By Bob McGovern
A blockbuster trial involving sex, bondage, murder and a missing body will begin unfolding today, and a media scrum will envelop a small New Hampshire courthouse, as the case carries with it shades of the infamous Amanda Knox trial.
Seth Mazzaglia, 31, is charged with raping and murdering Elizabeth “Lizzi” Marriott — a 19-year-old University of New Hampshire student whose body has never been found. She was also a native of Westboro, Mass.
The case has eerie similarities to the Knox trial, in which Italian authorities originally held tight to the theory that Meredith Kercher — a young exchange student — was sexually abused and killed during a drug- and drink-fueled orgy. Knox, who was allegedly involved, was convicted, acquitted, and re-convicted of the heinous crime. She has appealed.
Today, national media — hungry for a scandal-page cover sheet — will arrive in Dover, N.H., looking for the next “Foxy Knoxy” case.
Court documents depict ?a seedy crime scene in which Mazzaglia allegedly strangled Marriott during a masochistic sexcapade with his then-girlfriend Kathryn McDonough.
“Mazzaglia … admitted that he had used a rope to strangle Elizabeth as part of a sex act,” said Dover police Sgt. Scott Pettingill, in an ?affidavit.
Marriott died soon after, and Mazzaglia dumped her body in the nearby Piscataqua River, according to Pettingill’s affidavit.
McDonough will be a key witness and, as part of a plea deal, will testify that Mazzaglia raped and killed Marriott. She will spend 11?2 to three years in prison, but while the strategy could sting Mazzaglia, it may not be a slam dunk, according to one expert.
“It could be that the defense uses her to introduce some reasonable doubt. What’s her motive? She got an incredibly good deal here,” said Sven Wilberg, a New Hampshire criminal defense attorney not involved in the case. “How can it be a knockout punch, unless it’s undeniable? If it’s just ‘he said, she said,’ it’s a credibility contest.”
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys will introduce evidence regarding the sexual relationship between McDonough and Mazzaglia, which reportedly involved bondage and occasionally inviting others to join the fray.
The lurid details will force both prosecutors and defense counsel to tread carefully.
“Frankly, it’s a concern for both sides. For the state, the issue is whether the jurors would judge the victim differently based on her perceived role in explicit sexual conduct,” said?James Rosenberg,?a criminal defense attorney who once worked for the state’s homicide unit but is not involved in the case. “For the defendant, any ?information regarding other bad acts could bring up the ?issue of prejudice. Perceived?sexual misconduct could prejudice the jury’s view of the defendant.” ...