NY retrial begins for man accused of burning wife

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) - September 27, 2010 Werner Lippe is being retried in the disappearance of his wife, Faith Lippe, as they were divorcing in October 2008. His first trial, last winter, ended in a hung jury despite a recorded confession, which he recanted in court.

Prosecutors were unable to provide any forensic evidence because they have not found Faith Lippe's body or any trace of it.

They claim, based on Werner Lippe's confession, that he knocked her out with a plank of wood outside their home in Cortlandt, a town of about 40,000 residents just north of New York City, and dragged her to a burn barrel in their yard.

"He then placed the mother of his children in that barrel and ... set her on fire to murder her," Westchester County prosecutor John O'Rourke said in his opening statement Monday.

Lippe, who has been jailed for nearly two years, stared straight ahead.

Lippe, who was born in Poland, grew up in Austria and went to Germany to study jewelry making. He moved to New York in 1979 and became a topflight craftsman and goldsmith, with his own business in Manhattan's diamond district.

He considers his client list confidential but grudgingly admitted on the stand in his first trial that he did work for Trump and Ono. An employee said some of his pieces sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The prosecutor said Lippe, 68, could have used acids and other materials from his job to dissolve bones and teeth. He quoted from a recording in which Lippe told a friend wearing a wire, "She doesn't exist anymore. They cannot find her."

In retracing the case, O'Rourke revealed no major new evidence, forensic or otherwise. He said Lippe shouldn't "get a benefit" for getting rid of the body.

He described Faith Lippe, 49, as "the quintessential soccer mom and PTA mom" who cared for their 14-year-old son and 12-year-old son.

By killing his wife, the prosecutor said, Lippe stood to gain $1.5 million he would lose in the divorce.

"He had the motive to kill her, he had the means, he had the opportunity and he had the know-how," O'Rourke said.

Defense attorney Andrew Rubin seized on the lack of forensics, telling the jurors, "You are going to see no evidence at all that anything took place" at the Lippes' home.

He suggested the prosecution could not even prove that Faith Lippe is dead.

"They're going to ask you to guess what happened," Rubin said. "You can't convict someone on maybe."

He conceded that Lippe was not "well-liked" but added, "This is not a popularity contest."

Rubin explained the confession by saying Lippe was afraid that the friend who wore the wire, James Learnihan, could hurt him if he didn't say what Learnihan wanted to hear. The lawyer also said Lippe feared he was being framed and purposely told a story that he was sure could be disproved.

"When you evaluate Walter Lippe's confession you're going to see that it does not make sense," the lawyer said. "He's not this evil genius that he's just been portrayed as being."

Lippe is expected to testify. Learnihan and Lippe's children are expected back on the stand for the retrial as well.

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