John Marshall Branion Trial: 1968
According to prosecutor Patrick Tuite, the story that Branion had told police was correct in every respect save one: chronology. Yes, Tuite said, Branion had gone to pick up his son, then on to Maxine Brown's, but first he had sneaked home and shot his wife, before hastening to establish an alibi. This theory was borne out by Joyce Kelly, a teacher at the nursery school. She testified that Branion had entered the school between 11:45 A.M. and 11:50 A.M., some 10 minutes later than he had claimed. Furthermore, she said that Branion's young son was waiting inside the school, again contradicting the defendant's story.
Detective Michael Boyle described for the court a series of tests that he and another officer had performed, driving the route allegedly taken by Branion. They had covered the 2.8-mile journey in a minimum of six minutes and a maximum of 12 minutes. Time enough, said the prosecution, for Branion to have committed the murder and then gone to pick up his son. Oddly enough, this assertion was never seriously challenged by the defense.
A ballistics expert, Officer Burt Nielsen, stated that the bullets which had killed Donna Branion could only have been fired from a Walther PPK. 38-caliber automatic pistol, a very rare make. The prosecution pointed out that Branion, an avid gun collector, had at first denied ever having owned a Walther, until it was shown that he had received just such a gun in February 1967 as a belated birthday present. This had prompted Branion to change his original statement in which he claimed that nothing was stolen from his apartment; now he said that the Walther must have been taken by the intruders who killed his wife. The murder weapon was never found.
Much was made of Branion's peculiar indifference toward the discovery of his wife's body. He admitted not bothering to examine it because he could tell from the lividity that she was dead. (Lividity is the tendency of blood to sink to the lowest extremities in a corpse.) But Dr. Helen Payne testified that when she examined the body at 12:20 P.M. lividity was not present. Branion again altered his story, saying that he had really meant 'cyanosis,' a blue discoloration of the skin caused by dc-oxygenated blood.