshot rang through the air, and she saw her daughter dead in one room and her husband writhing in pain in the other.

“Was there any discussion about why he did it?” Powell asked.

“No. I remember he said, well yeah, in his mind, she was a thief,” Leona replied. “He didn’t like her. He never did say why he did it; he never said he was sorry for what he did. In his mind, he thought he was within reason.”

Day three of the trial continues Wednesday, stay with us as we follow for the rest of the week.