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April 27th, 2006 02:09 AM
Antalli BEULAH, MI

Court TV called to find out the trial dates. NBC's "Dateline," ABC's "Primetime," and television stations and newspapers from across the state want permission to put cameras in the courtroom.

An old-fashioned media circus may be on tap for this tiny village on Crystal Lake, when Mark Unger stands trial on a first-degree murder charge. Jury selection is set for April 26.

The Huntington Woods father of two young boys is charged with the killing of his wife, Florence Unger, at a Lower Herring Lake resort in 2003. He is accused of pushing her from a boathouse roof to a concrete slab below and then pushing her unconscious body into the lake to drown.

Unger denied the allegations, and his defense is expected to argue that Florence Unger's death was an accident.

The case is a rare northern Michigan killing that attracted attention outside the region.

It is curious what makes one killing draw national attention while so many others go unnoticed, said Bonnie Bucqueroux, the Victims and the Media program coordinator at Michigan State University's School of Journalism.

To attract national media, a case should have a victim who is attractive, well off, and white, she said.

"The question then becomes whether or not you've got anything else that's exceptional or bizarre about the case," Bucqueroux said. "I don't think it has anything to do anymore with anything about the news" value.

County officials and residents are preparing for the show, whether or not the national media show up.

Sheila Prochnow, co-owner of the Phoenix Cafe, said she hadn't been ready for the rush of customers who showed up during lunch breaks when pre-trial hearings in the case took place.

"We didn't even know what was happening — we weren't staffed for that," said Prochnow, who plans to add extra workers for the trial. "It can only be good for us; maybe we'll be a little overwhelmed."

Kris Randall, 19th Circuit Court administrator, said Court TV inquired about trial dates, but it is unknown whether they will attend.

With the number of other television stations that requested permission to put a camera in the courtroom, the number of reporters expected, and the anticipation that families of Mark Unger and Florence Unger will attend, officials had to be creative to accommodate the crowd.

The courtroom has been extended — the rear wall and doors were moved back several feet into the county building's hallway, making room for several more seats in the small courtroom.

An unused wing of the county building will be opened for media and other spectators, where televisions will feature the trial on a feed from the courtroom.

Benzie County commissioners also decided the lines in the parking lot should be repainted, restrooms needed to be added to the newly opened wing, and extra vending machines should be installed.

Commissioners already approved beefed-up security for the trial — a sheriff's deputy was hired to provide trial security and a metal detector will be installed to screen visitors.
April 27th, 2006 02:13 AM
Antalli Unger has denied killing his wife, whose body was found Oct. 25, 2003, floating at the shallow edge of Lower Herring Lake at Watervale Resort, about 40 miles southwest of Traverse City.


September 9, 2004

BEULAH - Florence Unger suffered a head injury that would have killed her, but before she could die someone moved her from a concrete slab into Lower Herring Lake where she drowned, a medical examiner testified.

Dr. L.J. Dragovic said Wednesday at first-degree murder suspect Mark Unger's preliminary examination that the woman's death at a resort in southern Benzie County last October was a three-step process.

First, someone pushed or kicked Unger's 37-year-old wife from the roof of a boat house.

Next, she fell 12 feet to the concrete slab below and suffered what ultimately would have been a fatal head injury.

"And the third, her unconscious body was placed in a body of water, and as a result of which, she died," Dragovic said. "Once the body was submerged, the inability of lungs to get air stopped the head injury from causing death."

Defense lawyers hotly contested Dragovic's testimony and tried to have it excluded, then cross-examined him rigorously on each conclusion.

Defense attorney Thomas McGuire focused on a defense demand that Dragovic submit scientific articles to back up his conclusion that lack of brain swelling observed during Unger's autopsy indicated she did not die of head trauma.

Dragovic said Unger's death was unique and that no scientific studies exist that deal with the way she died.

The hearing will be continued at a later date when Unger's attorneys may call witnesses. Mark Unger, 43, pleaded not guilty.

Benzie County District Judge Brent Danielson was unavailable Wednesday and visiting Judge David Hogg sat in for him. Hogg said Danielson would review transcripts to decide whether there is probable cause to bind over Unger for trial.

Stephen Cohle, a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, also testified Wednesday. Cohle said that although he determined the cause of death to be trauma to the head, Florence Unger could have drowned.

Whether Florence Unger drowned could prove important to prosecutors, who seek to convict Unger of premeditated murder and maintain the suspect moved her body into the lake.

During cross-examination of Cohle, McGuire hinted that a state police investigator concluded Unger's death was an accident. McGuire asked Cohle if such information could have changed his findings.

"I would want to know about what's in the report about how she got into the water," Cohle said.

Assistant attorney general Donna Pendergast said she was confident that once all reports were public, it would be clear that no state police investigator concluded the death was accidental.
April 27th, 2006 08:24 PM
Denim April 26, 2006

After more than two years of legal wrangling, Mark Unger is getting his day in court.

And the residents of Benzie County, known more for its bucolic scenery than the high-profile murder trial that is to begin there today, are getting their day in the national spotlight.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Heather Fortine, 21, at East Shore Market near the courthouse. Fortine said the local eatery where she works had been full of regulars chatting about Unger's late wife and the case, as well as new customers -- reporters, attorneys, witnesses and supporters of the defendant -- who are in Beulah for the trial, which is expected to last as long as a month.

"We're expecting a lot of customers, and stocking up on food," said Fortine, a Benzie County native.

Jury selection in the case involving the 45-year-old Huntington Woods man charged with killing his wife, Florence Unger, while they were on a fall getaway in Benzie County in 2003, is to begin today. Residents of the quiet northern Michigan community say the case has dominated coffee shop conversations.

"I can't go anywhere without people asking me about everything from 'How do I get out of sitting on this jury' to 'When we're going to put this guy away,' " said Benzie County Prosecutor Anthony Cicchelli, who asked the state attorney general to prosecute the case because his office did not have enough resources to handle it.

Many residents in Benzie County, which is so small that it has only one traffic light and so safe that many residents say they don't lock their doors, have been speculating about Unger's guilt or innocence for months.

Many say they are excited to host the long list of reporters who are covering the case, which includes reporters from Court TV and several TV networks, said Benzie County Sheriff Robert Blank.

Blank said the county has taken several steps to accommodate the influx of people. Security at the courthouse will be increased from one deputy to four or five, depending on the time of day. About 20 extra seats will be in the courtroom and the county set up another room with closed-circuit viewing to seat the overflow.

And the county printed brochures of places to get a bite to eat during lunch.

"The case has generated a lot of buzz," Blank said.

Some hotels and resorts, such as Crystal Mountain Resort, are offering special rates to members of the news media coming to cover the trial.

Attorneys say they expect the case to be emotionally charged and intense.

Unger's attorney, Robert Harrison, has handled many high-profile defense cases. Tuesday, as he was driving to Benzie County with more than 10 boxes of documents, he said he is ready to try the case -- and prepared to rattle the walls of the court with fiery oratory if necessary.

The prosecution, a team of experienced lawyers -- two of them from Oakland County -- is led by Assistant Attorney General Donna Pendergast.

Unger is being held in the Benzie County Jail and is charged with first-degree murder.

In 2003, the Ungers were going through a divorce. Police say Mark Unger, who had a history of substance abuse, lured his wife to a rented cottage at the Watervale resort in Benzie County on Oct. 24, 2003.

Florence Unger, police say, was having an affair with a former neighbor, who was her husband's close friend.

While at the resort, Mark Unger forced his wife off a 12-foot-high deck onto a concrete slab, then dragged her -- unconscious, but alive -- into Lower Herring Lake, where she drowned, police say. The next morning, he tried to cover up his crime by pretending to not know where she had been all night.

"It's a case we're fighting for," said Rusty Hills, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office. "A woman is dead -- a bright, bubbly, vivacious woman. And the case calls for justice."

But, Harrison said, the death was an accident and the prosecution's case is weak.

"This is from the very beginning -- and continues to be all the way through -- a situation that the prosecution does not know what happened," Harrison said. "They will not be able to tell anyone today, tomorrow, or ever what happened."
April 27th, 2006 08:25 PM
Denim Aug. 26, 2003: Florence Unger, 37, files for divorce from Mark Unger, 43.

Oct. 24: The Ungers and their two sons arrive at the Watervale, a resort near Frankfort.

Oct. 25: Florence Unger's body is found in shallow water at the edge of Lower Herring Lake, not far from the family's rented cottage. Police say she was injured before falling from a deck onto a concrete slab.

Oct. 29: Unger's attorney tells him that he is suspect in his wife's death.

Nov. 21: Proceedings to terminate Unger's parental rights begin in Oakland County Family Court.

