SOUTH PARIS — After two-and-a-half hours of deliberating Tuesday, a jury of seven women and five men convicted a Peru man of murdering his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend in 2019.

Mark Penley Oxford County Jail photo

Mark Penley, 51, was charged with killing Heather Bickford, 31, of Canton and Dana Hill, 31, of Paris, in whose apartment the two were found fatally shot the night of Jan. 1, 2019.

Two hours into their deliberations, jurors asked to see slides of tread comparisons between Penley’s boots and those found at the scene.

More than a dozen friends and family members of the victims sat in the gallery, comforting each other, rubbing or patting each other’s backs, reaching reassuring arms over shoulders.

Bickford’s father John, watching from the gallery, wore a hoodie on the back of which was a background of brown wings and the inscription: “My daughter’s wings always protect me!”

Assistant Attorney General Megan Elam said after the verdict: “We’re very grateful that the jury understood the domestic abuse dynamic between Mark Penley and Heather Bickford (and) that when Heather tried to break away from him, from his controlling, from his abuse, and move on with a new man, Mark Penley’s rage ended up in murder.”

Tammy Guertin, Heather Bickford’s mother said after the verdict she felt “extreme relief.”

“I’m just so glad for my daughter that she got the only kind of justice that we can get,” she said.

“We can never bring her back, but we’ve at least got the justice through the legal system. And I’m super happy that he can never hurt anybody else.”

Despite what she believed was overwhelming evidence of Penley’s guilt, Guertin said she knew there was always the possibility of an acquittal.

“There’s always that possibility, you know. You always worry, ‘What if the jury just doesn’t see things? What if things just aren’t presented exactly right? What if the jury just doesn’t see it right?’ There’s always that concern. As we watched the trial unfold, it was like, I don’t see how they couldn’t see it this way. The evidence was so overwhelming and so damning. Right up until the last bit, you just don’t know how it’s gonna go.”

She had high praise for the prosecutors.

“They were just fantastic,” she said, “but Meg (Elam’s) closing argument was very riveting. She really personalized my daughter and Dana. And she showed the epitome of how bad that relationship was with Mark.”

The murders of Bickford and Hill were carried out by Penley, a jealous ex-boyfriend, prosecutors told jurors Tuesday morning during closing arguments.

The defense argued that the murderer could have been one of several potential suspects investigators had ignored during their investigation who killed the couple because investigators had concluded early on that Penley had committed the crimes.

Those were the two perspectives presented to jurors at the end of Penley’s more than two-week trial shortly before the judge handed the case over to them.

Elam summed up the state’s case Tuesday by reminding jurors of Penley own’s words, played back through courtroom speakers.

Expletive-laden threats, including: “And if you do date Dana, guess what, I will do everything in my power to f—ing make sure that boy f——ing dies. It’s that f—ing simple. I f—ing hate that piece of s— for what he did to us.”

Elam told the jury the case against Penley was “just that simple.”

A jealous ex-boyfriend whose girlfriend had a child with another man while she was living with Penley had finally made good on his threats, she said.

She told the jury to pay attention to the evidence presented at trial.

A photo of Heather Bickford of Canton, one of two victims fatally shot in her boyfriend’s apartment in Paris in 2019, is exhibited Tuesday at the murder trial of Mark Penley of Peru in Oxford County Superior Court. Christopher Williams/Sun Journal

That evidence included threats in the form of Facebook voice messages, such as Penley telling Bickford: “You’re gonna be with me or you’re gonna be with no one.”

It included the medical examiner’s report that showed Hill had been shot in the shoulder, hand and top of the head.

Bickford had been shot five times, including several times in the head and face, Elam said. That demonstrated the killer’s intent, she said.

Evidence against Penley also included Bickford’s plans to file a protection from abuse order against Penley shortly before her death. And she had asked a local police officer to keep an eye out for Penley’s vehicle because she was afraid of him.

Video surveillance outside Hill’s apartment in Market Square in Paris, the scene of the crime, showed a figure approaching the stairs to the apartment shortly before 6 p.m., then leaving half an hour later on the night the couple was killed.

