Before he died, James Marlow told the 911 operator, “I was attacked by a guy” and “I think he smashed me upside the head” with a baseball bat.
But the question for the jury in the Brandon Biagioni murder trial is going to be this: Whom are you going to believe, the voice of the disembodied, or the live testimony they heard Monday from the defendant who says he never intentionally hit anybody, that Marlow swung at him and then went sprawling when Biagioni grabbed the bat away?
Biagioni, 32, issued his denial from the witness stand in Sacramento Superior Court, where he is on trial for the bludgeoning death of Marlow. To further complicate the jury’s decision, Marlow, 62, had a diseased heart. It gave out on him when he was taken to the hospital in a head brace and on a stretcher with a concussion and a gashed left ear after his confrontation last June 6 with Biagioni in an Orangevale garage.
When jurors begin deliberations on Wednesday, they will once again have the opportunity to listen to Marlow’s 911 call, and they’ll be able to further sift through the story Biagioni told them Monday about a widow who gave him a place to stay but then couldn’t get rid of him. She wanted him out, Biagioni admitted, after he forged her name on $4,000 in checks for work she never wanted done in the first place.
The woman, Diane Beath, lived on Pershing Avenue in Orangevale, and she said she thought she’d gotten rid of Biagioni last year when she was going in for a surgical procedure. Beath asked her friend, Sandra Marlow, to feed her dog when she was in the hospital, according to testimony at trial. Sandra Marlow then became surprised and angry when she dropped by the house around 6 p.m. and found Biagioni working out on a punching bag in Beath’s garage.
Sandra Marlow told Biagioni to get out of the house or she would call 911 and report him for burglary. Biagioni testified that he refused to leave because he thought he had Beath’s permission to be there to get his belongings out of the residence. Besides the Sheriff’s Department, Sandra also called her husband, James, a retired locksmith and an Air Force veteran from the Vietnam era.
Biagioni said James Marlow showed up in the garage gripping a baseball bat.
“He was pissed,” Biagioni, under questioning from defense lawyer Pete Harned, told the jury. “He was yelling from the minute he hit the doorway – ‘You get the f--- out of here.’ I stood up, he was coming around the doorway, and I go, ‘Whoa, bro,’ … and when I stood up and stepped back, he swung the bat at me.”
Biagioni said he grabbed the bat and that the two of them struggled for it. Biagioni, who is 6-foot-2 and weighs 225 pounds, said he gained control from the 5-foot-9, 145-pound Marlow. In ripping it away, he said he “clipped” Marlow’s left ear and sent him sprawling into a corner of the garage strewn with the defendant’s own junk.
Marlow was able to get to his feet and walk outside the garage, where he made his 911 call, authorities said. Paramedics took Marlow to a hospital, where he went into cardiac arrest later that night. The cause of death was listed as blunt-force trauma to the head in conjunction with his pre-existing heart disease, according to Deputy District Attorney Thomas Asker’s trial brief.
Asker also said in the brief that when Sandra Marlow came to her husband’s assistance, “He told her defendant had attacked him; he said defendant had taken a baseball bat from him, knocked him to the ground, and hit him with the baseball bat.”
Biagioni, an unlicensed contractor, met Diane Beath about three years before the killing. He said he had worked an assortment of construction jobs for her and that they developed a closer relationship – “We became like mom and son,” he testified. He also began to stay at her house and took up residence in her garage, Biagioni said.
Beath asked him to leave, Biagioni said, after he forged her name on checks that he found in her house when she was away on vacation in 2012. He testified he was supposed to be working on the interior of her house, but that he used the $4,000 to buy materials to build a deck in her backyard.
“I wanted to surprise her,” Biagioni testified. “I thought she’d enjoy it.”
Instead, he said, she became enraged.
She was also upset over the mess he left in storing his belongings in the garage and in her backyard, Biagioni said.
He said he stayed at Beath’s house three or four nights the week of James Marlow’s death, including the night before, and that she woke him up at 7 a.m. and was surprised to find him sleeping in a hammock in her garage.
Biagioni said he left after Beath woke him up, but then doubled back to sneak into the garage and go back to sleep in the hammock.
“You weren’t supposed to be there without me being there,” she told him in a jailhouse conversation after the killing, in a tape the prosecutor played to the jury Monday. “Oh God,” she continued. “I had no idea you were in the house.”
Biagioni testified he had a methamphetamine problem and that he had snorted a line the day before the killing. He said he planned to enroll in a substance-abuse program the next day.