Nov. 26: Oakland County Family Court Judge Linda Hallmark grants Unger supervised visits with his sons, who are being cared for by their maternal grandparents.

Jan. 26, 2004: Hallmark declines Unger's request for full custody.

Feb. 6: Unger denies killing his wife. He says she may have fallen off a deck.

March 11: Unger's lawyer seeks to have the parental-rights case dismissed because his client hasn't been charged.

March 24: Hallmark refuses to dismiss the case but bars evidence related to Florence Unger's death. Prosecutors later appeal.

May 13: Hallmark denies Unger's request to bar evidence of his gambling and drug and alcohol use.

May 19: The Michigan Court of Appeals postpones the trial until it can hear the appeal of Hallmark's evidence ruling. Police arrest Unger outside his Huntington Woods home on a first-degree murder charge.

May 20: Unger pleads not guilty and is released on $100,000 bond. Unger is barred from seeing children until criminal case is resolved.

July 6: Unger's preliminary exam begins. A former Huntington Woods neighbor, Glenn Stark, testifies that he and Florence Unger were having an affair. He says they exchanged e-mails and had sex within a week of her death.

Sept. 8: Two medical examiners testify that Florence Unger's death is a homicide. Stephen Cohle says she died from head trauma. L.J. Dragovic says she drowned. Defense asks the judge to throw out Dragovic's testimony, saying it's not supported by scientific evidence.

Oct. 11: Benzie County District Judge Brent Danielson excludes Dragovic's testimony.

Nov. 3: Michigan Court of Appeals decides that prosecutors can use allegations that Mark Unger killed his wife to terminate his parental rights, setting legal precedent and clarifying a fuzzy area of state law. Ruling says that Hallmark erred by relying on faulty analysis.

July 7, 2005: Danielson rules prosecution did not prove premeditation in seeking first-degree murder charge against Unger, and ruled that the charge be reduced to second degree.

Jan. 20, 2006: Prosecution argues before a Benzie County circuit judge to reinstate first-degree murder charge. Judge defers decision.

March 12: Benzie County Circuit Judge James Batzer decides to reinstate first-degree murder charge. Unger's previous bond of $100,000 is revoked and he is jailed.
May 3rd, 2006 07:31 PM
Antalli May 3, 2006

A Benzie County jury heard two theories as to how Florence Unger died in October 2003: The state prosecutor said her death was a brutal murder at the hands of her husband, Mark. The defense said it was a tragic accident.

Assistant Attorney General Donna Pendergast focused mostly on the Huntington Woods' couples troubled marriage and the events leading up to the death. Mark Ungers attorney, Robert Harrison, focused mostly on the events after the death and the police investigation that he characterized as flawed.

Im going to tell you about a very bad night, which is the reason youre in this courtroom, Pendergast told the jury.

Pendergast told them about how Florence Ungers body was found in the morning of October 25, 2003, and she showed them images of Florence Unger's body, floating face-down in lower Herring Lake. She described the evening as a nightmare. Unfortunately this was no nightmare. This was real, she added.

She said the case would tell the story of divorce, deception and a brutal, violent pre-meditated murder which Mark Unger later tried to cover up.

She said Mark Unger, 45, killed his 37-year-old wife. Pendergast said there was a struggle and that Florence Unger fell from a 12-foot high deck, hit her head and Mark Unger put her motionless, but still alive body in the water where she drowned.

She described a marriage that had been troubled for years. And described Unger has having a Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde personality. She said in the week leading up to the family trip to Watervale, they had been fighting and Florence Unger, whom she said was afraid of the dark, spent nights on the bathroom floor crying.

Little did she realize this was a trip she would never return from.

She told the jury a dead woman will speak to you through evidence. The evidence will point to one direction and one direction only.

In contrast, defense attorney Robert Harrison said this case is about a modern day family tragedy that occurred totally and completely because of an accident.

He said Mark Unger did not kill his wife and, in fact, he loved her.

He said Unger did not want to be divorced from Florence Unger. He said the prosecution's case is weak with no fingerprints, no confession, no eyewitnesses . He said that the death was caused by a deck that was decayed, rotten and unstable. It was an accident waiting to happen. Harrison added that he will prevent forensic evidence to prove that.

He said the police investigation was based on a false premise -- that Unger told police it was a suicide. He described how the police investigation unfolded, reading a 911 transcript and subsequent dispatcher conversations between police.

The dispatchers words created a set of thoughts that developed a life of their own, Harrison told the jurors.

He said it points to conclusions that he called dead wrong.
And then he portrayed Mark Unger as a good person who had no history of violence or abuse toward his wife or two children.

Harrison is expected to fiinshis his opening arguments this afternoon and jurors are expected to visit the Watervale resort.
May 6th, 2006 10:32 AM
Koala May 5, 2006

BEULAH -- Harold Stern told jurors Thursday that the moment he and his wife got a call from their son-in-law, Mark Unger, in 2003 telling them their daughter, Florence, was dead, his wife immediately suspected that Unger killed her.

"My God, you've killed my daughter!" Harold Stern testified that his wife, Claire Stern, said to Unger.

In a soft voice, Stern, who lives in Huntington Woods, recounted the conversation in Benzie County Circuit Court where Unger is on trial, charged with first-degree murder. Unger's attorney has said the death was an accident.

Stern, called to the witness stand by Assistant Attorney General Donna Pendergast, was the first to testify.

He told the jury that his daughter had always been terrified of the dark -- as a child and into adulthood.

Prosecutors have suggested that as one reason why Florence Unger would not have been on the deck in the dark alone near the rented cottage in Watervale, as defense attorneys have suggested.

Linn Duncan, who lives in a nearby cottage and owns the deck that the Ungers were reportedly seen on the day before Florence Unger's body was found, testified how he and his wife, Maggie, found Florence Unger's body and what Linn Duncan told Unger after the discovery.

Duncan told the court that Unger called him, sobbing, about 7:30 a.m. that Oct. 25.

"She hasn't come home all night," Duncan said Unger told him that day. Unger asked for Duncan's help to find his wife, he said.

Duncan said he went to the deck and saw her body in the water below. "You're not going to like it," he said he told Unger when he went back to him. "She's in the water."

Duncan said Unger became hysterical, screamed and immediately ran to the spot where the body was found.

In cross-examination, defense attorney Robert Harrison questioned Duncan about the condition of the deck. Harrison showed the jury 10 rotted pieces of the deck, and asked Duncan one by one if the pieces could be the part from which Florence Unger fell. Duncan said they could be.

The last witness of the day, Benzie County Sheriff's Deputy Troy Packard, testified that when he arrived at Watervale to investigate the death, he too, had suspicions about Mark Unger.

Packard said Unger just kept saying he wanted to go home, instead of asking about what happened to his wife. Packard said that when he asked Unger questions, he grew increasingly agitated.

Packard said one thing that puzzled him was that Unger seemed to have packed his SUV within two hours of learning of his wife's death.
May 6th, 2006 10:33 AM
Koala May 6, 2006

BEULAH -- In the days before her death in 2003, Florence Unger appeared to be in distress, witnesses testified Friday in her husband's murder trial.

Ronald Loeb, who lived next door to the Ungers in Huntington Woods, said he saw Florence Unger crying in her yard just before she went on a weekend getaway to Watervale with her husband, Mark Unger, and her children.

Loeb testified that Florence Unger told him "things here are very bad," and that she was afraid to go Up North.

Mark Unger is charged with killing his wife at a cottage in Watervale. His attorney Robert Harrison has said the death was an accident.

Ada Kerwin, Florence Unger's divorce attorney, also testified Friday. She said that four days before her death, Florence and Mark Unger had a meeting in Oakland County with their respective attorneys and a court referee to discuss divorce. Kerwin said Mark Unger seemed despondent, showed little emotion and had made it clear he did not want the divorce.

Glenn Stark, a former neighbor of the Ungers who now lives with his wife and children in Bozeman, Mont., testified that he and Florence Unger had sex a week before her body was found on Oct. 25, 2003, in Lower Herring Lake.

Called to testify by special Assistant Attorney General Mark Bilkovic, Stark said he and Florence Unger had been having an affair for about two years. Stark said he had moved to Montana in August 2003 but returned to Huntington Woods on business the week before her death.

Stark, 44, also testified that before Florence Unger died, he told Mark Unger that he needed to imagine his life without her in it. But, Stark said, Unger responded that he could not, because he loved his wife too much.

Attorney Harrison has said that Unger had not known about the affair until just a few days before Stark initially testified at Unger's preliminary examination in 2004.

The trial resumes Wednesday before Benzie County Circuit Judge James Batzer.
May 6th, 2006 10:34 AM
Koala 05/06/2006

BEULAH - Mark Unger was served with divorce papers that asked about his past addictions to drugs and gambling, four days before his estranged wife's body was found in the shallows of a Benzie County lake.

