Two years ago, as Michele Mueller was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, Fauquier County sheriff's detective Christopher Allen told her she would not survive the beating to her head. He asked her whether Christopher Jones, her ex-boyfriend and father of her son, had done it.

"She made a ssss sound. Then, I asked her if Chris did this, could she squeeze the hand holding her hand," Allen said. She did, tightly gripping a paramedic's hand, the detective testified on the opening day last week of Jones's murder trial in Fauquier County Circuit Court.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kevin Casey said Jones, 26, a former sports editor and reporter for the Culpeper Star-Exponent, killed Mueller, 24, because he did not want to pay child support and wanted sole custody of their son, Jordan, now 5.

Mueller was found on the floor of her Remington townhouse by her mother Jan. 26, 2001. She died 10 days later of what the medical examiner called blunt-force head trauma.

Jones was charged with murder in June 2002, more than 15 months after the slaying. Investigators said they collected about 100 items, such as hair fibers, blood samples and fingerprints, linking Jones to the slaying.

Investigators have said they are not sure whether Mueller was beaten late Jan. 25 or early the next morning.

Defense attorneys said Jones watched a movie at a friend's home in Bealeton before going to sleep the night of Jan. 25 at his Morrisville home. The next morning, they said, his grandmother cooked him breakfast before he went to Lord Fairfax Community College in Warrenton, where he was pursuing a design degree.

When deputies arrived at the school library, Jones "was devastated, so devastated that he couldn't drive home and had to have his grandfather pick him up," said his attorney, Robin Gulick.

"You will come to the inescapable conclusion that he was wrongly accused," Gulick told the jury. "There is a killer on the loose."

Gulick said Jones had not seen Mueller for about five days before the incident. But Casey said in his opening statement that investigators found Jones's sperm in Mueller's apartment.

"Unfortunately, Jones left behind certain forensic evidence," Casey said. "And, lo and behold, [the sperm] is a match, which indicates that he could not have been there a week before, and it had to have been closer in time."

Defense attorneys tried to suppress the ambulance testimony by Allen and paramedic Justin Clayton, arguing that Mueller's responses to them were "not a definitive statement." But Judge Jeffrey Parker allowed jurors to hear their testimony, saying the "squeezing of the hand is compelling."

The day's most emotional testimony came from Mueller's mother, Judy, who described the frantic search for her daughter, who had not returned several of her telephone calls that morning.

"I knocked on the door, and there was no answer," Judy Mueller said. "I had the keys, so I opened the door, and I saw my daughter lying on the floor with red everywhere. I thought she had fallen in paint."