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Frazee Trial: "No body" murder trials carry high conviction rates

Patrick Frazee looks on in court
Posted at 3:20 PM, Oct 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-01 13:30:12-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Nearly a year after police believe a Florissant man killed his fiancé, police still have not found her remains.

Woodland Park Police have not found Kelsey Berreth's remains. Berreth, 29, is presumed dead, after prosecutors said Patrick Frazee, 33, her fiancé, beat her to death on Thanksgiving 2018.

Frazee is set to stand trial as soon as Friday, and the absence of Berreth's body looks to be a disadvantage for the prosecution.

Patrick Frazee enters court.jpg

Tad DiBiase worked as an assistant U.S. attorney for more than a decade in Washington D.C. He said having evidence of the victim's body is a pivotal piece to solving a murder and charging the suspect responsible.

"The body is really the best piece of evidence in a murder case. When you have the body, you typically will know how the murder happened," DiBiase said.

However, statistics show it's not as much of a problem for prosecutors as one might think.

DiBiase's research shows so-called "no body" murders carry a conviction rate of 88 percent. That's compared to just 70 percent for murders where the victim's body or remains are included in the evidence, according to the Department of Justice.

When working as a federal prosecutor, DiBiase took on a "no body" case. He realized there wasn't a central hub with information available with information on "no body" murders, deciding to compile one himself.

Kelsey Berreth
Kelsey Berreth was last seen in Woodland Park on Nov. 22nd.

DiBiase said the high rate, though initially surprising, is partially explained by the prosecutors' case selection.

"When a 'no body' case goes to trial, a prosecutor is only going to take the strong cases to trial, because there's such an obvious defense if you don't have the body," DiBiase said.

The obvious defense would be questioning whether Berreth is actually dead, so DiBiase said prosecutors will then rely heavily on circumstantial evidence. For example, he expects the testimony of Krystal Kenney, Frazee's girlfriend, to be important in court, as prosecutors said Kenney provided details on how the murder happened.

The defense, though, is expected to attack her credibility, saying she has reason to lie about her role and/or what happened as a means of protecting herself.

Krystal Kenney pleads guilty to tampering charge, will testify against Frazee

That's why the cell phone data used as evidence will be key, just as Mark Pfoff, a former El Paso County detective, told News 5 days before Frazee's arrest.

"Back in the 60s, finger prints were huge in helping to solve a case. In the 80s and 90s, DNA," Pfoff said on Dec. 18. "In the 21st century, cell phones and technology are the new DNA."

Cell phone evidence showed Berreth and Frazee's phones traveling together in the immediate days following the crime, though Frazee said he last saw her on Nov. 22. Court documents show police believe Frazee devised a plan, with fake text messages and calls, as part of a deception tactic to throw off law enforcement.

Ultimately, it will be up to the jury to decide if that's enough to charge Frazee with murder beyond reasonable doubt.

RELATED COVERAGE:

Kenney primed for key witness role in Frazee murder trial

Berreths seek justice; Frazee supporters optimistic ahead of trial

How Berreth's disappearance evolved into a murder trial

Breaking down the case against Patrick Frazee for the murder of Kelsey Berreth