Detroit attorney Ada Kerwin testified Friday during Mark Unger's murder trial that Florence Unger hired her in August 2003 to file divorce papers against her husband.

Two months later, in late October, the Ungers attended a divorce intervention hearing during at which Kerwin served Unger and his attorney papers that included questions about addictions and substance abuse.

Florence Unger's body was discovered in Lower Herring Lake at Benzie's Watervale resort four days later, as the Huntington Woods family vacationed in northern Michigan.

Kerwin said Florence Unger made it clear that the marriage couldn't be saved.

"She told me that her husband had, in her opinion, traded his addiction to marijuana and Vicoden to, at that point, an addiction to rehab," she said.

"She was convinced that no matter what Mark did regarding his addictions, that the marriage was over," Kerwin testified.

Mark Unger told police he and his wife stood on a boathouse deck at the resort the night of Oct. 24, 2003, when she asked him to check on their two children. She was gone when he returned, Unger said.

Authorities contend Florence Unger was pushed from the deck and fell 12 feet onto a concrete pad and Mark Unger then dragged her into the water, where she drowned.

Kerwin said Florence Unger told her about the weekend trip to Benzie County, but they did not discuss her reasons for going.

She also said Florence Unger never seemed to waiver about her decision to seek the divorce, although the couple continued to live together.

"She was not thinking of reconciling," she said.

Mark Unger believed the marriage could be saved, and he asked the "action of the divorce be dismissed," said Kerwin, who called Unger's response to the divorce complaint "unusual."

"It is clear Mr. Unger did not want this divorce."

Defense attorney Robert Harrison asked Kerwin about her depiction of Mark Unger's response to divorce proceedings, and whether Florence Unger may have not wavered in her desire to end the marriage.

"It is not unusual for people during the course of a divorce to change their minds," she replied. She also said she wasn't worried about violence as the couple continued to live together.

Unger's trial is on hold until May 10, when neighbors of the Ungers are expected to testify.
May 12th, 2006 12:32 PM
Antalli May 11, 2006

Family members and friends took the stand Wednesday in the murder trial of Mark Unger, the local man on trial on northern Michigan for the death of his wife Florence.

Florence Unger’s brother, Peter Stern, took the stand. He told the court, "I didn’t want to look at the body. I didn’t want that to be the last thing I have in mind."

Some of Florence’s friends did, as well. One explained, "Florence said to me that she was repulsed by Mark."

Then a sheriff’s deputy testified that she interviewed Mark Unger’s oldest child. The words of the son seemed to support Unger’s claim, that after spending some time outside with his wife, Unger came back into the cottage to check on the kids.

Unger’s attorney Robert Harrison read some of the deputy’s report, in which it said, "He was pretty much asleep when dad returned and kissed him, and he was sure it was his dad because he felt the whiskers."

In essence, the Unger’s oldest child has testified to the jury without actually having to take the stand. It’s unclear whether or not, for the defense, the children will be required to take the stand.

Florence Unger filed for divorce in August of 2003. He body was found a couple months later, and Mark Unger is being tried on first-degree murder charges in her death.
May 18th, 2006 10:01 PM
Trace Evidence 05/11/2006

BEULAH — Mark Unger pocketed $10,000 a month in disability payments after he left rehab for drug and gambling addiction in early 2003.

But his family's finances remained in such disarray that his wife, Florence Unger, had to get a job as a mortgage broker to support her family.

"She much rather would have been with her kids," said Steven Frank, a friend of the couple who testified in the fourth day of testimony in Mark Unger's trial on a charge of first-degree murder. "She hated to do that, but she knew she needed to do it for financial reasons,"

Florence Unger was found dead in Lower Herring Lake in October 2003 as the couple spent a weekend at Watervale Resort with their children. Prosecutors say Mark Unger killed his wife during a nasty divorce by pushing her from a boathouse deck and dragging her into the lake.

Defense lawyers contend Florence Unger's death was an accident.

Much of Wednesday's testimony focused on what friends noticed about the couple in the year leading up to Florence Unger's death.

When Mark Unger left rehab, he collected around $10,000 a month tax-free from disability policies he'd bought years earlier, his attorney, Robert Harrison, said during questioning of a witness.

But that didn't end the couple's financial troubles, said Joan Frank, Steven Frank's wife and a friend of the Ungers.

Frank said she met Florence Unger as she sorted through a pile of bills and began to realize the extent of her family's trouble. Frank said she understood much of the debt was tied to gambling.

"She was totally freaking out about it," Frank said.

Peter Stern, Florence Unger's brother and a Glen Arbor resident, said he knew troubles existed with his sister's marriage and the family's finances.

"They were just not operating as a team "¦ things did not seem right to me when I was there," Stern testified. "I basically asked her, 'If you sell the house and got a divorce, would you still be in debt?' And she said, 'Yes.'"

Another of Florence Unger's friends, Kate Ostrove of Birmingham, described a gloomy marriage and said Florence Unger wanted to leave Mark Unger because of his addictions and financial failure.

"It was a very unhappy marriage; a very loveless marriage," Ostrove said. "She went back to work because they were having financial problems and she was contemplating a divorce and she knew she had to support herself and her family."

Prosecutors also sought to develop a portrait of Mark Unger as a jealous husband who worried his wife was having an affair.

Over objections from Harrison, 19th Circuit Court Judge James Batzer allowed testimony from Joan Frank that indicated Mark Unger was jealous of his wife.

Joan Frank testified that Florence Unger took several calls during a dinner from someone she assumed was Mark Unger and that Florence Unger repeatedly had to assure him that she was out with the Franks.

In testimony last week, another family friend described an affair he had with Florence Unger in the year leading up to her death.
May 18th, 2006 10:01 PM
Trace Evidence 05/12/2006

Prosecutors showed jurors dozens of photographs of a boathouse deck where Florence Unger was last seen alive, as well as images of her body floating in shallow water at the edge of Lower Herring Lake.

Mark Unger's defense attorneys Thursday focused on uncollected evidence and what was not included in a state police scientist's report.

The fifth day of testimony in Unger's first-degree murder trial turned to forensic evidence after several days of prosecution witnesses who knew the Ungers or who came across the couple on their final weekend together at Watervale Resort in October 2003.

Unger is accused of pushing his wife from the deck onto a concrete slab below and dragging her into the lake. Unger maintains his innocence and his attorneys argue the death was an accident.

Francis D'Angela, a state police forensic scientist, testified about evidence she collected after Florence Unger's body was found in the water.

D'Angela told Donna Pendergast, an assistant attorney general who is prosecuting the case for Benzie County, that Mark Unger asked her if his wife was still in the water, hours after her body was found. It was, she said.

"He got very upset, sobbing very loudly, but I never noticed any tears," D'Angela said.

Pendergast spent much of the day showing jurors pictures of the boathouse deck. D'Angela and another forensic witness described in great detail a damaged railing, bowed posts, and a blood stain on the concrete platform.

Defense attorney Robert Harrison grilled D'Angela about findings left out of her report, such as the fact investigators found no clothing fibers on the concrete platform or metal breakwall where Unger is accused of dragging his wife into the lake.

D'Angela said she could not include everything in her report.

"If we would write everything in a report it would be a novel, it would be really thick," she said.

Also left out of the report was the test of a stain on Mark Unger's jeans that was negative for blood.

"So once again, you didn't put something that was helpful to Mark Unger in your report, right?" Harrison asked her.
May 18th, 2006 10:02 PM
Trace Evidence 05/13/2006

No one disputes that Florence Unger somehow fell from a boathouse deck to a concrete slab 12 feet below and suffered a head injury.

But how jurors answer the question of how she ended up in Lower Herring Lake likely will determine the fate of her husband, Mark Unger, who is on trial on a charge of first-degree murder.

Unger, 45, of Huntington Woods, is accused of killing his 37-year-old wife as the couple spent a weekend at Watervale Resort in October 2003. Unger maintains his innocence and his lawyers have called the death an accident. Prosecutors contend Unger pushed his wife from the boathouse and dragged her into the lake to drown.

The doctor who performed Florence Unger's autopsy, Dr. Stephen Cohle, chief medical examiner for Kent County, took the stand Friday in Benzie County Circuit Court.

Cohle, who determined the cause of death was a head injury, said he ruled the death a homicide rather than an accident because he could find no explanation for how Florence Unger's body made it into the lake.

"Whether or not she fell accidentally, I have a hard time understanding how she got into the water," Cohle said. "I don't think that her momentum would carry her into the water."

Under cross-examination, Cohle said he could not rule out that Florence Unger regained consciousness and moved herself or fell into the water after suffering a seizure.

Cohle said Florence Unger inhaled blood after suffering the head injury and probably remained on the concrete slab for 20 to 30 minutes.

