Prosecutors, on the other hand, say Rizer’s account is a “fish story,” and a “double defense,” and called rebuttal witnesses in the last hours of her re-trial to reinforce that.
In her second murder trial, which ended late Friday, Rizer has said her husband had, at times, been physically abusive, and was becoming increasingly so. A paddle, seen in crime scene photographs taken the day of Kenneth Rizer, Sr.’s death, has taken center stage in the defense proceedings, as a symbol of an abusive relationship.
Rizer said she fired the five shots that killed her husband in an attempt to distract him and protect herself from physical abuse. She said her husband had lunged out of the recliner in which his body was later found and a struggle had ensued. They were just beginning a lesson in how to use the 9-mm semi-automatic handgun which she said she did not want to learn.
Rizer said her husband’s last words to her were that he was going to get the paddle.
Dr. Karla Fisher, a psychologist and attorney, testified on Rizer’s behalf last week, saying that her evaluation of Rizer resulted in a diagnosis of both PTSD and battered woman’s syndrome. However, in his testimony as a rebuttal witness on behalf of the prosecution, Dr. Robert Stinson questioned Fisher’s testing procedures, noting that Fisher’s diagnosis is based on inadequate tests, at least one of which is available on the internet to anyone.
Stinson also emphasized to the jury that Fisher relied largely on self-reporting, meaning she based her diagnosis only on information the defendant provided about the relationship between herself and her husband, interview transcripts and crime scene photographs.
Prosecutors have also strongly questioned why Rizer’s story has become so much more detailed from the day of her husband’s death, all the way through this second trial. Rizer told two police investigators she and her husband had a good, loving relationship, never indicating she fired the shots in self-defense. Fisher told jurors last week that is to be expected.
“It is extremely unlikely she could piece together what happened ten or twelve hours afterwards,” Fisher said. “She had the ‘bones’ of the events, and remembered bits and pieces.”
Those “bits and pieces” are often linked together gradually until a larger memory is developed, Fisher said, in PTSD sufferers.
Rizer’s testimony in her first October trial was highly emotional. She was frequently in tears, rocking in her chair and hitting herself on the side of the head as she recounted the moments leading up to her husband’s death. Near the end of her testimony in her own behalf, Rizer was treated medically for her anxiety.
Rizer has been more lucid and composed in her second trial, and far less emotional. She said her sessions with Fisher, a “special person,” had helped her remember her physical abuse at the hand of her husband, and the struggle and shooting early on the afternoon of April 3, 2009. Her account of events leading up to the shooting have been chronologically consistent.
In his rebuttal testimony following that of Fisher and Rizer, Stinson said he is doubtful about Rizer’s apparent breakthrough. He said her new PTSD claim is a “double defense,” meaning if people don’t believe her first story, perhaps they will believe this one.
But Stinson has other doubts, too. He said Rizer’s lifestyle is contrary to that of most battered woman. Their abusers consistently limit the victims’ contact with family and friends, outside interests and work. Rizer, on the other hand, had regular contact with her family, operated a small internet sales business, and her own interests and hobbies, Stinson noted.
In fact, Paula Rizer was working on a decorating project while her husband slept in his chair just before their alleged final argument.
Kenneth Rizer did not act like an abusive husband the day he was shot, either, Prosecuting Attorney Colleen Williams has noted in trial. That day, he accompanied his wife to four stores in Pomeroy, and then helped her carry the groceries and a five-gallon paint bucket into the home, in spite of the fact he suffered back and knee pain and had been up since 3 a.m. that morning.
Fisher said Rizer suffered from PTSD prior to her husband’s death, but its symptoms manifested more strongly after. She said Rizer experienced “tiny little flashes of memory” and dreams of the traumatic events of abuse.
Fisher said Rizer’s reaction on April 3, 2009 was likely one of “fight or flight,” in which the brain shuts down temporarily and the body reacts to a potential danger. Rizer could not have planned the shooting, Fisher alleged, because PTSD cannot result from a planned event.
Paula Rizer said she had reached a point in her marriage where she hoped she and her husband could sell their Lebanon Township home and move out of Meigs County. So, why did Paula Rizer stay in an abusive relationship? Fisher said she feared her husband would locate her if she fled. She hoped things would get better. After all, the relationship had been happy, once, and only got bad slowly.
Stinson said he based his assessment on a two-hour interview, transcripts of the two police interviews with Rizer on the day her husband died, and reports from Fisher and another psychologist.
Stinson said Rizer shared much more information about the alleged abuse at her husband’s hand with Fisher than any of the others who interviewed her, and said her self-reporting should have been verified and tested for malingering, or lying about the facts to protect herself.
“The two isolated incidents she shared with me about her husband’s physical abuse are neither severe nor chronic,” Stinson said, and Fisher’s report diagnosing PTSD and battered-woman syndrome “go beyond the data to support it.”
Rizer’s jury will begin deliberating today.