NPR logo Acting As Own Lawyer, Accused Killer Sets Off Memories For Witness

Acting As Own Lawyer, Accused Killer Sets Off Memories For Witness

An accused murderer representing himself in court was attempting to test the accuracy of a witness's memory when the tactic backfired. The witness, a part-time artist, said she recognized suspected killer Melvin Forte's face from the area of the crime scene.

Forte is on trial for the 1981 murder of Ines Sailer. He was accused of the crime in 2006, after investigators said that DNA evidence linked him to the case. Back then, San Jose police gave an overview of their case against him in a press release announcing a breakthrough in a cold case.

You can read more about how the case developed at The San Francisco Chronicle's site — including an interview with Sailer's sister.

Prosecutors in Santa Clara County are seeking the death penalty for Sailer's death. The Mercury News describes the case, now in court:

Ines Sailor's partially clad, shoeless body was found on New Year's Day in 1981 in the carport of an East San Jose apartment complex, the day after the 23-year-old woman disappeared from a party in San Francisco.

Suspected killer Melvin Forte, now 60, lived in San Francisco at the time, though he worked at Langendorf Bakery in San Jose a decade earlier and "knew the streets," prosecutor Brian Welch contended.

In his opening statement Monday morning, Forte, who is acting as his own lawyer, took pains to draw the jury's attention to the vague link between him and the city of San Jose, saying, "Working and homicide is two different things."

But then Monday afternoon, Forte began to question Barbara Kelch, who had discovered Sailer's body. Back then, Kelch was an assistant manager of the complex.

As Forte began quizzing her about the layout of the buildings, Kelch blurted out, "I remember seeing you," according to the Mercury News.

With the jury listening, Kelch described how she'd been suspicious of Forte, in part because he was much older than people she saw him with.

"I did not get a good feeling," Kelch said.