Bonita Man Accused Of Strangling Baby, Former Girlfriend

Dennis Potts Faces Life In Prison Without Parole If Convicted

A Bonita man strangled the mother of his son and the 10-month-old baby to avoid paying child support, a prosecutor said Thursday, but a defense attorney said the real killer was a hopeful suitor the woman rejected.

Dennis Potts, 25, surprised 22-year-old Tori Vienneau the night of July 26, 2006, knocking her unconscious between 6 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., then killed her after they had made plans to go out to dinner, prosecutor Per Hellstrom said in his opening statement.

A roommate found Vienneau strangled with the cord of a hair-flattening iron and her son, Dean Springstube, hanging in his crib with the cord of a cell phone charger wrapped around the baby's neck, the prosecutor said.

A week before the murders, Vienneau had decided to take Potts to court after she became convinced that he had faked a paternity test, Hellstrom told the jury.

"He came over that evening, all right," the prosecutor said of Potts. "He didn't come over to go to dinner. He came over to kill them both."

The crime scene was made to look like a sexual assault because Vienneau's blouse and underwear were ripped and her pants were off, Hellstrom said.

There were no signs of forced entry into the third-story apartment in south San Diego, which told investigators Vienneau knew her killer, he said.

"This was not a stranger-type killing," the prosecutor said. "This was somebody who knew Tori. It's clear she was taken by surprise."

Potts' fingerprint was found in a door jam about 3 feet away from the baby's crib, according to Hellstrom, who said a text message was planted by the killer on Vienneau's phone at 6:59 p.m. so he could cover his tracks.

Hellstrom said Potts lied to detectives when he said the paternity tests he took were legitimate, when in fact he had used his friend Max Corn's DNA to submit for the test.

"He is distancing himself from his connection with her," the prosecutor told the jury.

Thirteen text message exchanges between Potts and Vienneau the day of the murders were deleted from her phone, and Potts told police he deleted all of his text messages from that day, Hellstrom said.

A "ping" from a cell phone tower near the victim's apartment puts Potts in the vicinity at 6:44 p.m., around the time Vienneau was killed, the prosecutor said.

On Potts' computer, authorities found Google searches for "committing murder; how to cheat a swab paternity test; best way to kill someone; getting away with murder; getting out of child support; performing (a) chokehold; knocking someone unconscious; knocking someone in the head; and how did you get away with murder," the prosecutor said.

Hellstrom alleged Potts and Corn had an agreement to defraud Vienneau,but also to cover up Potts' actions and throw off police so an obvious motive wouldn't be apparent.

Defense attorney Kerry Armstrong, in his opening statement, said police focused on Potts from the beginning and ignored the real killer, a man named Daniel Moen.

Armstrong said once Vienneau's boyfriend Neil Springstube was out of the picture, Moen became more attracted to Vienneau, but she didn't see it the same way.

"Daniel Moen wanted to be Tori's boyfriend," Armstrong told the jury.

Four days before the murders, Moen and Vienneau had sex, but later Vienneau rejected him, Armstrong told the jury.

Potts will admit lying to police about the paternity test and will admit he faked it, his attorney said.

Armstrong said Potts was scared and had a longtime girlfriend -- who is now his fiancee -- and needed time to figure out how to tell her and his parents about the child he would now be responsible for.

"He knew he was going to be deemed the father," Armstrong said of Potts.

Armstrong said Potts searched the Internet about death and murder because his father had suffered a couple of strokes in the past. Potts also had an interest in mixed martial arts, his attorney said.

Furthermore, Potts wrote a school paper on euthanasia that included those searches, according to his attorney.

"He will tell you that he had no plans to kill Tori Vienneau and Baby Dean," Armstrong told the jury.

Potts' fingerprints were in the victim's apartment because he had been there at least three times in the past and remembered leaning against the door, Armstrong said.

Potts was at Corn's South Bay home working on a project for his father when Vienneau was killed, Armstrong said.

An expert will testify that the "ping" off the cell tower near Vienneau's apartment could have come from a call that Potts' mother placed to him while he was at Corn's house at 6:44 the night of the murders, Armstrong said.

Potts is charged with two counts of murder and a special circumstance of multiple murders, along with a charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

The trial is expected to last about a month in courtroom of Judge Bernard Revak.

Corn, who is charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, will be tried following Potts' trial.