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February 8, 2013

Judge grants 30-day continuation in murder exam

Webster prelim to continue Feb. 28

By Sara Kandel
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Anthony Webster, 45, faces a second-degree murder charge, which carries a possible life sentence, in the Jan. 25 shooting death of his wife.
Attorney Randall Upshaw called the evidence against Webster circumstantial at the Feb. 7 preliminary exam.
The prosecution called Lazzana-Webster’s 17-year-old son, William Pearl, to testify in the preliminary exam.
 

Following hours of witness testimony at a Feb. 7 preliminary exam, Judge Carl Gerds of the 38th District Court in Eastpointe granted a 30-day continuance in the second-degree murder case against Anthony Webster.

Webster, who is charged with the January shooting death of his wife and business partner, Christina Lazzana-Webster, stood mute to the charges against him.

The continuance was requested by Bill Cataldo, chief of homicide for the Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney, to allow time to obtain additional evidence.

“There has been a significant amount of information presented at this time, but because we are only nine days into the investigation, we have been unable to retrieve back the reports from ballistics, as well as we have requested, via subpoena, the phone records of Mr. Webster,” Cataldo said.

“Those phone records will indicate if the phone was on and he was making phone calls at that time (and) what towers his phone was pinging off of.”

Webster’s attorney, Randall Upshaw, protested the continuance.

“They charged my client with murder, he voluntarily surrendered and now they are saying they didn’t have enough to charge him to go forward with. Then they shouldn’t have charged him at that point,” Upshaw said.

“They took his liberty. He’s in jail. … I oppose the continuance and what the prosecutor can and should do is, if they are not prepared, they can and should dismiss it without prejudice and issue a warrant when they are prepared.”

Upshaw based a large part of his argument against continuation on the lack of hard facts against Webster, mentioning that without a specific time of death, the phone records didn’t prove anything.

It was initially reported that Lazzana-Webster was killed Jan. 26, but testimony by Dr. Mary Pietrangelo, the deputy medical examiner of the Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office, placed her death the previous evening. However, due to environmental circumstances, a specific time is unknown.

Pietrangelo described the scene she encountered when she entered the second-floor bedroom in the Websters’ bungalow-style home on David Street.

“When I got to the bedroom, I saw the body of a female laying facedown on the floor in the area that was at the foot of the bed,” Pietrangelo testified. 

“I touched the body to get a sense of the body temperature. The body did not feel cold to me, it did not feel cool to me either — that sometimes helps the medical examiner to get an idea of how long the person has been deceased, except for, in that case, there was a space heater in that room not far from the decedent’s head, blowing warm air, so my observations, in that sense, were not helpful.”

Pietrangelo ruled the death a homicide caused by a single gunshot wound to the chest shot at a range of 18-24 inches, and although body temperature could not be used to determine the time of death, Pietrangelo did say that rigor mortis was “present and full” when she arrived on scene and examined the body.

According to Discovery Health, rigor mortis sets in between 12-18 hours after death. Responding to an anonymous tip, police officers discovered Lazzana-Webster’s body just after 1:30 p.m. Jan. 26, which places the time of death sometime the previous night.

Testimony by Lazzana-Webster’s son, William Pearl, lined up with that time frame. Pearl said his mom failed to pick him up from their store, Big Top Popcorn, between 7:30-8 p.m., as they had discussed earlier that evening, and she didn’t answer repeated calls from him around that same time.

“The first time I called, I assumed she was on a business call, but after getting no response, I kept calling and it became slightly unusual,” Pearl said, before going on to say that he ended up waiting at the store until 10 p.m., never hearing back from his mom, before walking to a friend’s house.

During the testimony, Pearl also stated that Anthony Webster was scheduled to work the 7-9 p.m. shift, but that he never showed up.

Statements from a third witness also indicated that Lazzana-Webster may have been killed, or somehow incapacitated, as early as 7 p.m. Jan. 25. Kim Reece described the phone conversation she had with her best friend around 6:30 p.m. Jan. 25.

“I was in Dearborn, driving, heading to a cellphone store,” Reece said, before giving an account of the conversation. “She said she had tried to call him several times and he wouldn’t answer her calls, and she kept trying to call him. She told me that he had left earlier, and he had been gone; someone had picked him up and he was gone.”

The conversation lasted until Reece arrived at her destination.

“I remember making a comment to her saying you really got to find somewhere to live, because this situation could get really ugly, and she said, ‘Yeah, I feel the same way,’ and that was the last time I talked to her,” Reece said. “I had to go into the store. I told her I’d call her right back. I said, ‘Stay by the phone, I’m going to call you right back. Just give me a few minutes because I am running into the store and I’ll call you right back.’”

Reece wasn’t in the store long, but when she tried to call Lazzana-Webster back approximately 15 minutes later, just after 7 p.m., there was no answer. She called again less than a minute later and then again a few minutes after that, and still no answer.

The preliminary exam will continue at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 28.

For a complete breakdown of the preliminary exam, see the Feb. 20 edition of the Eastsider or revisit www.candgnews.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sara Kandel at skandel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.