Murder trial continues

Published 12:52 am Wednesday, March 15, 2006

By By NORMA LERNER / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS - In the fourth day of testimony in the cold case murder trial of a 34-year-old former Niles man, defendant Michael Dunnuck told friends that he shot someone in 1990. He later talked to an Illinois minister and wondered if he could be forgiven.
Scott Payne, 47, who was minister of the Oswego, Ill., Christian Church in 1991, got a call from a church deacon whom he knew well. The deacon was Mark McCusker, 35, who is an elementary school principal in Rantoul, Ill. He was a casual friend of Dunnuck's when they attended Niles High School together and graduated in 1989. Both went their separate ways to college, McCusker went to an Illinois college while Dunnuck went to Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.
Both McCusker and Payne testified Tuesday afternoon in Cass County Circuit Court before Judge Michael Dodge. They were called as witnesses by Prosecutor Victor Fitz.
Dunnuck is on trial for open murder and felony firearm charges in the death of 42-year-old William Whittaker who was found dead at the kitchen table of his camper trailer on March 7, 1990. His trailer was parked at the home of Major Thomas, now deceased, at 3136 Michigan-51 North in Pokagon Township. He had a bullet hole through his head.
Dunnuck was arrested in August by state police at his 16027 Murray Road residence in Byron, after state police re-opened the case. Police had received calls that Dunnuck had allegedly killed a man.
Dunnuck phoned his high school friend, Mark McCusker, in November of 1990. He remembers the call and particularly wrote it down in a journal where he kept daily notes. Dunnuck asked, “Do you think there are things you can do to be forgiven for?” Upon questioning, McCusker told Fitz Dunnuck sounded “serious.” He asked him to promise not to tell anyone. McCusker testified, “He told me he killed somebody.” He only remembered the last name was Whittaker. He said he felt bad and was remorseful. He told him about doing jobs and favors for Whittaker. He told of Whittaker making advances against his brother, a homosexual act. He said he hated him. He said Dunnuck told him he went back to Whittaker's house and shot him. He believed it was during the college spring break.
McCusker said Dunnuck told him he went back to the trailer and found the body. He said it was a cover to let people know he discovered the body.
McCusker asked Dunnuck if he could tell his pastor. After agreeing to tell Payne and praying about it, Payne advised Dunnuck to turn himself in to authorities.
Dunnuck said he would, but his father just got over a heart attack. But it was Payne who called police in 1991.
Also testifying was Jennifer Kelley who with her first husband, Allen Metzger, knew Dunnuck. Metzger and Dunnuck were best friends in eighth and ninth grades.
She said they moved to Grand Rapids. They kept in touch and socialized together with Dunnuck's wife at cookouts and watched movies together.
Kelly said when the subject of molestation came up in a movie or conversation, Dunnuck said his stepbrother was molested by Whittaker and that he tried to molest him too. He told them he shot Whittaker.
She said he acted proud that he took care of the situation. She said he defended his brother and took care of the situation. She said he told the same story about finding Whittaker's body in the trailer. She said Dunnuck always had a bigger story to tell.
Kelley said her husband contacted police after reading a story in the newspaper in 2005.
Metzger also testified and told a similar story. He said Dunnuck told him he confronted the gentleman and he died.
Also testifying were Fabian Suarez, detective sergeant with the Niles State Police; Gary Truszkowski and Christine Gregory, both forensic scientists with Michigan State Police; Gregory Stevens of the Michigan State Police crime laboratory expert in fingerprints.
The trial is expected to continue through this week.