Stepdaughter testifies in day two of the Patrick Elliott murder trial

Ashley Yoakum said she had always had a good relationship with her mom, Donita Elliott. But things seemed to change when she began receiving angry texts.

Posted: Jul 16, 2019 8:03 PM
Updated: Jul 18, 2019 8:17 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Tuesday marked the second day of the Patrick Elliott murder trial. Elliott is accused of killing his wife, Donita Elliott, in August of 2017. On Tuesday, ten witnesses called by the defense testified. 

The last person to testify for the day was Ashley Yoakum, Donita's biological daughter and Patrick's stepdaughter. She said she had an ongoing relationship with her mom that was good. Donita usually watched Yoakum's daughter, who was six-years-old at the time of the killing, while Yoakum went to work. Currently, Yoakum lives in an apartment above a barn that sits on the property where Donita was shot. She said she had known Patrick since she was about two-years-old.

She confirmed that Donita struggled with mental health issues. She said her mom had a temper, but wouldn't normally take it out on her. But in August of 2017, she saw a change. 

Patrick said Donita got bad news from the doctor about the condition of her liver on August 2nd. Ashley started receiving angry texts from her mom on August 4th. Some of those texts from Donita said things along the lines of "I wish you and your daughter had never been born." Ashely said these texts were out of character for her mom. The defense is suggesting that these angry texts to Ashley were a result of being upset about the news from the doctor's. The state is suggesting that since the angry texts started two days after the doctor's appointment, there is another reason for the change in behavior. 

On August 7th, Patrick called for deputies from the Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office to come and do a wellness check, and to try to persuade Donita to go to a mental health facility. The 911 call Patrick made was played for the court. In the recording, he said Donita was having a "bipolar episode." He said he had been getting texts from her that were "something he didn't want to go home to." He said they had been getting into arguments more frequently in the recent days. 

Yoakum said that she and Patrick had been talking to each other about the changes they had seen in Donita. The state is suggesting that it was Donita's anger at "picking Patrick's side" that caused her to start attacking her daughter via text. Yoakum said she and her mom made up on Sunday, August 5th. She said she never felt threatened by her mom.

Going back to the 7th, then-officer-in-training Ryne Shoemaker and then-TCSO Deputy Jonathan Ringo responded to Patrick's call for a wellness check. When they arrived, they met Patrick in the driveway. Patrick told him that they had been arguing recently. Donita had been expressing that she wanted a divorce. He claimed that she hadn't been taking her medication properly, and she claimed that she was. 

Another point of contention between the couple was the fact that Patrick took $10,000 out of their joint bank account at noon on August 7th. He told officers that when they had split in 2015, Donita had taken drained that same account, and he wanted to make sure that didn't happen again. The defense said that he left about $5,000 in the account, but Donita was still angered by Patrick's action.

After Shoemaker and Ringo learned more from Patrick and Yoakum about the situation, they went inside without Patrick to see Donita. The state found it suspicious that the officers got the majority of their information about Donita and her condition from Patrick and essentially "picked Patrick's side."

Both said she was calmly watching TV when they entered, but she then became angered by their presence. Both said she yelled at them multiple times to "get the (expletive) out of my house." She became so angered by the officers being there, she called 911 three times claiming that the officers were "harassing" her. She was also angered by Patrick's presence in the home.

Ringo said he has Crisis Intervention Training, which means he has the skills to de-escalate a situation with someone who has a mental illness. The defense played all three 911 calls for the court. She said, "They won't leave me alone, they won't leave my house." She said repeatedly that she wanted the officers and Patrick out of the house. She said, "My husband is a (expletive expletive). He put me in a chokehold and I want to press charges."

Patrick wanted the officers to take her to a mental health facility. However, Ringo said there are three reasons why they would take someone involuntarily: if they are suicidal, if they are physically attacking another person and if they are physically unable to take care of themselves. Ringo said that Donita did not exhibit any of these actions; therefore they could only take her if she agreed. Both Shoemaker and Ringo confirmed Donita did not want to go to a mental health facility.

Donita did let Ringo do a pill count to double check if she was taking her pills correctly. He said he found 75 pills in a bottle when there should have been 60. That indicated to him that she had not been taking her pills correctly. He said in the middle of the pill count, Donita got angry again and attempted to stop the count. In response to questioning by the state, he could not confirm that maybe she had combined her pills into one bottle, which would make the numbers look skewed. 

Donita claimed that Patrick had put her in a chokehold in the days before the 7th. Patrick explained the situation to the officers as her tripping and falling to the ground as a side effect of her medication. Ringo and Shoemaker said they did not see any bruising around her neck, but she remained adamant that she was attacked by Patrick. In response to questioning by the state, Ringo said that not every instance of abuse results in visible wounds. When it appeared the officers didn't believe her, she told the 911 dispatchers that the officers were calling her a "liar" and that they "didn't believe her."

Both Shoemaker and Ringo attested that they had not directly called her a liar and they had not harassed her. The officers left about two hours after arriving at the home. Ringo suggested that Patrick and Donita separate for the night. Yoakum offered her apartment to Patrick. She slept at a friend's house and her daughter went to her father's house on the night of August 7th. Donita suggested that one of them sleep on the couch and the other in the bedroom. However, Patrick did not agree to either of these options, and it was Donita who angrily left the home, as described by the officers. 

As News 18 previously reported, Patrick audio recorded the fight that resulted in Donita's death. Ringo said he oftentimes suggests to someone afraid of an attack that they record any time a fight occurs for evidence. He could not recall if he had given that same advice to Patrick. Shoemaker said he told Patrick he has the right to defend himself if he feels threatened.

Donita Elliot was shot just before 12:53 a.m. on August 8th. Ringo and Shoemaker both went back out to the scene once the call came in. However, they played more of a monitoring-the-scene role instead of investigative. Four other Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Deputies testified in the morning, explaining to the jury what they found when they arrived on the scene.

Robert and Marlene Bibby also testified. The couple had known Patrick and Donita for about ten years from the church. Robert is a church elder for the Reformed Presbyterian Church. He said he had been made aware of the struggles Patrick and Donita faced over time. He confirmed that he learned about Donita's mental health issues from Patrick and not Donita. 

Marlene said she had gotten into an argument with Donita in 2012, where she received vulgar texts. But she said once they mended fences over that situation, they never had another similar situation. She said she never felt threatened by Donita. She said that Donita confided in her about the chokehold allegation via Facebook message. Donita told her that she was keeping a gun because she was afraid. Both the Bibby's said they always knew Donita to be calm and friendly at church.

Patrick's attorney Mike Troemel said that they will bring two of Donita's doctors to the stand on Wednesday. He said there is a possibility that Patrick will testify. He also believes that the trial will go until Thursday.

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