Heather Black sobbed and wiped tears from her eyes several times Monday as she testified that her former boyfriend, Joshua John Schneider, confessed to tying up NSU Professor Tiffany Maher in 2013 and strangling her with a pillowcase before trying to set her home and body on fire.
Maher was found dead in her Tahlequah home on May 31, 2013.
Authorities allege Schneider, 34, was driving Black’s car on July 18, 2013, when they tried to stop him and arrest him in Tulsa for outstanding warrants. Black said she was in the passenger seat, and Schneider’s 2-year-old girl was also in the car, when police sirens blared and Schneider decided to flee.
After ditching the police, Schneider parked near a wooded area, turned the car’s air conditioning on and left the area. Black admitted she, too, left the car, abandoning the 2-year-old girl. She later contacted a friend whom she asked to call police to explain where to find Schneider’s toddler.
Black claims she first believed Schneider – who had placed a “frantic-sounding” call to her on July 18, 2013 – was in trouble for “being unregistered as a sex offender,” and she felt she could help him. But she said he later began to reveal his alleged involvement in Maher’s death.
Black said Schneider claimed he had been “blackmailed” when Maher learned he was an unregistered sex offender.
Believing he “couldn’t just walk away” from Maher, and feeling Maher might “continue” to blackmail him, Schneider said he gave in to Maher’s request for sex.
Schneider later bound Maher’s hands and feet separately, and then tied her hands and feet together, Schneider allegedly confessed to Black.
“He said he took a pillowcase and wrapped it around her neck, then made the comment to me, ‘You know, it takes a really long time to watch the lights go out of someone’s eyes,’” Black said.
Schneider, knowing his DNA would be at the scene, allegedly admitted to Black he decided to set a fire in Maher’s home, but without carpeted floors, the fire wouldn’t ignite. Schneider tried lighting a fire in several places inside Maher’s home.
Black said Schneider claimed he met Maher – whom he referred to as a “long-time friend” – at an apartment complex in Tulsa before Maher’s death. He rode with Maher back to Tahlequah because his “gas-guzzling” truck would cost too much to drive.
After allegedly strangling Maher, Schneider drove Maher’s car back to the Tulsa-area apartment complex – which happened to be where Maher’s parents lived at the time – and left it. Black said Schneider never revealed a specific time or date when he had strangled Maher.
According to Black, she and Schneider initially met through an online dating site, Plenty Of Fish, around March 2013. Authorities allege that’s also how Maher met Schneider.
“[I] received a message that asked me, ‘Hey beautiful, why are you single?’” Black said. “And I responded back.”
After exchanging emails, text messages, and phone calls for weeks, a “romantic” relationship developed, and Schneider eventually began to stay overnight at Black’s Broken Arrow home from time to time.
Black testified that her family later decided to move from their Broken Arrow home because Schneider, a convicted sex offender, could not live close to a nearby school. They bought a tent and began living at a campground in Wagoner County with the intent of finding an apartment. Meanwhile, their belongings – and property authorities allege Schneider took from Maher’s home – were placed in a storage unit Black had rented.
Black said Schneider had a Kindle Fire, a 26-inch Sanyo TV, a DVD player, and other items, which authorities now say were taken from Maher’s home. Black said she and her two teenage daughters also played music from a selection of karaoke CDs Schneider had with a karaoke machine.
Those CDs, produced as evidence Monday, appeared to have Maher’s signature scribbled across their respective cases, but Black said she didn’t know at the time that the scribbles – appearing to be written as “TMaher” in cursive lettering – were a name.
Schneider allegedly claimed some of the items he had retrieved from a pawn shop.
Maher’s mother testified Monday that Maher had owned a karaoke machine and multiple CDs. The machine was missing from Maher’s home when Maher’s body was discovered.
Schneider also allegedly gave Black a purse that previously belonged to Maher.
“When I came home from work one evening, it was laying on my bed,” Black said.
It had a note attached that said, “To my sweetheart,” Black testified.
Dianne Maher testified the purse, produced as evidence during the hearing, belonged to her daughter. She explained to Thorp that her daughter had even customized the purse, and pointed out the small changes Maher made to the bag.
Black said she received the purse from Schneider sometime after Memorial Day 2013, which fell on May 27.
Maher’s mother said she last saw her daughter in Tulsa on Sunday, May 26.
“She was quite chipper and silly,” Dianne Maher testified.
After going to a pub, a restaurant, and a baseball game with Dianne Maher and some friends, Maher decided to head home to Tahlequah.
“I gave her a hug and a kiss, and told her to text me when she got home,” said Dianne Maher. “She texted me when she got home.”
Dianne Maher said she and her daughter exchanged a text message the following morning. Maher was expected to be in Kansas by Wednesday to speak at a conference. Dianne Maher never heard from or saw her daughter again, and learned from a Tulsa County sheriff’s chaplain on May 31 that Maher’s body had been found in Tahlequah.
After Black was questioned by state prosecutors, Schneider’s defense attorney, Crystal Jackson, asked about Black’s decision not to reveal Schneider’s alleged confession until recently. Black said she didn’t remember OSBI Agent Dale Fine asking, after Black surrendered, whether Schneider provided details of Maher’s murder.
“I was in a lot of distress,” Black said.
Jackson also referred to an alleged “deal” Black received to avoid prosecution in Tulsa County in exchange for her testimony in Cherokee County.
Black said she was not involved in discussions between her attorney and prosecutors in Tulsa County, and said Cherokee County authorities never made promises to her when they spoke, for the first time, in the past two months.
Other testimony given Monday included that of NSU Sgt. Jimmy Flores, who initially investigated Maher’s disappearance. Flores said Maher’s home was covered in soot and contained smoke when he and Tahlequah police officers entered. Three dead cats were found inside, and Maher’s body was face-down in a bed.
OSBI Crime Scene Agent Brad Green said Maher’s feet were charred. He noted three places where a fire had been started in Maher’s home, and said it’s possible a fourth fire started near a purse that was on a bed.
One fire, Green said, was on a couch in Maher’s living room; two others were in bedrooms.
A former forensic pathologist from the state medical examiner’s office, Dr. Alex John, testified he was unable to determine a cause or manner of death for Maher because of the state of her body. But he did determine Maher’s cause of death was not due to smoke inhalation. Maher was “not breathing” when the fire occurred, John said.
John also testified that a pillowcase likely would not have left marks on Maher’s neck, and said it was possible she was strangled with a pillowcase.
Fine began to testify late Monday afternoon, but Associate District Judge Mark Dobbins halted the hearing at 5 p.m. He ordered the hearing to resume Oct. 1 at 9 a.m.
District Attorney Brian Kuester and First Assistant District Attorney Jack Thorp represented the state Monday.
After testimony concludes, Dobbins will rule whether Schneider is to be bound over for trial on the charges he faces, which include first-degree murder, arson, and knowingly concealing stolen property.