BRIDGETON — Tara O’Shea-Watson’s body was found less than a week before Christmas 2016 with stab wounds all over her throat, chest and stomach, investigators testified Thursday.

Her body was covered in a blanket decorated with the two princesses from Disney’s “Frozen” on one side and flowers on the other near two Christmas trees, witnesses for the state said during the first day of the trial of O’Shea-Watson’s alleged killer, Jeremiah Monell.

“Tara wasn’t just dead,” Assistant Prosecutor Charles Wettstein told the jury during his opening statement. “She had been brutally and mercilessly murdered.”

Monell, 33, of Cedarville, is charged in the Dec. 19, 2016, murder of O’Shea-Watson, 35, in her home in the Laurel Lake section of Commercial Township. Prosecutors allege Monell stabbed O’Shea-Watson to death in front of the estranged couple’s 12-year-old son before evading police for two weeks.

Monell, who also is charged with weapons offenses, stared forward, unflinching and stoic during opening statements and witness testimony. His clean-shaven face was pale against his white dress shirt and black suit jacket.

O’Shea-Watson’s family members, who were seated in the gallery, declined to comment as they left the courtroom at the end of the day.

JoEllyn Jones, one of Monell’s two attorneys, asked the jury to listen intently and analyze everything that’s said during the trial and to determine whether it makes sense, proclaiming her client’s innocence.

“You’re going to be left with more questions than answers,” she said. “All the pieces won’t neatly fit in a puzzle and give you the picture that the government just painted for you.”

State Police Sgt. John Dehart, Detective Sgt. Eric Crain and Detective Michael Hughes, who responded to the scene the day of the murder, were the first three witnesses called to the stand Thursday afternoon.

Dehart said that when he arrived, he saw a body covered by the blanket and the Christmas trees nearby. After surveying the scene, another trooper pulled back the blanket.

“I saw a white female that had a cut to her neck and multiple puncture wounds that appeared to be on her torso,” he said. “I also observed a small portion of blood underneath the body.”

Crain and Hughes described a similar scene.

During cross examination, Monell’s other attorney, Nathan Perry, asked Crain about Monell’s condition after he was arrested Jan. 2, 2017. Crain said Monell was handcuffed to the bench in the station “with his head hanging low and remaining silent.”

During Hughes’ testimony, Wettstein pulled out a sealed evidence bag that contained the blood-stained blanket. Hughes opened the bag and held it up for the jury to see.

Before the jury was brought into the courtroom for opening statements, the defense argued Crain’s expert testimony on fingerprint identification and analysis should not be included in the trial.

Crain testified he collected prints from a bloody knife from O’Shea-Watson’s home, which he said was found with another bloody knife behind the kitchen stove.

He explained that an Automated Fingerprint Identification System lab found 40 points of comparison to Monell’s prints. Crain then made his own comparison before another detective verified his results.

Perry called the results “unreliable,” with eight other possible hits, even though Monell was the top ranked.

Superior Court Judge Cristen D’Arrigo decided Crain’s testimony was admissible, denying the defense’s motion.

While Crain was excused from the stand Thursday afternoon, he may be called back as an expert witness.

After the first day of trial, Monell was returned to the Cumberland County jail. His trial is slated to continue with more testimony from Hughes at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Contact: 609-272-7241 Mbilinski@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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