Cohle also said he received a visit from assistant attorney general Donna Pendergast, another prosecutor, a detective, and Dr. Ljubisa J. Dragovic, Oakland County's medical examiner, at his office in Grand Rapids weeks after the death.

Dragovic maintains Florence Unger drowned, which bolsters the prosecution's case for first-degree murder.

Cohle said he was not persuaded to agree with Dragovic, but he said he didn't believe the meeting was meant to pressure him into changing his mind.

"It wasn't at gunpoint, but he is a person who does have strong opinions and believes, I guess, that others should agree with him," Cohle said.
May 18th, 2006 10:03 PM
Trace Evidence 05/18/2006

Well-known medical examiner Dr. L.J. Dragovic caused a stir in the courtroom even before he took the stand in Mark Unger's trial on a charge of first-degree murder.

Nineteenth Circuit Court Judge James Batzer refused to allow defense attorneys to question the Oakland County medical examiner about an opinion from an Arizona court where Dragovic was found unqualified to testify as an expert witness.

Unger's trial stretched into its fourth week Wednesday with evidence from Dragovic, testimony that is critical to the prosecution's theory that Mark Unger pushed his wife, 37-year-old Florence Unger, from a boathouse deck and later moved her into Lower Herring Lake to drown. Unger, 45, maintains his innocence.

Dragovic concluded Florence Unger drowned in October 2003. Another medical examiner who conducted the autopsy determined the Huntington Woods resident died of a head injury from a fall.

Batzer's ruling angered defense attorney Thomas McGuire, who said expert witnesses are frequently questioned about whether they had ever been barred from testifying. Batzer said he wouldn't allow questions about the Arizona case because he didn't have enough information about it, and he believed it was irrelevant.

Earlier, owners of the Watervale Resort testified about the day Florence Unger's body was discovered. Maggie Duncan told about how she received a telephone call at 7:38 a.m. that day. "

The voice said, 'This is Mark. Flo didn't come home last night,'" she testified.

She said she thought Florence Unger might have been resting on a chaise lounge on the boathouse deck, so she went there and later found the body.
May 25th, 2006 09:29 AM
Marty May 19, 2006

A Huntington Woods man charged with killing his wife at a lakeside resort later described to a family friend how he envisioned the death accidentally occurred, the friend testified today.

Mark Unger, 45, is on trial for first-degree murder in the October 25, 2003 death of Florence Unger, 37, at a northern Michigan resort, the Inn of Watervale, where she was found floating in Lower Herring Lake. Investigators believe she was either pushed or fell off a boathouse deck during an argument over their pending divorce.

Investigators believe the Ungers were arguing about the divorce on a boathouse deck when she was either pushed or fell off the deck and landed on her head on a concrete surface 12 feet below. Investigators believe he then dragged his wife's body to the lake, where she drowned, to make it look like an accident.

Lori Silverstein, a Huntington Woods neighbor and friend of the Ungers, told the jury she questioned Unger about three weeks after the death after reading news reports that it was not an accident.

"Mark told me the media had it wrong," she told the jury. "'Everybody thinks it was a large piece of concrete.' And then showed with his hands (spreading her hands apart a few inches). He felt she landed on that and fell into the water.

"He said, 'Can't you see her? I can see her wrapped in a blanket, pulling this lounge chair when she fell over the railing on the deck.'"

Silverstein later visited the resort and was surprised the concrete area in question was actually several feet wide rather than six inches, as had been represented to her by Unger.

Silverstein said she learned of the divorce a few months before Florence had it filed in August 2003.

"Mark was in denial," said Silverstein, who said Unger was surprised that his wife wanted a divorce and concerned about the affect it would have on their children.

"He was very upset and I suggested it might be better to have two happy homes," Silverstein said. "He didn't agree. He said it never worked out that way."

Silverstein said five days before Florence Unger's death she saw Mark at the Ungers' house and he said: "'Can you believe it? We're getting along better than before the divorce.'"

Silverstein said after the death, Mark described how the couple was out on the boathouse deck and a man in a boat came up and talked to them

"It was cold and rainy and they had laughed about the man going across the lake in his boat," said Silverstein. "She was restless and asked him to go check on the kids."

Unger said he tucked the boys into bed, and when he returned she wasn't on the deck, she said. Unger told Silverstein he thought she might be visiting a property owner at a nearby cottage so he went back to the cottage with his sons, fell asleep watching a video with the boys and didn't wake up until 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 25.

Her body was found in about five inches of water along the seawall about an hour later.
May 25th, 2006 09:32 AM
Marty May 19, 2006

Two days before her body was found floating face down in a lake, a Huntington Woods woman told a family insurance agent over lunch that she did not want to take the trip north with her husband, now charged with her murder.

"She was distressed, she looked like she had been crying," testified Gary Scholnick, who had known Mark Unger, the woman's husband, since grade school.

Mark Unger, 45, is on trial for first-degree murder in the October 25, 2003, death of Florence Unger, 37, at a northern Michigan resort, the Inn of Watervale, on Lower Herring Lake. Investigators believe she was either pushed or fell off a boathouse deck during an argument over their pending divorce, and then was dragged unconscious into the water, where she drowned.

Scholnick said over lunch at the Red Coat Tavern in Royal Oak, Florence Unger indicated she had been taken advantage of in a business situation that day and also confided recent discussions with her husband over property divisions and divorce had been "difficult."

"She said she was going up north the next day but did not want to go," said Scholnick. "I suggested she shouldn't go, then she said 'I need to go.'"

Florence Unger explained that her divorce attorney had told her that it was important to show unity in the family and not pose any potential abandonment concerns regarding the children

Scholnick said he had supervised life insurance policies for both Florence ($750,000) and Mark Unger ($1.5 million) and two disability policies for Mark that pay a total of $10,000 a month until Unger turns 65 or his disability is no longer an issue. Unger is a former mortgage broker.

"Disability insurance is for some professionals, the most important insurance they purchase," said Scholnick. "Doctors, lawyers, others ... often purchase as much of this type of insurance as they can in the event they are unable to work."

Unger also went into a five-month rehabilitation program in Grand Rapids from September 2002 to January 2003 for addictions to gambling, marijuana and a prescription medicine, Vicodin, used for back pain. Those addictions, and Unger's concealment and lying about them, were concerns leading Florence Unger to seek a divorce, according to family and friends who have testified during the trial.

Scholnick said in November 2003, a few weeks after the death, Mark Unger completed the claim forms for payments on two life insurance policies valued at $750,000 on Florence Unger.

"During Shiva (traditional Jewish mourning period), I told Mark we would begin paperwork on the insurance policies," said Scholnick. "Mark did not know anything about one of the policies (on Florence) for $500,000 taken out in 1996."

Unger later waived his right as a beneficiary to his wife's policy, so the proceeds were directed to the Oakland County Friend of the Court, for her estate, and her living trust.

Two family friends, Lori and Robert Silverstein, testified Friday that Unger misrepresented the distance of cement under the boathouse deck where his wife fell 12 feet, fracturing her skull and right hip.

"My wife and I were talking about how she could have ended up in the water and he (Unger) represented there was a shorter distance of cement (about eight inches)." said Robert Silverstein, holding his hands apart for the jury.

Lori Silverstein said she was surprised when she later visited the resort and found the distance was actually several feet.

Kathy Stark, a former Huntington Woods resident now living in Bozeman, Mont., told the jury Florence was a "very close personal friend." Stark's husband, Glenn, has testified he had a two-year sexual relationship with Florence Unger, including a week before her death.

"Flo was lovely, fun and kind and generous and as warm-hearted as a person could be," said Kathy Stark.

Stark said Florence confided that she was going to seek a divorce.

"She was concerned about the boys and didn't want them emotionally scarred or suffer from the divorce," testified Stark. "She was worried about how she was going to support herself. And she was nervous about leaving the neighborhood, the schools, because she really loved it there."

Unger was threatening to take the house and sons from her and "she was terrified."

Stark said she spoke with Florence Unger two weeks before the trip to Watervale

"I couldn't understand why she wanted to go and couldn't understand why she would put herself in this position and all the stress. She wanted to do it for the boys and didn't want them to feel they had lost the normal vacation they had had in the past. She thought it would be a civil thing to do since he asked."

Stark, who once lived four blocks from the Ungers, said Florence would often call either her or Glenn Stark over to the house to help her retrieve something from her car at night because "she was afraid of the dark."

"She would call and say she wanted to sit on the porch but if it was very dark she wanted us to sit with her," said Stark. "…She heard noises."

Florence Unger had vacationed with the Starks in Grand Haven and had been afraid of going down to the beach at night "because it was too dark."

