LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - In the third day of Patrick Elliott's murder trial, Elliott was one of four witnesses to take the stand. As News 18 has previously reported, Elliott is accused of killing his wife Donita Elliott in the early morning hours of August 8th, 2017.
Doctor Naveed Ahamd took the stand first. Donita had been suffering from symptoms like nausea, bloating and abdominal pain. Initial tests showed something was wrong with her liver. Dr. Ahamd had to determine if it was pancreatic cancer or cirrhosis of the liver, also known as fatty liver disease. On August 2nd, 2012, Dr. Ahamd told Donita that it was fatty liver disease, which he said was good news considering it could have been cancer. Dr. Ahamd said he had also ruled out any other more negative diseases such as Hepatitis A, B or C.
In previous testimony, Tippecanoe Sheriff's Deputies said Patrick and his stepdaughter said that Donita started getting angry after receiving bad news from the doctor's. The prosecution questioned this statement because it had appeared she had actually gotten good news. However, during Patrick's testimony, he said she was still angered by the "good" results.
Next on the stand was Dr. Aldo Buonanno, Donita's psychiatrist since 2010. He said Donita was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and Generalized Anxiety disorder. She was on several medications, including Lithium. Dr. Buonanno stressed the importance that people who are bipolar take their medication regularly.
Donita visited him in May of 2017. Dr. Buonanno said her bipolar was doing well and that she was have good interactions with her daughter and granddaughter. In July of 2017, he reported that she was more moody than before, but nothing majorly different. It was at this appointment that he prescribed Lithium.
On August 7th, Patrick had asked that deputies from the sheriff's office come and do a wellness check on Donita. The officers had been in contact with Dr. Buonanno throughout that encounter. He said he thought Donita should be taken to Sycamore Springs. However, officers can only take a person to a hospital against their will if they are actively suicidal, physically violent or if they can't take care of themselves physically (feed themselves, clothe themselves). The officers reported that Donita did not meet any of those thresholds that day.
Dr. Buonanno said he did not know Donita to have "major" breakdowns. He reported she was logical, oriented and in good judgement in July of 2017. He also said he had never seen her be suicidal or homicidal in the past two years. Dr. Buonanno received all his information about Donita's change in behavior from Patrick, and officers who had been informed only by Patrick. This was something the prosecution found suspicious, insinuating that it was one-sided.
Then, the defendant took the stand in his own murder trial. Something that one of the guards at the courthouse said he had only seen happen one other time in his time working there. Patrick said he and Donita married on July 7th, 1999 in Las Vegas. He remembered her as "the light of his life" and as someone who was "caring, generous, giving and kind to people." He said they were both active members in their church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lafayette, and that the church was a big influence for them both.
He said that Donita had been prescribed Latuda, a Bipolar Depression medication, and that she responded very well to it. However, the drug was expensive, and his health insurance wouldn't cover the cost. That's when Dr. Buonanno switched her back to Lithium, which Patrick said she did not respond as well to. Patrick remained adamant that her anger was stoked after receiving news about her liver problems. He also remained adamant that they were not having financial issues, even though they both were unemployed at the time and covering Donita's mental health medication and Patrick's pain medication can be expensive.
Patrick's defense attorney, Mike Troemel, asked Patrick to read several text message exchanges that occurred between August 2nd and August 7th. On the 3rd, Patrick texted Donita saying, "Sorry yesterday sucked...make sure to take your medication." She replied, "(expletive) off." After several other similar exchanges, Donita texted him saying, "I'm not going to any more appointments. I want a divorce. I'm taking my meds, it's you I can't stand anymore." She later texted him that she had taken her wedding rings off.
As News 18 previously reported, Donita had told the officers who came for the wellness check that Patrick had put her in chokehold a few days before. Early in the morning of August 5th, Patrick said he had been asleep on the couch when he tried to quietly get into bed with Donita. He said Donita instantly sat up and started yelling expletives at him. He said she started to fall, he caught her and helped her to the ground. He denied ever putting her in a chokehold. He went to talk to police about the incident right away because her accusations "scared him" and were "out of character" for Donita.
On Monday August 7th, Patrick moved $10,000 from their joint bank account into his own name. He claimed that in 2015, when they had informally separated, Donita had "drained the bank account." However, an email sent to his friend about the separation indicated that it was mutual. Donita had also signed off on the house and one of their trucks. Patrick had given her the money to do that. The prosecution was able to conclude that the money was mutually given, suggesting his previous claim about her draining the bank were untrue.
Donita had sent Patrick several texts on August 7th saying that she just wanted her half of the money and then she would leave. Patrick did not respond to these texts. The prosecution suggested that the money was a major reason why she was angry at Patrick, and not her liver diagnosis, which they characterized as good news. Several people, including the wellness check officers, his stepdaughter and a family friend had suggested that Patrick stay elsewhere the night of 7th, however he stayed at the home.
The prosecution also emphasized their difference in size at the time. Donita was about 5'2" and 180 pounds, according to Patrick. Patrick described himself as about 5'9" and 200 pounds. Patrick said he felt threatened by her based on her texts.
Patrick's original story was that Donita came home and immediately attacked him with a knife, so he shot her in self-defense. Once detectives got a hold of the audio recording of the incident from his phone, they brought him in for more questioning on August 14th with Detective Thad Miller from the Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office. It was in this interview that Patrick confessed to planting the knife. In his testimony on Wednesday, Patrick went back to his original claim. He said before the court, "I did not plant the knife."
He said Det. Miller pushed him to confess and that he wanted to punish himself for what he had done, so he agreed. The prosecution played part of the interview recording taken during the confession. The August 14th interview was the first time Patrick had heard the audio recording of the killing. Det. Miller asked him if he had planned this killing, Patrick replied no. Det. Miller said something to the effect of, "you are a man of God, so tell me the truth." Patrick remained adamant that he had told the truth thus far.
After playing the audio recording, Det. Miller said, "She didn't have a knife, you know it and I know it." Patrick agreed and said yes. "I heard it hit the ground, just tell me what happened," said Miller in the video. When Det. Miller asked Patrick why he did it, he replied, "To cover my (expletive). I knew I would be in deep (expletive)." The prosecution wondered why Patrick had given a reason why if he claimed he didn't plant the knife after all.
Det. Miller took the stand. He said that it's common interrogation technique to use a theme to relate to a subject. His theme was the "man of God" angle. It's also legal for police to lie about what they know in order to get a confession. Det. Miller wasn't technically breaking any laws by his above statements, but Patrick said he was influenced to give the answer that Det. Miller wanted. It was clear to Det. Miller that Donita did not enter the house, pull out a knife on Patrick and resulting in the gunshot, as Patrick had said it happened. The audio confirms that the two were arguing for several minutes before the situation escalated.
Closing arguments are expected to take place on Thursday, as well as a conclusion to this trial.