Murder trial begins in the 1988 slaying of Miriam Rice

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - The murder trial began Monday for one of the suspects in the 1988 slaying of Miriam Rice in South Bend. Jury selection and witness testimony happened inside the St. Joseph County Courthouse Monday.

Miriam Rice

It was the first time Miriam's husband, Jeff Rice, spoke so candidly and vividly about his wife and her murder. Through his tears, he told jurors he loved Miriam and was worried when she didn't come back from walking their dog on June 24, 1988.

He also remembered calling police and family, and also the massive search to find her.

On the stand, Rice revealed it was a brother-in-law who ended up finding a woman's body near Pinhook Park, and it was Miriam's wedding rings that helped later identified her.

The couple married in 1981 and had a toddler son and a 7-year-old dog named Max. The couple moved to South Bend after Rice got a job as a career counselor at the University of Notre Dame two years before the murder.

Rice said Miriam woke up around 11 p.m. on June 24 ready to walk the dog. This was something they'd do together or separately. That night, he remembered he was watching "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."

While testifying, Rice smiled at the memory of him helping Miriam put on her socks and shoes. She was four months pregnant, but he described her as healthy and in great shape.

Barbara Brewster, 56, is on trial for the murder and has pleaded not guilty. She sat with her attorney, as Rice explained that he told the responding officer "my wife is missing, we need to find her."

After Brewster's arrest last year, she admitted to police that she was at Pinhook Park during the killing but that her then-boyfriend George Kearney actually killed Miriam.

Kearney, 78, blamed Brewster for the slaying. He changed his plea to guilty in early March and died later that month.

On Monday, prosecutors also called four South Bend police officers who talked about the near weeklong search for Miriam. The then-Chief of Detectives Don Ruszkowski told jurors the circumstances of this case felt "different" from others.

He said this was the first time a pathologist was brought to the crime scene, and added that WNDU assisted in the search by lending a station helicopter to police.

Witness testimony will continue Tuesday morning. Throughout the trial, Brewster's son Robert, who said he saw the murder, and her daughter Paula, who said she was told to help clean up afterward, are among those expected to take the stand.

NewsCenter 16 will continue to follow this trial as it progresses.