FLOYD — Kyle Joseph Marchon’s trial for murder ended Monday before a jury was even selected.
What was scheduled to be a two-day inquiry into the death last year of Floyd County resident Suzanne B. Cabaniss — a determination of whether she shot herself or was killed by Marchon, her boyfriend — ended abruptly when Circuit Court Judge Marc Long said he would grant a prosecution motion to drop charges of murder and use of a firearm to commit a felony.
The charges can be reinstituted, Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Branscom said, after issues are resolved with a key piece of evidence, the state medical examiner’s report on Cabaniss’ death.
The sudden end to the murder trial came before jury selection began and with 34 witnesses, including some who traveled from out of state, gathered in the courthouse.
It came after defense attorney Jimmy Turk of Radford, who is representing Marchon along with Dave Rhodes of Christiansburg, said that he’d had second thoughts about agreed-on limits to the evidence that jurors would hear.
Marchon, a 34-year-old from Floyd County, was not freed from custody Monday. He still faces a Dec. 9 trial on charges of possessing methamphetamine and eight counts of possessing a gun while possessing meth, all stemming from the incident in which Cabaniss died.
Marchon’s murder case is unusual in that the medical examiner’s office concluded Cabaniss died by suicide.
That echoes what Marchon reported on the morning of Dec. 6, when he called emergency crews to his and Cabaniss’ home in the 600 block of Long Level Road. Officers and medics found Cabaniss face-up on a couch with a gunshot wound to her forehead. A .38-caliber pistol was nearby.
But Marchon gave conflicting accounts to police about where he was in the house when he said he heard a shot, and about guns he said he’d removed from the house to keep Cabaniss from hurting herself, Branscom said at earlier hearings.
Monday’s decision to drop the charges reversed the court’s position of last week, when Long said he was not inclined to delay a trial.
At a pretrial hearing last week, defense and prosecution agreed that jurors should not hear an element of the report prepared by Dr. Gayle Suzuki of the medical examiner’s office.
In the report, Suzuki wrote that Cabaniss had made a prior attempt to kill herself and attributed the information to police.
Branscom questioned that, saying that the county sheriff’s office did not issue its findings about Cabaniss until the month after Suzuki made her cause and manner of death determinations.
Branscom said last week that in the six months since Suzuki issued her report, he had asked repeatedly about the source of the earlier suicide information. Suzuki said she got it from a police report but could not provide a copy of that report or say specifically where she got it, Branscom said.
Last week, defense, prosecution and judge agreed that regardless of Suzuki’s source, the reference to an earlier suicide attempt was hearsay and should not be admitted as evidence. Long issued an order limiting how much jurors could hear about the report.
But on Monday, Turk asked Long to revisit the order.
“I had a couple days to think about things,” Turk said after Monday’s hearing.
Turk said that he still agreed that a portion of Suzuki’s written report should be redacted. But Turk said he wanted to be able to question the doctor about what she had heard about a suicide attempt — not for the truth of the matter, but to see what the doctor took into account in making a conclusion.
“I thought the jury should in fact know that she got that statement,” Turk said Monday.
This was a shift from last week’s pretrial hearing when Turk said defense attorneys “don’t need that language” from Suzuki’s report to clear Marchon.
Long said Monday that he already had ruled on what jurors could hear. Turk said that he objected to Long’s ruling.
The judge then said he would grant Branscom’s motion from last week to drop the murder and use of a firearms charge, canceling Monday and Tuesday’s trial.
After the hearing, Turk said he and Rhodes remain ready to prove Marchon’s innocence.
And there’s no mystery to how Suzuki learned about Cabaniss’ past, Turk said he believes. Marchon told sheriff’s deputies about it on the morning Cabaniss died, and an officer must have told Suzuki, Turk said.
Branscom said there is a larger issue. If there was an authoritative statement about a prior suicide attempt, it would be exculpatory evidence that a prosecutor is required to share with the defense, he said.
Without being able to better pin down the “police report” cited by Suzuki, he could not try the case, Branscom said.
“The main thing here is just to do it right,” Branscom said.