The last time Byron Grossnickle saw his daughter, Joanne, alive was after lunch on Labor Day last year when she left the family home in Frederick County to return to her new apartment in Silver Spring, Grossnickle testified yesterday in Prince George's County Circuit Court.
Before she left, he said, his voice almost breaking, her mother, Virginia, took a picture of Joanne, 22, standing beside her prized possession, a tan 1984 Nissan car.
That snapshot was introduced yesterday in the opening day of testimony in the death penalty trial of Reuben Jackson, 40, of 3459 Minnesota Ave. SE. Jackson is charged with kidnaping and murdering Joanne Grossnickle, whose body, stabbed numerous times, was found last Sept. 9 wrapped in a pink blanket in a grassy area in Cottage City six days after her disappearance.
In opening arguments, Assistant State's Attorney Bond Rhue said testimony will show that Jackson drove Grossnickle's car during the period she was missing and that Jackson's neighbors saw him unload property from the car and take it into his home.
Byron Grossnickle later testified that on four successive days after his daughter's disappearance, he noticed that different items were missing from her apartment, although there was no sign of forced entry.
Later this week, Rhue said, he will show that Jackson's fingerprints were found on a note that the Grossnickles left in Joanne's apartment in the days before her body was found, begging her to contact them.
Defense attorney Patrice Lewis told the jury in her opening argument that the state does not have conclusive evidence to prove that Jackson murdered Grossnickle.
"Evidence will not show that anybody ever saw Joanne Nancy Grossnickle in the presence of Reuben Jackson," Lewis said. "They speculate and they surmise. But you are not here to speculate. You have not been brought together to play your best hunch."
Lewis said that Jackson sold items from a car, but not everything belonged to Grossnickle. "He was a mobile yard sale," she said.
Jackson, dressed in a navy blazer and gray slacks, listened intently as the prosecution presented eight mostly technical witnesses, including police officers and FBI agents. Many of the jurors took notes on small legal pads. About two dozen relatives and friends of the Grossnickles, described as a particularly close, church-oriented family, sat quietly in the audience.
Joanne Grossnickle graduated in May 1984 from Towson State College and began work in June as a legislative associate and office manager in the District of Columbia office of the Church of the Brethren. Her coworkers first became concerned about her when she did not show up for work on the Tuesday after Labor Day, her supervisor, Leland Wilson, testified.
FBI special agent William Eubanks told the jury that blood found on a knife in Jackson's apartment was "probably Type B blood," Grossnickle's blood type, but said he could not say with certainty that it was her blood. Jackson's blood is also Type B.