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In N.H. murder trial, star witness testified for 10 days

Kathryn McDonough went through a range of emotions in her lengthy ordeal on the witness stand.

Associated Press/pool

Kathryn McDonough went through a range of emotions in her lengthy ordeal on the witness stand.

DOVER, N.H. — She spoke timidly, head bowed.

She often hesitated before answering lawyers’ questions.

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This she did for 10 days.

For 10 days, the testimony of Kathryn McDonough dominated the quiet Dover courtroom. For 10 days, the prosecution’s key witness spoke of her relationship with the defendant, her former boyfriend. She told stories of alternate personas and tarot cards, of power dynamics and bondage sex. And she said, again and again, how 19-year-old Elizabeth “Lizzi” Marriott died: at the hands of 31-year-old Seth Mazzaglia.

McDonough spent two days being questioned by prosecutor Peter Hinckley and more than five days being cross-
examined by defense lawyer Joachim Barth. After another round of questions from both, she finally stepped down Monday.

“In a very general sense, it’s highly unusual for a witness to be on the stand for 10 full days,” said Gerard T. Leone Jr., a former state and federal prosecutor who is now a defense lawyer for the law firm Nixon Peabody.

Mazzaglia, of Dover, faces first-degree murder charges in the 2012 slaying of Marriott, a University of New Hampshire sophomore. McDonough, who has a plea deal, has testified that she saw Mazzaglia strangle Marriott and rape her lifeless body, which she helped him dump in a suitcase off Peirce Island. The body has not been recovered.

‘He wanted to get her to say that she was the manipulator, that she really caused the death of Lizzi. He couldn’t do it.’

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As the only witness to the killing, McDonough’s influence on the trial is considerable.

Trial spectators and people in Dover said she is an admitted liar, but she successfully stuck to her story on the stand.

“She was believable; she seemed consistent in her testimony,” said Barbara Burgess, 63, who has been following the case since it began last month. “She knows if she gets caught lying it would be worse for her.”

Burgess, of Rochester, said she believes McDonough’s assertion that Mazzaglia was the one in control. The prosecution has painted Mazzaglia as a controlling, abusive alpha male, in contrast with a submissive McDonough, who broke down sobbing on the stand.

The defense has suggested that McDonough is a manipulative liar who killed Marriott during bondage sex.

McDonough’s lengthy testimony might have led some to tune her out, said one trial spectator.

“I’ve been watching the jury,” said Marion Bartlett, a retired high school English teacher from Dover. “They were bored.”

McDonough, she said, “has taken over the entire courtroom,” using her experience in local theater to her advantage.

“The actress in her is really dictating how she answers these questions,” Bartlett said.

Kathryn McDonough was cross-examined by defense lawyer Joachim Barth for eight days in the trial of Seth Mazzaglia.

John Huff/Foster’s Daily Democrat via Associated Press

Kathryn McDonough was cross-examined by defense lawyer Joachim Barth for eight days in the trial of Seth Mazzaglia.

Bartlett said she believes that McDonough is also at fault for the killing, but that the defense lawyer struggled to get her to admit it. Barth asked questions in a sometimes derisive tone, feigning disbelief at McDonough’s answers.

“He wanted to get her to say that she was the manipulator, that she really caused the death of Lizzi,” Bartlett said. “He couldn’t do it. He was frustrated as hell.”

McDonough originally told defense investigators that she and Marriott were engaged in rough sex involving restraints when Marriott died. She told jurors in Dover that Mazzaglia killed Marriott after his advances were spurned. McDonough is serving a 1½-to-three-year sentence for conspiracy, hindering prosecution, and witness tampering.

The case has featured bizarre testimony, emotional witnesses, and graphic details.

Paul Carter, 62, has been attending the trial with his wife. The couple, who split time between Rochester and Florida, said they have been hooked on the action.

“I believe that [Mazzaglia] was able to control [McDonough]; I believe that she was abused,” Carter said. “You can see where she has conflicting stories because of that.”

The prosecution rested its case Thursday. The defense is expected to begin presenting its case Monday.

In downtown Dover, some people confessed to tuning out trial coverage.

“I feel bad that I actually haven’t been following it,” said Monia Mann, 40, who owns Kali Klass Boutique. “It happens, and you move on with your life, and you forget.”

But even those tuning out the lurid details note the case’s impact on the idyllic city.

“This area doesn’t usually get something so intense, so high drama, so unfortunate,” said Sean McKenney, 19,
an employee at Monkey Treasures, a children’s resale store. “It’s sad and disturbing and weird.”

Claire McNeill can be reached at claire.mcneill@globe.com or on Twitter @clairemcneill.
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