Lowery computer shows credit card search
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | September 19,2013
BRATTLEBORO — A Vermont State Police expert in computer forensics testified Wednesday that Nita Lowery’s computer was used to search for credit card information in the hours before her collapse into a hypoglycemic coma.
Lt. Brian Penders, testifying in the Jodi LaClaire second-degree murder trial, said that he was able to retrieve information from Lowery’s computer that showed several key events in the early morning hours of March 23, 2009, the day the 83-year-old Brattleboro woman collapsed. LaClaire, 39, of Bennington, N.H., is charged with murder, elder abuse and six counts of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
She died about a week later, the result of a severe brain injury from severely low blood sugar. Prosecutors claim that LaClaire injected Lowery with insulin.
Penders said that he received Nita Lowery’s computer from her grandson, John Lowery IV, in July, several months after her death. He said that the grandson, who had moved to Burlington after his grandmother died, at first didn’t want to hand over the computer to Vermont State Police investigators on July 17, saying he needed the computer for school work.
But John Lowery IV agreed to turn the computer over to the state police later that month.
Penders admitted under questioning from LaClaire’s lead defense attorney, Daniel Sedon, that it was unusual for the state police not to get a warrant and confiscate the computer then and there, because at the time the grandson and his then-girlfriend were also suspects in the theft of Nita Lowery’s gold jewelry in October 2008. The jewelry was estimated to be worth up to $30,000.
Penders said he had looked at the computer preliminarily at John Lowery’s apartment and decided “it was definitely worth another look.”
He said “it doesn’t happen very often” that police would allow a suspect to hold on to a computer that would be the source of evidence.
LaClaire’s attorneys have tried to shift attention to John Lowery IV and his former girlfriend, Lynn Corson, who died of alcoholism a year later.
Penders said that in 2009 he was examining the computer for evidence of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult. It was only later, Penders said, he learned that the case may have involved a homicide.
Penders said many of the files he was looking for had been deleted on Lowery’s computer, but that he was able to retrieve a lot of the information.
Penders said that the computer was used between 4:30 a.m., and 5:30 a.m., to visit the website of Lowery’s credit card company, USAA (United Services Automobile Association) of San Antonio, and also search the computer itself for various files. Some of the files he was able to recover from the computer were labeled usaa.com/JL4, a reference to her grandson.
He said he found the usaa.com/JL4 files in that section of the computer hard drive for deleted files.
Prosecutors claim that LaClaire used her patient’s computer to access Nita Lowery’s credit card information, and later establish a PIN number that would be used later that morning to make cash withdrawals from the credit card.
Penders said state police did not obtain a search warrant because Lowery had “consented” to eventually turn it over.
LaClaire was a licensed nursing assistant at Thompson House, a nursing home and assisted living facility in Brattleboro where Lowery had lived since 2002. LaClaire was the only nursing aide on duty on Lowery’s floor on the overnight shift of March 22, 2009, to March 23, 2009
Earlier in the day, officials from the USAA credit card company testified about the various cash advances that were obtained from Lowery’s credit card and the new PIN number. A total of a little more than $3,000 was received in six different transactions from March 23, 2009, to April 1, 2009, with one successful one in downtown Brattleboro and an attempted withdrawal at a Canal Street location. The others were in Keene, N.H.
Nita Lowery had never used her card for cash advances before and had never had a PIN number before, testified USAA fraud investigator Eric Garcia.
At the start of the eighth day of the trial — the sixth of testimony — one of the 16 jurors selected to hear the case was dismissed. A co-worker of the man had emailed him, questioning his suitability for serving on the jury, and said she was going to contact the Vermont attorney general’s office about her concerns.
It was not clear what her concerns were, but she had been a potential witness at one time in the case but was not going to be called. Neither Sedon nor Assistant Attorney General Matthew Levine would comment on the issue.
The juror had told Judge David Suntag Tuesday afternoon he had received the email but only after being questioned about it, and did not volunteer the information, which set off red flags for the attorneys in the case. Suntag routinely asks the jurors if they have been contacted about the case.
The jury is now made up of 10 women and five men. The trial, which is expected to last through next week, resumes this morning.