Gangloff, Eck and Jackson testify against Irenia Cotner in Claremont murder trial

CARLYLE – The plan to kill a pregnant 16-year-old in Claremont in August of 2005 was meant to free the defendants from a hex, according to testimony presented in court on Tuesday.

The testimony came in the first day of the first-degree murder trial of Irenia A. (Lamb) Cotner, 34, of Claremont, one of four people accused of killing a Richland County man home on military leave last year.

The Cotner trial was moved from Richland County due to pretrial publicity.

Cotner, Jenny Wolfe, 23, of Claremont, and Oscar Eck, 36, of Olney, are charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Joshua Bennett, 20, on Aug. 23, 2005. They are also charged with conspiracy to murder 16-year-old Lindsey Kasinger and with home invasion.

Misty D. Gangloff, 24, of Olney, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Gangloff did not admit to killing Bennett but did plead guilty to conspiring with the others to kill Kasinger.

Gangloff and Eck were among the state’s witnesses called Tuesday.

Eck’s testimony, which came last, was the most graphic. He said he had only known Cotner six to nine months when she convinced him to commit murder to remove the hex.

Eck said he had been “messing with witchcraft” for one year to 18 months and developed his interest in the occult from watching vampire and “Harry Potter” movies. He said he was interested in learning spells to make money and make people like him.

He said he first heard of the hex, attributed to Kasinger, when he went to Cotner’s home and they tried to perform a spell to cure Misty Gangloff’s depression, but the spell backfired.

Three days before the Aug. 23, 2005, slaying of Bennett, Eck said he participated in a séance with Cotner and David Lindner, a fourth suspect who died on Feb. 28, 2006, of gunshot wounds he received during the alleged home invasion that resulted in Bennett’s death. He said he was led to believe that his own family and friends would die if Kasinger and her baby lived.

Eck said Cotner interpreted the flickering of candles during the séance. She said Kasinger and the baby must die and anyone else in the house must be hurt, Eck testified.

He said that on Aug. 22, he met with Cotner and they discussed using a gun on Kasinger, then using a knife. Then, he said, they would have to go to a remote location and open a gate to hell so Kasinger’s and the baby’s souls would go to hell.

He said part of the spell included inscribing the intended victims’ names in candles, which was performed by Cotner. The candles were then lit and Cotner said the deed must be completed before the candles burned out.

Eck said he and Lindner entered the Claremont residence and were checking the inside when a dog barked and they were confronted by an older woman. Lindner confronted the woman in what Eck described as a closet.

Eck struggled with others who entered the room and used pepper spray on one of them. He said he was stabbed in the leg and then struck with a gun butt and thrown down a flight of stairs.

After leaving the home, he said he went to Cotner’s home and found her in the back yard. He told her what had happened.

He said he changed from his bloody pants and then went to Gangloff’s home in Olney. He said Cotner called Jenny Wolfe and they set up an alibi and then drove to East Fork Lake to perform a ritual, but there was a police officer there, so they went to Ste. Marie Road. Later they went to Lawrence County Memorial Hospital for treatment of the wound to his leg.

Eck said that friendship and his feelings for the others got him deeper and deeper into the plot.

Eck testified without benefit of a plea, unlike Gangloff, who is currently serving a seven-year sentence in Lincoln Correctional Center for conspiring to kill Kasinger.

Gangloff testified she had known Cotner three or four years and had met her through Jenny Wolfe. She said she had known Eck about five years and had never met Lindner or Kasinger.

She said she met with Cotner and Wolfe in Clarement numerous times between April and mid-June of 2005, always to talk about how to break the hex that had been put on them. She said the hex was a curse, that bad things would happen to them until it was broken and that Cotner said the hex could only be broken with Kasinger’s death. She said they talked about killing Kasinger to break the hex 12 to 15 times during that period.

When asked more about the hex, Gangloff said she believed it to be real because she got migraine headaches when she was with Cotner and Wolfe.

She said she was with Cotner when they went to a bridge outside Claremont with a gun and test-fired the weapon several times using a pillow and a milk carton to try to silence the gun.

Gangloff said Cotner came to her home with Eck about 4 to 4:30 a.m. the morning Bennett was killed and said eight or 10 times that everything had gone wrong. They cleaned Eck’s wounds and called Wolfe.

Under cross examination by Cotner’s attorney, Dorian LeSaine, Gangloff said she never reported the threat on Kasinger’s life to police until after the attempt had been made, despite the fact she had been trying to distance herself from the others since mid-June.

She denied being a student of witchcraft but admitted having books on the subject, in case she needed them for a research paper. She also admitted having a doll into which she pushed pins several times a week “to relieve pressure.”

She said she never believed anyone was serious about trying to hurt Kasinger.

Another key witness was Jackie Jackson, 23, who lived in the house on East Fair Street where Bennett was killed. Jackson was Kasinger’s boyfriend and was Cotner’s ex-boyfriend.

He testified that he was home that night with Kasinger, Jacqueline Bennett, his father’s girlfriend, and Joshua Bennett, her son. Josh Bennett, 20, has just completed boot camp and was scheduled to be deployed to Iraq.

Jackson said he was asleep downstairs about 3 a.m. when he was awakened by Kasinger going to the bathroom and heard a commotion upstairs.

He loaded a 12-gauge shotgun and went upstairs after hearing Josh Bennett calling for help. Upon reaching the upstairs, he found two men wearing black clothes, including hooded sweatshirts and ski masks, one of whom was on top of Josh Bennett and making stabbing motions.

Jackson said he hit one man with the gun butt and then went toward the other man, who grabbed the barrel of his gun, and at that point he discharged the weapon.

He said the other assailant then tried to stab him but stabbed himself in the leg instead. Jackson said he then threw that assailant down the stairs.

He then checked on Jacqueline and Josh Bennett, both of whom had been stabbed. He said the assailant he shot had removed his mask and he recognized him as someone he had seen at Cotner’s father’s home one day earlier.

In his opening statement to the jury, LeSaine said Wolfe and Cotner did not like Kasinger and that Wolfe had tried to set Kasinger’s home on fire in May 2005. He said Lindner and Eck met Cotner and Wolfe and then the two men broke into Kasinger’s home, during which an innocent person was killed.

He questioned the power of Cotner and Wolfe to persuade these men to do this and told the jury to watch for reasonable doubt in the state’s case. “Use your common sense based on the circumstances and keep an open mind,” LeSaine said.

Wolfe and Jacqueline Bennett were expected to testify today.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday October 27, 2006.
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