Stark said Florence, who had vacationed at Watervale for more than a decade, had called her from the resort in the past -- at night -- and reiterated her life-long fear.

"There were times when she was there with the boys and heard people out on the deck and wanted to go out but it was too dark," said Stark. "She wouldn't go out."

Testimony is to continue on Wednesday with defense cross-examination of Oakland County Medical Examiner Dr. Ljubisa Dragovic.
May 25th, 2006 09:33 AM
Marty May 24, 2006

Attorneys for Mark Unger, the Huntington Woods man accused of killing his wife while at a northern Michigan resort, attacked the credibility Wednesday of the prosecution's most critical witness.

In longest criminal trial in recent memory in Benzie County, defense attorneys hope they can convince a jury that Oakland County Medical Examiner Dr. L.J. Dragovic's findings that Florence Unger was drowned are inaccurate or inconsistent or both. The trial started on April 26.

From the beginning of the case, state prosecutors have said that Florence Unger, 37, was killed when Mark Unger, 45, forced her off a wooden deck at Watervale on Oct. 23, 2003, and placed her still alive body into Lower Herring Lake.

Defense attorneys say the death was an accident and Mark Unger had nothing to do with it.

Ultimately, the entire case may rest on whether the jurors believe Dragovic.

In cross-examination Wednesday, the forensic pathologist said the medical evidence shows that Florence Unger broke her pelvis when she was pushed or forced into a railing on a wooden deck, went over the edge and tumbled about 12 feet.

Florence Unger hit her head on concrete, and drowned in the lake, he said.

Defense attorney Thomas McGuire grilled Dragovic about his conclusion and medical knowledge. He tried to pin him down on whether he was saying Florence Unger died from head trauma or drowning.

"Are you just making this up as you go?", McGuire asked.

"I don't think so", Dragovic replied.

The issue is that if Florence Unger was drowned, instead of dying from hitting her head in the fall, it would show that her death was premeditated and support a first-degree murder charge. If she died from hitting her head, jurors might conclude that the charge should be second-degree, or that the there is enough reasonable doubt to acquit Mark Unger.

Last week, jurors heard Dragovic, who examined microscopic slides and reports after Florence Unger's body was autopsied -- but not the body itself -- testify that the medical evidence showed that Florence Unger died from drowning because her lungs were water-logged and something interrupted the swelling in her brain that would have continued if she died from the head trauma.

But, jurors also heard testimony from Kent County Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cohle, who examined Florence Unger's body and said that he concluded the death was caused by head trauma.

But, Cohle also said it was possible that Florence Unger might have drowned.

Both doctors concluded her death was a homicide.

Since the trial began, jurors have gone to the place where Florence Unger's body was found.

They heard testimony from several of Florence Unger's friends who said she was distressed the week before she went away with her husband and two sons to Watervale. The couple was going through a divorce.

They heard from Linn and Maggie Duncan, who found Florence Unger's body.

They also heard from Benzie County Sheriff's investigators who said that Mark Ungers behavior immediately following his wife's death was suspicious.

And they heard from an insurance agent, Gary Scholnick, who had lunch with Florence Unger at a Royal Oak restaurant before she died. He said Florence Unger told him that she and her husband were divorcing and it was difficult.

He also said that he handled life insurance policies for the couple. Mark Unger had a $1.5 million policy. Florence Unger had a $750,000 policy, with Mark Unger as the beneficiary

The trial is being heard before Benzie County Circuit Judge James Batzer.
May 26th, 2006 03:51 AM
Denim White paint, like chips found on the bottom of one of Mark Unger's shoes, matched that of a boathouse railing but was also in use at numerous structures at a northern Michigan resort where his wife died in October 2003, investigators testified Thursday.

That ambiguity was part of what defense attorneys described as a poor investigation of the death of Florence Unger, 37, of Huntington Woods who died in a fall from the boathouse deck on Oct. 25, 2003. Her husband, Mark Unger, 45, is charged with first-degree murder in the death.

"You can't make an exact match (of paint) but you can tell if they have a common source," testified Keith Lamont, a scientist with the Michigan State Police crime lab who is an expert in paint analysis in criminal cases.

Lamont said he compared paint scrapings and samples taken from the shoes of both Ungers and the railing of the boathouse deck, the boathouse wall, and the Mary Ellen cottage they rented at the resort on Lower Herring Lake.

"It (paint on Unger's shoe) was consistent with color composition and chemical composition of the railing," said Lamont. "It was chemically inconsistent with boathouse wall paint."

Under cross examination, Lamont said he could not tell when the paint chip ended up on either the railing or Unger's shoe. It was Unger's second visit to the resort within months, defense attorney Thomas McGuire noted. Lamont also said that unlike DNA evidence, the comparisons of paint samples only show they are similar, not necessarily a positive match.

Under cross-examination another investigator, Kenneth Fallowfield, a detective with the Benzie County Sheriff's Department, said he was instructed to secure additional samples of paint at the cottage and boathouse deck just three weeks ago, shortly after defense attorney Robert S. Harrison criticized "flimsy"evidence and the prosecution's circumstantial case against Unger.

Harrison told the jury Thursday how he had written the sheriff's department on Nov. 13, 2003 requesting the crime scene be kept intact until they were able to examine it.

"Are you aware on Nov. 14 -- the very next day -- Deputy (Kyle) Rosa was dispatched there because the top railing was detached?" asked Harrison.

"Yes," said Fallowfield, who added he did not subscribe to the theory that the 30-inch high railing had "blown off" the deck.

Harrison said portions of the deck were replaced within a few days of his criticizing the investigation into Florence Unger's death.

Part of the prosecution's theory is that the Ungers, who were in midst of divorce, had argued on the boathouse deck and that Florence Unger either was pushed or fell 12 feet off the deck and struck her head on a cement platform.

The prosecutor's theory is Unger, in an effort to make his wife's death appear an accident, dragged her body about nine feet along the concrete to the lake where it was found the next morning floating face down. They suspect paint ended up on his shoe when he kicked and splintered the wooden railing to make it appear she accidentally broke through the structure.

Harrison has contended the white paint found on the bottom of Unger's shoe could have been picked up by anyone walking around the resort.

The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case against Unger on Friday. The defense has yet to call its experts, whom they say will show Florence Unger's death was an accident and did not involve her husband, who was asleep in a nearby cottage.
May 27th, 2006 05:38 PM
Topaz As prosecutors rested their case on Friday, local court-watchers admitted that the upscale suburban lifestyle that Mark and Florence Unger lived before her death might not exactly resonate with northern Michigan jurors who often work two jobs just to get by -- regardless of their eventual verdict.

"People up here take care of each other and often work seasonal jobs, often two jobs, to pay the bills," said Jackie McLaughlin, a retired Lansing school teacher who lives in nearby Frankfort and regularly monitors district and circuit court. "Their spouses might also work two jobs It's pretty hard for some of us to understand how anyone would have difficulty living on $10,000 a month."

Mark Unger, 45, is on trial for first-degree murder in the October 2003 death of his wife, Florence, 37, who was found floating face down in Lower Herring Lake at a northern Michigan resort. Prosecutors believe Florence Unger either fell or was pushed from a 12-foot high boathouse deck, and landed on a concrete slab, causing massive head injuries. They contend Mark Unger then dragged her into the lake to make the death look accidental. The couple was in the midst of a contentious divorce.

McLaughlin admits she can't say what's on jurors' minds, but she can speculate they aren't too sympathetic to the Unger's marital problems. The couple, both mortgage bankers, lived in a home in an upscale Detroit suburb, enjoyed memberships in an exclusive Beverly Hills racquet club, private trainers, family vacations at the Inn of Watervale resort and winter ski trips.

Besides a marriage that had failed, and a two-year affair Florence Unger was having with a neighbor, they also have heard of her shopping habits and his gambling and drug addictions -- all of which paints a picture that some Benzie County residents can't relate to in their own lives.

"It's pretty hard for some of us to understand how anyone would have difficulty living on $10,000 a month," McLaughlin said, referring to Mark Unger's disability insurance he collected because of his addiction to gambling and drugs.

"People up here who have substance abuse problems can't even afford to go into a rehab program," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin did say she was impressed with the attorneys and witnesses on both sides.

"I think the case has gone very well. They, both the prosecution and the defense, are all top-level, well-prepared lawyers," she said.

The prosecution case concluded Friday with jurors seeing a video, taken by Michigan State Police Lt. Walter Armstrong, of a route Mark Unger ran on Oct. 25, 2003 when his wife's body was found alongside the seawall in Lower Herring Lake. The video showed that Unger could not have seen the body from where he stood or even after he had run almost to the water. An earlier witness testified that Unger ran directly to the spot where Florence Unger was found without being told where she was.

