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A trail of blood glows blue

Florida engineer on trial in wife's death

By Lisa Sweetingham
Court TV

FORT MYERS, Florida (Court TV) -- A month after Hattie Bergeler's body was found floating in the bay, detectives searched the home she shared with her husband, Donald Moringiello, and discovered a faint trail of blood, beginning in the sun room and ending near a back door that led to the dock.

Crime scene technician Harry Balke testified Tuesday that when he sprayed four tiny stains on the sun room's tile floor with Luminol -- a chemical that reveals trace blood evidence -- they glowed bright blue in a pattern indicating someone had tried to wipe them clean.

"If a child were to drop a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich on the floor, clean it up to best of ability and then a parent walks in and steps on a sticky spot, they'll know," Balke said. "It's the same with blood parts of it still exist beyond the point where it is visually blood."

Prosecutors say that Donald Moringiello, 64, shot his 57-year-old wife in the chest four times, tied her to cinder blocks and dumped her in the bay days before taking a trip to Connecticut to visit his family.

The same day of his flight, July 18, 2002, Bergeler's decomposing body was found floating near a dock just six houses from the couple's residence.

But the retired aeronautical engineer never reported his wife's disappearance, even after police posted fliers in his neighborhood asking the public for help in identifying the victim.

Balke told jurors Tuesday that two of those fliers were found in Moringiello's home on August 14 when they began a two-day search of the residence after getting a tip from the victim's niece. Moringiello was arrested the same day.

Blocks, documents

Moringiello, who wore a tan suit and eyeglasses in court Tuesday, listened intently during Balke's daylong testimony, sometimes taking notes and conferring with his attorneys.

Prosecutors believe Bergeler was killed in the couple's home, but Balke indicated that the drops in the sun room, also called the "family room," did not appear to be drag marks and that when Luminol was sprayed along the concrete walkway from the sunroom toward the dock, no blood was present.

Other items collected from the home were cinder blocks in the backyard that appeared to be the same kind used to weigh down Bergeler's body; keys that matched Bergeler's missing green Dodge van; rope in a dresser drawer that appeared to match the rope used to tie the blocks to Berger's neck and feet; and more blood.

"As I was crawling around on the floor of the sun room looking for additional evidence," Balke said, "I came across this red drop."

He found a single drop of blood on the base of a glass-top coffee table in the sun room, a small smear of blood on the inside lid of a washing machine, and more blood on carpeting that had been found pulled off the floor of the guest bedroom and propped up near a fan.

On cross-examination, Balke conceded that the chemical tests used on the dark spots discovered in the home were "presumptive," but not "conclusive," for blood. The defense is expected to argue that a water pipe burst in the guest bedroom and the reddish marks were rust. Testimony is also expected regarding the fact that the ropes found in the home were not exact matches to the ropes used by Bergeler's killer.

Balke also discovered a packet of incriminating papers by a phone in the sun room. The packet included a phone number and appointment time of August 15 to meet with the law firm of Wilbur Smith, Moringiello's current defense team; credit card statements; the title to Bergeler's van; and a copy of the police flier asking for information about an "unidentified homicide victim."

The defense claims Moringiello called an attorney, and not police, because he believed his wife had left him and was pursuing a divorce. According to the defendant, he had an argument with his wife on July 15, 2002, and she drove off in her van with clothes and $7,000 cash.

In September, Bergeler's van was found in a parking garage at the West Palm Beach airport. Balke told jurors that no blood or fingerprints were lifted from the vehicle, but a parking stub was left on the driver's side sun visor. It was dated July 16, 2002, at 10:04 a.m., indicating the exact time the van had entered the garage.

Cross-examination of Balke will continue Wednesday. Moringiello faces life in prison if convicted of the second-degree murder of his wife.

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