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Gruesome fare is expected to be key evidence at the trial of a former nurse charged with killing two gay men and then dismembering their bodies and leaving the pieces wrapped in double-knotted plastic bags along highways in the New Jersey counties of Ocean and Burlington. The trial is expected to begin with jury selection Tuesday. Richard W. Rogers, 55, is charged with two counts of murder, but prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty because the dismemberments were carried out after the victims were already dead. He was arrested in May 2001 after forensic scientists matched his fingerprints to those found on plastic bags containing two victims' body parts. Thomas R. Mulcahy, 58, of Sudbury, Mass., a computer equipment sales executive, disappeared in July 1992 after attending a business meeting in New York. His remains were found two days later in separate locations of Woodland and Stafford townships. In May 1993 the remains of Anthony E. Marrero, 44, a gay prostitute who disappeared in New York, were found in a bag along a road in Manchester Township. "The word bizarre doesn't even begin to describe the evidence in this case," said Ocean County executive assistant prosecutor William J. Heisler. Rogers's lawyer, David Ruhnke, says prosecutors have charged the wrong man. "Is Mr. Rogers the person who killed these two men?" he asked during pretrial hearings. "That's the only disputed issue in this case." But prosecutors say they have a wealth of evidence against Rogers, who was acquitted of manslaughter in Maine in the 1973 hammer beating of a man who lived in his building. In addition to fingerprints matching his that were found inside the bags containing parts of two victims, identical prints were found on a bag containing the remains of a third man, Peter S. Anderson, 54, of Philadelphia. And the murder and dismemberment of a fourth man, Michael Sakara, 55, of New York was so similar to what happened to the two bodies found in New Jersey that superior court judge James N. Citta ruled that jurors should be allowed to hear evidence about the deaths of Sakara and Anderson, even though Rogers is not charged in those cases. Prosecutors wanted the jury to hear about those killings to help establish Rogers's identity as the killer in the two New Jersey cases. The judge agreed that the evidence in all four slayings was so similar that it could amount to a "signature" of the same killer. "It is bizarre. It is unique. It's chilling," he said in his ruling. "I don't know if that's a legal term, but that's what it is." Ruhnke said the judge's ruling would make it harder to defend his client. "We're defending four murder cases instead of two," he told reporters afterward. In pretrial testimony, a New Jersey State Police lieutenant said Rogers told a man he met in New Hope, Pa., to be careful who he was with because police were looking for a serial killer. That comment came long after publicity had dissipated about the deaths of gay or bisexual men who disappeared from bars in Manhattan and were found dismembered. And five years later, when authorities searched Rogers's Staten Island condominium, they found videotapes of horror movies, including TheTexas Chainsaw Massacre, along with a Bible in which passages mentioning decapitation and dismemberment were highlighted. Also found were photos of shirtless men who had recently installed a fence on Rogers property. The men had wounds and blood drops drawn onto their bodies in red ink. Heisler argued that there were similarities among all the victims, including the manner in which they died and how their remains were disposed. Each was either gay or bisexual, was known to be a heavy drinker, and frequented gay bars in Manhattan that Rogers also patronized, prosecutors said. The big break in the case came on May 28, 2001, when Maine authorities, who had recently gone online with an automated fingerprint identification system, matched Rogers's prints to those on the bags that contained Mulcahy's and Marraro's dismembered remains. His fingerprints were on file in Maine because he had been tried in November 1973 for the slaying of Frederic A. Spencer, who lived in his apartment building in Orono.
After his arrest, Rogers told police he caught Spencer in his apartment and that Spencer came at him with a hammer. He said he managed to get the hammer away and beat Spencer until he died. Six months later Rogers was acquitted of manslaughter in Penobscot County superior court. Rogers was also tried--and acquitted--in a 1990 abduction and assault case in New York. In that case, the victim met Rogers in a gay bar and returned to Rogers's home, where he said he was drugged with spiked orange juice and stripped, then woke up bound at the wrists and legs. Jury selection in the case is expected to begin on Tuesday. The graphic nature of the evidence in the case could make it somewhat harder than usual to find jurors willing to serve, Heisler said. He estimated jury selection might take two or three days, a little longer than usual. (AP)