Defense attorney Robert S. Harrison pointed out that Unger was actually walking on a sidewalk area about 10 feet higher than Armstrong traveled, thus having a better view.

Harrison, who has been highly critical of the police investigation and circumstantial case against Unger, is to begin calling his own experts and case on Wednesday. He said special animations will show the jury five different scenarios on how Florence Unger likely died -- all by accident and all without any involvement of her husband.
June 2nd, 2006 05:38 AM
Marty The railing around the deck where Florence Unger was last seen alive and the posts holding up the railing were so rotted or poorly constructed, it would not have kept anyone from falling over it, an engineer testified Wednesday.

Jurors saw a partial replica of the wooden deck that the 37-year-old Unger apparently tumbled from and died in 2003.

In the fifth week of testimony, the defense attempted to show how Unger could have fallen from the deck without having been pushed.

Attorneys questioned the condition of the railing and posts.

"Would it prevent someone from falling over?" defense attorney Thomas McGuire asked.

"In my opinion, no," said John Zarzecki, a consultant for Plymouth-based Soil and Materials Engineers Inc.

Unger's husband, Mark Unger, 45, of Huntington Woods is on trial in Benzie County Circuit Court, charged with killing her.

The couple and their two sons were on a weekend getaway at Watervale, a northern Michigan resort, at the time of her death.

State prosecutors say Mark Unger forced his wife, who was 5-foot-6, over the edge of a 12-foot-high deck, that she hit her head on a concrete slab below, then -- to cover up what he had done -- he put her body in the nearby water and drowned her.

Mark Unger has said he had nothing to do with her death and that it was an accident.

So far, nearly 250 exhibits have been presented in the trial.

The deck replica was significant because even though jurors went to Watervale to see the location where Florence Unger's body was found floating in Lower Herring Lake, not far from the deck, they were not able to see what the deck looked like at the time of her death.

The deck railing has since been brought up to code, and what jurors saw at the scene was quite different from what was there the night Florence Unger went over it.

Zarzecki, who has a degree in chemical engineering and is a certified engineering technologist, testified that he examined the deck twice after Florence Unger's death.

He said he took measurements of the deck and the railing, which was 26 1/2 inches to 27 inches high. -- barely higher than McGuire's knees as he stood on the replica.

Zarzecki said Michigan code calls for handrails to be 36 inches high.

Benzie County sheriff's detectives and Michigan State Police investigators said the deck was not slippery.

But Zarzecki said he found the deck to be slick and moss-covered, and the posts holding up the handrails to be rotted and flexible.

In cross-examination, special Assistant Attorney General Mark Bilkovic showed Zarzecki photos of the deck and asked him about his reports and notes.

Zarzecki acknowledged that he made no mention in his report of moss or algae or that the deck was slippery.
June 2nd, 2006 05:40 AM
Marty Florence Unger's death 'indeterminate,' doctor says
By FRANK WITSIL
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

June 1, 2006

Contradicting the conclusions of another forensic pathologist who testified earlier in the Mark Unger murder trial , Wayne County's medical examiner said Thursday that it can't be determined whether Florence Unger was killed -- or whether her death was an accident.

"I would classify it as indeterminate," said Dr. Carl Schmidt.

Schmidt, who was called to testify by the defense, said that there is not enough information to assess whether Florence Unger fell from the 12-foot high deck, or was pushed.

Schmidt said her injuries indicate the 37-year-old Huntington Woods woman died from a "blow to the right side of the head," which caused the skull to fracture; not from drowning, which was the conclusion of Oakland County Medical Examiner Dr. L.J. Dragovic. Schmidt said there are no marks on her head that indicate she was dragged, or moved.

Schmidt said that Unger's pelvis also was broken, probably a result of hitting a concrete slab.

Defense attorneys hope that Schmidt's testimony, illustrated with large photographs of magnified mircoscope slides and the clothing Unger was wearing the night she died, will undercut the prosecution's argument that Mark Unger, Florence Unger's husband, killed her, by pushing her over the deck railing, and drowning her in Lower Herring Lake, where she was found on Oct. 25, 2003.

Mark Unger is on trial here in Benzie County Circuit Court, charged with first-degree murder.

The couple was in the middle of a divorce and went on a weekend get away to Watervale, where she died.

The defense has argued that the death was an accident, and Mark Unger played no role in it.

Dragovic, who testified earlier in the trial, said Florence Unger's death was a homicide.

That conclusion was also supported by Kent County Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cohle, who performed an autopsy on Florence Unger. But, unlike Dragovic, Cohle said that Florence Unger's death was more likely caused by head trauma, not drowning.

Throughout the trial, which is now in the fifth week of testimony, defense attorneys have tried to challenge Dragovic's conclusions, which provide the underlying support for the prosecution's case.
June 3rd, 2006 06:39 AM
CHS Witnesses say Flo Unger didn't fear dark
Mike Martindale / The Detroit News
June 02, 2006

Defense attorneys trying to chip away at the prosecution's circumstantial case presented witnesses Friday who testified that Mark Unger's odd behavior after his wife's death may have been prompted by the advice of friends, and that Florence Unger did not have a fear of the dark.

These were among the final images defense attorneys hoped to leave jurors with Friday in the first-degree murder trial of Mark Unger, 45, who is accused of killing his wife, Florence, at the Inn of Watervale, a northern Michigan lakeside resort about 10 miles south of Frankfort.

Prosecutors contend that on Oct. 24, 2003, Florence Unger fell or was forced off a 12-foot boathouse deck and suffered crippling injuries when she landed on a concrete surface below. They say in an effort to make her death look like an accident, Mark Unger dragged her unconscious into Lower Herring Lake, where she was found facedown the next morning.

Contrary to earlier testimony of several of Florence Unger's friends and relatives, and friend and a relative both said Friday that Florence never exhibited a fear of the dark. The defense is countering prosecution witnesses -- including the woman's father and brother -- who have testified it would have been very unusual for her to sit out on a boathouse deck at night alone while her husband checked on their sons, Max and Tyler, at a nearby cottage.

Marci Zussman, called to the witness stand by defense attorney Robert S. Harrison, said in a week she spent at Watervale in July 2002 she frequently found Florence Unger sitting on the boathouse deck, alone, between 10 and 11 p.m. "looking at the stars."

Lyle Wolberg, who is Mark Unger's nephew, also told the Benzie Circuit Court jury how he and two friends drove up to Watervale after Florence's body was found.

Wolberg testified that some of Unger's behavior, which has been described as odd by friends, police and others during the trial, may have resulted from advice he supplied his uncle. In earlier testimony police have told how Unger was uncooperative and attempted to leave the area with his sons while his wife was still in the water.

"We had him on the phone and I think it was Brian Witus, who's an attorney, told him 'Don't say anything. Don't say anything to anyone,'" Wolberg testified.

Wolberg said he called on personal experience of losing a relative to offer Unger advice that morning.

"I told him, 'You've got to get the boys and you've got to get home.' He said: 'O.K.'"

Wolberg said in the back of his mind, he knew Unger would not be immediately coming home and he would have to make the drive north to be with his uncle.

Wolberg said he and two friends visited Watervale on both Saturday and also on Sunday, the day after Florence's body was found, to pick up some of Mark's belongings and car. Wolberg said he didn't recall seeing any police crime scene tape around the boathouse and he and others walked around on the deck, "wiggled" a loose railing and stared down at the shallows where she died.

The defense is expected to resume its case next Wednesday and conclude testimony sometime next week, Judge James M. Batzer told the jury before excusing them. Harrison said he expects to call a few witnesses, including some of Unger's relatives and perhaps most importantly, Dr. Igor Paul, a retired Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics professor.

Paul has developed computer animation that depicts several scenarios how Florence Unger may have accidentally fallen to her death. A hearing will be conducted next Wednesday to determine whether Paul can be called as a witness and the animation shown to the jury.

The prosecution has expressed concern about the animation because they fear it is based on faulty premises, does not accurately portray the death scene and may serve only to confuse jurors.

The trial began April 26.

In another development Friday, Harrison told Batzer he had decided not to call Unger's 12-year-old son Max to the witness stand because of Mark Unger's "concern for his son." Several people who saw the boy Friday said the experience of being brought to court had been extremely upsetting to him. He has not seen his father in more than two years.

Max was expected to testify about statements he made to police regarding his recollection of his father tucking he and his brother into bed the night his parents were out on the boathouse deck. Max was 10 at the time and his younger brother, Tyler, was 7.

The defense thought it would also be helpful to have the boy tell how his mother did not have a fear of the dark.

