DEDHAM — Anna Doubenski kept a tissue in one hand Thursday, ready for tears, as she described arriving at a Needham housing development in May 2017 to check on her mother, who had missed an important social engagement.
Doubenski, testifying in Norfolk Superior Court, said she was very worried about 81-year-old Laura Shifrina. And the daughter’s concern intensified when she noticed her mother’s beloved 2011 red Ford Fiesta was missing, the lights were off in her apartment, and the door was unlocked.
“I called ‘Mom!’ and she did not answer,” Doubenski said. “And then I turned the lights on, and I found my mother down on the floor. Her throat was cut . . . and there was a pool of blood under her neck and head.”
Doubenski was the first prosecution witness in the trial of Tammie P. Galloway, who is charged with first-degree murder, robbery, and car theft in the murder of Shifrina, whose body was found by Doubenski on May 31, 2017.
Galloway, a next-door neighbor of Shifrina, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
After testifying, Doubenski sat quietly along with relatives and bowed her head as jurors were shown a crime scene photograph of her mother. Doubenski still held the tissue in her hand.
During his opening statement, Galloway’s defense attorney, Elliot R. Levine, told jurors that his client was a car thief and someone who had stolen thousands of dollars of cash from Shifrina’s apartment — but she was not a killer.
“We are not sugarcoating the case,’’ Levine said. “Tammie Galloway stole the car and she used bleach in that car [to wipe away forensic evidence] and she, during the day, entered and stole money from her apartment when [Shifrina] wasn’t home.”
He said Galloway was involved with drugs and had a circle of acquaintances who were also involved in drug abuse and drug dealing. Like her, they were always in need of money to buy crack cocaine and other drugs, he said.
He told the jury: “The big question you are going to have to ask is: Was she involved in this killing? Did she do this killing? After Tammie had already gotten what she wanted, did one of them decide to go back, find Shifrina alone, and brutally kill this very nice, wonderful, highly educated, Russian immigrant woman?”
Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Greg Connor said in his opening statement that Needham and State Police have pieced together a case that overwhelmingly points to Galloway as Shifrina’s killer. He said the evidence against Galloway includes surveillance videos, testimony from Galloway’s friends, and Shifrina’s blood-stained purse, found in a Dorchester apartment where Galloway was staying.
Connor said Shifrina went to a Wellesley supermarket on May 28 and returned to Needham around 4 p.m. that day. He said Galloway later told police she saw Shifrina return, making Galloway “one of the last people to see her alive.”
He said records show that Shifrina’s cellphone was used on May 28 at 5:13 p.m. and 5:22 p.m. to call Galloway’s boyfriend, and that the calls pinged off towers in the Blue Hills Reservation and Dorchester.
Connor said a red car is seen on surveillance video at 7 p.m. in Dorchester, where Galloway entered a home and enlisted the developmentally disabled son of a friend to clean the Fiesta with bleach.
Video shows Galloway parking the car in the 1800 block of Dorchester Avenue on May 29 and wiping the door handle of the driver’s side door. The developmentally disabled man was in the passenger seat, Connor said.
The car was ticketed by a Boston parking enforcement officer on May 30 and recovered by police two days later, on June 1, the prosecutor said.
Shifrina was a Jewish refugee who immigrated to the United States in 2000 with her daughter and her family and became an American citizen in 2005. Her daughter testified that her mother worked as a computer software engineer in Moscow for many years before immigrating.
Shifrina was an active member of the Massachusetts Club of Russian Speaking Scientists. It was her failure to attend one of the club’s weekly meetings that triggered Doubenski’s decision to go and check on her mother, Doubenski testified.
Galloway was living in the development due to a disability that officials have said they cannot disclose because of privacy restrictions.
Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Connors is presiding over the trial.