“We know where Mark Penley was when that figure went into Dana’s apartment on January 1 because technology ratted him out,” Elam said.

A photo of Dana Hill, one of two people fatally shot in Hill’s apartment in Paris in 2019, is exhibited Tuesday at the murder trial of Mark Penley of Peru in Oxford County Superior Court. Christopher Williams/ Sun Journal

His phone’s Facebook GPS showed he had been at that location at the time of the video and again later that night when he called 911 to report he had discovered Hill and Bickford dead.

Elam said the footwear shown in the video and from footprint impressions in snow outside the apartment were the same style as a pair of boots belonging to Penley, one of which had Bickford’s blood on it.

Bullets and shell casings recovered from the gun found under Bickford’s hand at the crime scene added up to more than that gun would hold, suggesting the shooter must have reloaded with another clip, Elam said.

Penley’s bloody fingerprint was found on Bickford’s cellphone in the apartment; the blood belonged to Bickford, Elam said.

A search of Penley’s car, parked at the scene, contained a box of ammunition that matched the size, style and manufacturer of the ammo found in the apartment, Elam said.

A search of Penley’s home turned up an empty box for the same model and serial number .22-caliber Ruger found at the crime scene, Elam said.

The same ammunition found at the crime scene and in Penley’s car was also found in his home, Elam said.

And a magazine clip with Bickford’s blood on it was found in a kitchen cabinet at Penley’s home, she said.

Penley’s DNA was found on the magazine release lever on the gun recovered at the crime scene, Elam said.

“It’s just that simple,” she repeated Penley’s words again.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Wilson points to an exhibit Tuesday at the double murder trial of Mark Penley of Peru in Oxford County Superior Court in Paris.  Christopher Williams/Sun Journal

Jeffrey Wilson, one of Penley’s attorneys, focused on the failings in the state’s investigation, which he repeatedly called “shoddy.”

He said they “manipulated evidence” to try to fill the holes in their case.

And they failed to consider any number of other possible suspects — who had relationships with Hill and/or Bickford or sold them their drugs — having homed in on Penley from the start and jumped to conclusions, Wilson said.

The state “didn’t even come close” to proving Penley’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Wilson told the jury.

State police detectives “botched” the investigation by losing track of who went in and out of the crime scene, compromising its integrity, Wilson said.

Given the amount of blood found in the apartment, there must of been blood tracked outside, he said, but police found none.

“I would argue if any figures had done this (as seen in the surveillance footage) there would be blood,” Wilson said.

And investigators “missed things,” he said. They could have made molds of the footprints left in the snow outside the apartment, but didn’t.

They didn’t fingerprint the apartment’s windows or investigate other possible ways in and out of the apartment, he said.

No blood was found inside or outside of Penley’s car, Wilson said.

“This exonerates Mark,” Wilson said. “The state’s theory doesn’t hold.”

The blood matching Bickford found on Penley’s boot could have been deposited there while the two were living together, Wilson said.

He likened the state’s case to a brick wall constructed of pieces of evidence. There were many voids in that wall, he argued. “During your deliberations, you will see that brick wall can be pushed over.”

Assistant Attorney General Megan Elam makes a point while addressing jurors Tuesday at the double murder trial of Mark Penley of Peru in Oxford County Superior Court. Christopher Williams/Sun Journal

In her rebuttal argument, Elam characterized Wilson’s summation as misdirection. In the words of the would-be wizard in the movie “‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.’”

When police responded to Penley’s 911 call on the night of Jan. 1, 2019, they found Hill and Bickford lying face down on the floor of a bedroom in a pool of blood, Bickford’s arm and leg draped over the Hill’s motionless body.

Under Bickford’s right hand was a gun.

Their two daughters, one 8 years old and one 3 months old, were in the apartment at the time their parents were fatally shot.

Penley’s decadelong relationship with Bickford had ended months earlier.

Bickford and Hill had been romantically involved in high school before going their separate ways.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys said they would need six weeks to craft sentencing arguments. Penley would continue to be held without bail while awaiting sentencing, Justice Thomas Warren said.

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