Prosecution attorneys said Friday that Harrison and Unger made the decision not to call Max as a witness after learning the boy had qualified statements that his mother was not afraid of the dark "when around other people."
June 3rd, 2006 06:47 AM
CHS
Mark Unger


Florence Unger
June 7th, 2006 12:40 PM
Antalli BY FRANK WITSIL
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
June 3, 2006

In a stunning reversal Friday, Mark Unger's attorney told a Benzie County judge that he had planned to call his client's 12-year-old son to the stand to testify -- but would not.

Mark Unger, the 45-year-old Huntington Woods man who is charged with killing his wife in 2003, was the one who decided at the last minute not to force his son, Max, to testify, Robert Harrison said.

Harrison said he spoke to Max on Friday morning and the possibility of testifying made him anxious, uncomfortable and later hysterical. When Unger heard that, he objected to calling the child as a witness.

"Mark forbid me from doing that," Harrison said.

Family members on both sides expressed relief at the decision.

Max arrived at the Benzie County Courthouse about 9 a.m. Friday and was questioned for several minutes by the defense and prosecution.

Max's guardian ad litem, Bill Lansat, said Friday that he had objected to the child testifying, saying that, "psychologically, it is damaging to him."

Had Max, who lives in Huntington Woods with his grandparents, been compelled to take the witness stand it might have forced him to choose between his parents, possibly adding to his trauma, some experts say.

Florence Unger, Max's mother, was found dead in Lower Herring Lake on Oct. 25, 2003. She and Mark Unger had gone to the Watervale resort with their two sons. Prosecutors have accused Mark Unger of pushing his wife off a 12-foot-high deck, and then moving her into the lake and drowning her to cover up what he did.

Mark Unger has said that the death was an accident in which he played no role.

After court was adjourned for the week, Special Assistant Attorney General Mark Bilkovic said Harrison's last-minute decision was based more on legal strategy than on concern for Max. He said Harrison had planned to call Max to testify to try to rebut testimony that his mother was afraid of the dark but realized he would not be successful.

Bilkovic also pointed out that in earlier court proceedings, Harrison had said that any attorney that would put that child on the witness stand "should rot in hell."

Harrison said that Max was much younger then, and the circumstances were different.

Also Friday, two relatives of Mark Unger -- first cousin Marcy Zussman and nephew Lyle Wolberg -- testified that Florence Unger was not afraid of the dark.

Zussman of Huntington Woods said that she and Florence Unger had been out on the deck at Watervale before.

"We would drink wine and chat about how things were ... just girl stuff," she said.
June 7th, 2006 12:45 PM
Antalli Prosecutors in the Mark Unger murder trial continue to quiz a retired professor about his computer animated graphics, which defense attorneys believe will help show a Benzie Circuit Court jury that an accident, not murder, could have caused the death of a Huntington Woods woman in October 2003.

Defense attorneys for Mark Unger, 45, contracted Dr. Igor Paul, a retired bio-mechanical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to review the October 25, 2003 death of Unger's wife, Florence.

Paul produced a computer-animated film that demonstrates several possible scenarios of how physics might explain an accidental fall over the railing of a boathouse deck, in contrast to the prosecution theory that Mark Unger somehow caused Florence Unger to fall.

Judge James M. Batzer, who is hearing from the expert without the jury present, will decide sometime today whether to permit the testimony and computer graphics as evidence.

Unger is charged with first-degree murder in the death, which prosecutors contend occurred during an argument over the couple's pending divorce. They have told the jury that Unger attempted to stage the death scene as an accident by placing Florence Unger's body in the lake.

In a 90-minute hearing last week, Paul told attorneys he provided a "story board" to a Boston-area illustrator who drew out different scenarios to recreate what might have happened at the Inn of Watervale resort, located on Lower Herring Lake, about 10 miles south of Frankfort. Prosecutors are concerned the computer animated graphics do not accurately represent the crime scene and could serve to confuse jurors.

"I don't know exactly where she went off the deck," said Paul, who has testified in other criminal cases. "These are scenarios based on physics and physical evidence of accidentally falling over the railing without another person involved," Paul said under questioning by state assistant attorney general Donna L. Pendergast.

"I used the autopsy, autopsy photos, 30 to 40 site photos -- I picked out the most representative ones that I needed for my opinions"

The five scenarios, which take about 15 seconds apiece to depict, show various angles of a figure leaning against the railing or falling over it backward onto the cement apron, rolling toward the seawall and into the lake

In three situations, the figure stops short of the edge but then goes into convulsions that put it over the side into the water.

Investigators believe Florence Unger, 37, was pushed or fell from a 12-foot high boathouse deck and struck her head on a concrete pad during an argument over the couple's pending divorce. Investigators allege Unger then put his wife's unconscious, but still breathing, body into the lake to make it appear an accident.

The defense is presenting witnesses to support their contention that her death was entirely accidental and did not involve Mark Unger.
June 8th, 2006 11:00 AM
Ferzy Unger lawyers hope to prove deck railing was deteriorating

Subpoena seeks documents from engineering analysts, but prosecutors say there are no such reports

Mike Martindale / The Detroit News

June 08, 2006

Defense attorneys in the Mark Unger trial hope to determine sometime Thursday whether Oakland County and state officials have withheld evidence that could ultimately exonerate a Huntington Woods man charged with the murder of his wife at a northern Michigan lakeside resort.

The issue surfaced Wednesday outside the courtroom during the trial of Mark Unger, 45, whom prosecutors say killed his wife Florence in October 2003 at the Inn of Watervale, about 10 miles south of Frankfort.

Defense attorney Robert Harrison said he subpoenaed documents Monday from a California engineering firm hired in 2004 by Oakland County to analyze a wooden railing from a boathouse deck where Florence Unger, 37, was last seen alive.

The findings are important to Unger because they could prove the railing was deteriorated and rotting, as defense attorneys have contended, and might have contributed to an accidental fall by Florence Unger.

"We don't know what they (investigators) have or what they found out," said Harrison. "My concern is there is something that they found out that we should have been provided under court rules.

"We know that portions of the deck were removed in 2004 and shipped off to Chicago where they were held for two years."

The prosecutor, state assistant attorney general Donna Pendergast, is teamed on the case with Oakland County assistant prosecutor John Skrzynski and Mark Bilkovic, a former Oakland County assistant prosecutor who worked on a child custody case involving Unger's two sons. It was during that probate court battle that the deck railing was removed, Harrison noted.

Prosecutors believe Unger and his estranged wife argued on the boathouse deck before she fell or was pushed off and that Unger then drowned her in Lower Herring Lake. Florence Unger was found floating face down in the early morning hours of Oct. 25, 2003. Unger maintains his innocence and said he left Florence alone on the deck at the Watervale resort and went back to their cabin, where he stayed all night with the couple's two sons.
June 8th, 2006 11:01 AM
Ferzy Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca on Wednesday said the county in 2004 hired Exponent Inc., a Menlo Park, Calif.-based engineering firm, to take photographs and measurements of the railing, and to dismantle it and store it. The county paid about $31,000 for the work.

The county intended to have the firm recreate a wooden railing for court reenactments, but eventually determined the aged wood from the Watervale resort was too difficult to recreate and abandoned those plans in late summer 2004, according to Deb Carley, Oakland County chief deputy prosecutor. The company did not submit a report to the county, she said.

"I'll see Harrison at the attorney grievance commission if he continues to state we're withholding evidence," Gorcyca said Wednesday. "There were no findings, so there are no findings to hide."

Subpoenas were served on Monday at Exponent offices in Farmington Hills and also a corporation agent in Bingham Farms, ordering it to produce all documents related to the work it did on the resort's deck and railing. Neither could be reached for comment on Monday

In court Wednesday, the Benzie Circuit Court jury viewed what a former biomechanical engineering professor said could have been the final seconds of a Huntington Woods woman's life, as depicted by computer animated graphics.

The jury of eight men and seven women saw several angles of an image of Florence Unger pitching helplessly -- in three alternate scenarios -- both backward and forward over a 26-inch high railing on a boathouse deck. The animation showed her falling 12 feet to a concrete pad where she likely suffered a potentially fatal head injury.

The man whose opinions shaped the animations -- Dr. Igor Paul, a retired biomechanical engineering professor from Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- told the jury how Florence Unger's momentum caused her to roll over a seawall and into the shallows of Lower Herring Lake. She was found floating face down there the next morning.

The less than a minute of computer animation could be crucial to Mark Unger, who faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of the killing.

"It's an illustration of my opinion based on a low railing and what may have happened accidentally to her," said Paul, of the animations, considered critical to the defense countering of a circumstantial evidence case against Unger.

Judge James Batzer permitted Paul to discuss and show some of his animations following a hearing without the jury present. Batzer would not allow the display of two other scenarios in which Florence Unger rolled but stopped at the seawall edge and then twitched over the side from possible seizures related to a head injury. Batzer said Paul had not been established as an expert in seizures.

