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Attorneys open Bassett murder trial, examine first witness

State: 'He quite literally loved her to death'

-Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Elijah Decious The state called Jeremy Waldo as their first witness in Zackery Bassett's first-degree murder trial. Waldo was a nurse practitioner who examined victim Andrea Sokolowski at Van Diest Medical Center in Webster City the night she died.

Both state and defense attorneys agreed on one thing Thursday: that the circumstances preceding Andrea Sokolowski’s death involved a certain form of intimacy.

“Ladies and gentleman, Zackery Bassett loved Andrea Sokolowski to death,” said Assistant Attorney General Keisha Cretsinger in her opening statement. “Those are his words, and that is what the evidence will show. … He quite literally loved her to death.”

The third day of Bassett’s first-degree murder trial Thursday began to reveal some of the finer details of what both sides assert happened in September 2018, when Sokolowski died at 639 ½ Second Street in Webster City.

The defense’s assertions depicted a different type of love, though.

“Andrea Sokolowski quit breathing while they were having rough, drunk sex,” said defense attorney Paul Rounds in his opening statement. “Rough, drunk sex was not new to Zack and Andrea’s relationship. But telling total strangers that was new to Zack, so that night, he did not tell that.”

-Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Elijah Decious Defense attorney Paul Rounds delivers the opening statement at Zackery Bassett's first-degree murder trial.

The theory held consistency with some items the state highlighted in their opening statement, including the state medical examiner’s report showing evidence of asphyxiation and inconsistent accounts from Bassett to investigators and medical personnel.

But while the state highlighted the relationship before the victim’s death as one riddled with domestic violence, Rounds said Sokolowski was the one manipulating the defendant.

“This was a relationship between a 50-year-old woman and a 32-year-old man,” Rounds said. “She wanted Zack as a meal ticket and she wanted Zack as a toy. The fact that he was that much younger made it that much easier to manipulate him.”

A no contact order in place between the couple when Sokolowski died also took to different lights, depending on who was speaking.

“There were times complete strangers took steps to protect her from Mr. Bassett,” said Cretsinger, before a nurse attending to Sokolowski the night of her death testified to the injuries on her body.

Bassett, now 34, was previously convicted of domestic assault against Sokolowski, an incident in which she was found with red grab marks on her arms, chest and back, and blood on her right elbow from a cut.

“There was a no contact order in place,” Rounds said. “But it didn’t stop her from following him from town to town to town.”

The defense’s theory also alleges faults with law enforcement, whom Rounds said pursued a confirmation bias that negatively impacted the collection of evidence.

The state’s first witness, the attending nurse practitioner at Van Diest Medical Center who attempted to revive Sokolowski the night in question, described her airway as “the most swollen airway I’ve personally ever seen,” and observed bruising on her abdomen.

That witness, Jeremy Waldo, has about 20 years of medical experience and has intubated at least 100 patients.

The airway was so swollen, Waldo said, that they were physically unable to intubate her. By then, he estimated no CPR had been performed on her body for at least 15 to 20 minutes.

A point of contention for the trial ahead, as previously foreshadowed by the attorneys, will be the cause of death. The report mentions signs of asphyxiation, but Rounds said the official record did not determine her death to be a homicide. He previously suggested that the medical examiner’s determinations were unduly influenced by conversations with law enforcement.

The jury selected Thursday afternoon, 12 women and six men, may anticipate hearing the defendant confess to law enforcement given opening statements and questions asked during voir dire about whether innocent people can confess to crimes.

Rounds tempered the jury to hear an interrogation with law enforcement he called “an interrogator’s dream,” saying Bassett went into it voluntarily after a long bender on drugs and alcohol.

The jury was specially instructed after opening statements with several items — instructions typically given to them right before deliberations. Instructions read by the judge instructed jurors, among other standard rules, to resist the urge to make judgments based on “gut feelings”, sympathies and other forms of implicit bias.

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