Paul, a New London, N.H. resident, told the jury he has never visited Watervale, and the animations were based on storyboards he provided to a Boston illustrator. Paul said the scenarios were created from autopsy reports, photographs, and state police reports. The animations cost "about $10,000" to produce, Paul said.

In an intense cross-examination of Paul, Pendergast asked: "You don't mean to say this is what happened? You don't know what happened, do you?"

"No," said Paul, who said he wasn't certain that the death occurred from an accidental fall.

Pendergast also questioned why the blue comforter Mrs. Unger was seen wrapped in on the deck the night before she was found, and which was found lying on the cement pad, was not included in the scenarios of the falling, rolling woman. Paul said he had heard of the comforter but did not include it in scenarios. He said it could have fallen off her as she fell off the deck and then "contacted the concrete after she rolled away."

"I really did not know what happened with the blue comforter, it was found on the boat hoist so I didn't put it in the animation at all," said Paul, who added even if the blanket landed after she rolled into the lake, it would still be consistent with his findings.

But Paul said he was certain of other aspects of the physical evidence he has considered in coming to his opinion.

"The railing wasn't acting as a railing," said Paul . "It was nine to 10 inches below the center of gravity of a person the size and weight of Mrs. Unger."

Paul said that could cause a fall for someone who leaned on, sat on or even walked along the railing.

Defense attorney Thomas McGuire said seven railing posts were found broken off at the railing, which was loose and could have been pushed forward several inches. McGuire also recalled witness testimony about slippery spots later found on the deck and height differences.

Paul stressed the height of the railing concerned him the most.

"It's the height of the railing -- 26 to 27 inches -- is extremely low compared to a regular effective railing which is around 36 inches at least, or 42 inches," said Paul.

Paul who is five-foot, 10 inches tall, demonstrated for the jury that his center of gravity, like everyone's, is at about "the belly button."

"For the height and weight of Mrs. Unger, her center is about 36 inches above the ground," Paul said. "At 26 inches, (the railing) came up to just above her knees. Her center of gravity is 10 inches above this.

"Either running into the railing forward or backwards," said Paul. "Or to sit on the railing. Your center of gravity would go beyond you would have no control and you would fall over the railing."

At one point of her quizzing of Paul, Pendergast criticized some of his conclusions.

"I have something here you identified as an injury behind the knee," said Pendergast, holding up a photograph. "Would you be surprised if I told you this has been identified by (Kent County Medical Examiner) Dr. (Stephen) Cohle as the outside of Mrs.Unger's elbow and arm?"

After several minutes of searching through photos, Paul said: "It's not in these photos, I need to concede, I guess."

Jurors took notes during Paul's testimony and passed several questions to the judge, including whether the blue comforter, which he didn't include, could have caused her to trip ("yes") or cushioned her from any injuries ("no")
June 8th, 2006 11:02 AM
Ferzy Expert shows accident possibilities
BY FRANK WITSIL
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

Retired engineering professor Igor Paul offered five possible scenarios Wednesday in which Florence Unger could have died accidentally to counter the state's accusation that her husband, Mark Unger, killed her.

"In my professional opinion, there are a multitude of scenarios of accidentally going over that railing," Paul, retired from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told jurors at trial.

Paul also acknowledged that his analysis did not rule out the possibility that Florence Unger was killed. He admitted he had only seen photographs of the 12-foot high deck at Watervale where prosecutors say Mark Unger forced his wife over the railing and then drowned her in Lower Herring Lake in October 2003.

Unger, who is on trial in Benzie County, has said he had nothing to do with the death.

Paul said that the low deck railing -- which was 26 to 27 inches high -- would have altered the center of gravity for Florence Unger, who he said was 5-foot-6 and about 150-pounds. If, for any reason, she were holding onto the railing and her hands slipped, it could have been possible for her to tumble over the railing and, he said, there would have been "no way to recover."

Paul illustrated his scenarios with computer animation.

The five, 15-second animation segments were shown to the jury as Paul narrated them. In them, a woman leans against the railing, then tumbles over it. She hits her head on the concrete below or on a nearby boat hoist and rolls into the water.

Paul explained to the jurors he arrived at his conclusions, using drawings and a partial replica of the deck.

In cross-examination, Assistant Attorney General Donna Pendergast sought to clarify whether Paul was concluding the death was an accident, or whether the scenarios he offered were merely possible explanations of the death.

"You don't know what happened?" she asked.

"I don't," Paul said.
June 10th, 2006 02:44 PM
Dusty Unger defense rests
Lawyer will pursue evidence he claims was withheld
Mike Martindale / The Detroit News


Defendant Mark Unger, left, and his lead defense attorney, Robert S. Harrison, are seen in the Benzie County courtroom Thursday. The defense rested its case today without calling Unger to the witness stand.

June 9, 2006

Despite resting his case Thursday, Mark Unger's defense attorney said he will pursue information he believes that has been improperly withheld by officials and could help exonerate his client for his wife's murder.

Mark Unger, 45, of Huntington Woods is on trial for first-degree murder in the October 25, 2003 death of his wife, Florence, 37. Investigators say Florence Unger was pushed or kicked off a boathouse deck at a northern Michigan lakeside resort during an argument over the couple's pending divorce. They say Unger then dragged her unconscious body to Lower Herring Lake where she was found floating face down the next morning.
June 10th, 2006 02:45 PM
Dusty The defense completed its side in the trial Thursday after producing several witnesses and showing the jury a computer animated graphic designed to demonstrate how Florence Unger could have accidentally fallen over a railing, which one expert said was deteriorated and rotting.

The wooden railing is such an important issue that defense attorney Robert S. Harrison subpoenaed documents from Exponent, Inc., a Menlo Park, California-based engineering company that removed it under a contract with the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office. Harrison said if there is anything substantive in the documents, he will bring it up before Benzie Circuit Judge James M. Batzer next Wednesday when he and Assistant Attorney General Donna L. Pendergast are to begin closing arguments before the jury.

"I still don't know what information they have but an Exponent representative contacted my office and said records would be supplied," said Harrison. "We had hoped to have the records and a custodian of the documents in court to explain them but that person is in San Francisco and we were unable to get them here in time."

Harrison stressed he has been attempting to obtain information on the company's findings "for months." He said he has gotten "the run around" from the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office and Pendergast. Harrison has said the county is unwilling to divulge Exponent's report because the findings do not support the prosecution's case

Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca bristled at Harrison's suggestion any evidence had been withheld and told The News earlier this week there was no report from Exponent. Gorcyca and deputy prosecutor Deborah Carley said investigators initially wanted to build a replica of the deck for another court matter. After it appeared the project would be too difficult and the cost too excessive the plan was abandoned. The county still paid $30,000 for railing removal and storage.

"That's a lot of money for sawing off a piece of wood and storing it," said Harrison. "I have to believe that includes some reports and analysis of the railing. And I want that."

The subpoenas order Exponent to produce all documents generated since October 24, 2003 related to services provided to either the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office and or the Michigan Attorney General's Office or any other law enforcement agency related to the "inspection, removal, transportation, relocation, disassembly, reassembly, custody, disposition, testing, analysis, storage and or return of any portion of the wooden deck, railing, and/or posts"
June 10th, 2006 02:46 PM
Dusty While Unger said he was on the deck on the night of Oct. 24 with his wife, he also told police he left her alone to tuck their two sons in bed at a nearby cottage. When he returned to the deck his wife was gone, he said, so he went back to their cottage where he watched a video and fell asleep.

Harrison produced documents Thursday that showed Unger had rented two videos: "Scooby Doo" and a comedy "Anger Management" from a Berkley video store that week.

In another development Thursday, Harrison asked Judge Batzer to restrict his pre-deliberation instructions to jurors to only consider "first-degree murder and not guilty and no lesser offenses."

Batzer decided to add second-degree murder to jury considerations.

First degree murder is punishable by a mandatory sentence of life in prison, without parole. Second-degree murder carries a penalty of any term of up to life, with parole.

Harrison and Unger both exhibited faith in their belief that the prosecution has failed to prove its case against him and also confidence in the aggressive defense heard by the jury since last week with several witnesses and unusual exhibits. Harrison had earlier asked Batzer to dismiss the case after the prosecution completed its side.

Harrison contends the prosecution's case was so focused on first-degree charges he felt they should have to prove that or nothing at all.

"Believe me they (prosecution) would do cartwheels naked at high noon on Times Square if they could get a second-degree murder conviction," said Harrison.

The trial began April 26 and a jury of eight men and seven women has heard from dozens of witnesses, including friends and family of the Ungers, forensic pathologists and physicists and other experts. Nearly 300 exhibits -- from grim photographs and computer animated graphics to a 10-foot long replica of the boathouse deck and railing -- have also been brought into court for the jury's consideration.
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