Woodward, Okla. —
The 2 cases against David Lee Yelloweagle in connection with the Sept. 2010 death of Jon Michael Watkins will both go forward.
Yelloweagle, 21, was charged in June 2011 with second degree murder for allegedly participating along with co-defendants Dillan Shane Hager and Jeffery Shawn Spencer in an assault on the 20-year-old Watkins, which authorities believe led to Watkins' death.
Then in September 2012 just days before his scheduled jury trial in the murder case was originally set to begin on Oct. 15, the state filed a new case against Yelloweagle charging him with encouraging a minor to commit or participate in committing manslaughter in the 1st degree. The charge accuses Yelloweagle of allegedly aiding, abetting, encouraging and/or simply failing to stop the then 17-year-old Spencer from participating in the assault on Watkins.
Yelloweagle appeared in court Friday with his attorney Peter L. Scimeca to argue motions to dismiss the cases, or at least one of the two, claiming that Yelloweagle's rights against double jeopardy were being violated.
By subjecting Yelloweagle to 2 cases and 2 potential trials, Scimeca said, "it's clearly a violation of the double jeopardy analysis, which is to protect the accused from multiple attempts to punish him for the same crime."
"If you peel back all the layers, you'll see that what the state is after in both cases is who is responsible for the death of Jon Watkins," he said.
Because of that, Scimeca said that "what the defendant is asking is for the state to pick a case."
Scimeca argued that 2 cases are unnecessary because both cases rely on the same evidence.
"If we have 2 trials, we are going to produce the same evidence twice. Both cases involve the same night, the same players, and the same wrong act, that being the death of Jon Watkins," he said.
The defense attorney even implied that all the questions asked by attorneys in arguing both cases would be the same, save one.
"The only question I see that you could ask different in the contributing case is 'how old are you Mr. Spencer,'" Scimeca said.
But Assistant District Attorney Christopher Boring argued that one question posed the world of difference between the cases. That's because it goes to the different elements that must be proven in each case in order to convict someone of the 2 "separate and distinct" crimes, Boring said.
"In the murder case we don't have to prove that Spencer was a minor to prove murder in the second degree, and in the encouraging a minor to commit manslaughter in the first degree we don't have to prove the act was done with malice or a depraved mind," he said.
Because of these different elements, he said it is possible that the state "could prove murder in the 2nd degree while he would be acquitted in the encouraging a minor case, or vice versa."
Boring also argued that the crimes were separate and required separate cases because they had different victims.
In the murder case, the victim is Watkins, he said. However, the ADA said the state believes there are 2 victims in the case for encouraging a minor to commit manslaughter, with "one being the minor, Spencer, and the other being Watkins."
However, Scimeca also argued that without the murder charge against his client, the charge of encouraging a minor to commit or participate in manslaughter wouldn't stand up.
"If the murder allegations go away, then you have to take the contributing allegation away," he said.
District Judge Ray Dean Linder seemed to agree that the second case is dependent on the first, stating that if the state is unsuccessful in prosecuting the murder case then the encouraging a minor charge would likely be dismissed, "but if the murder charge is upheld, then the defendant will be in deeper water with regards to the contributing charge."
Nevertheless, the judge ruled that while they may be connected the 2 cases were separate by "as wide as a country road."
"The crimes as set out in Oklahoma statute are in fact separate and distinct and proof in every element in one does not sustain the other case," Linder said, adding that in his long legal career, "I don't believe I've ever read in any case for murder that one of the participants must be a minor in order to prove the case."
After denying the defense's motions to dismiss, the judge then addressed another motion from the defense to set the trial date for the murder case as soon as possible.
Recognizing that Yelloweagle remains in jail while awaiting the outcome of the murder case, Linder said, "The defendant is entitled to a speedy trial."
As the presiding judge over 18 counties "stretching from Boise City to Medford and from Kingfisher to Sayre," Linder said he even had the authority to appoint any of 26 judges within those counties to handle the case if the defendant wanted to move to trial faster than his own schedule would allow.
However, after about 30 minutes of conferencing between all the parties involved, the attorneys agreed they wanted Linder to continue on as the judge in the case, selecting a trial date 9 months away.
Yelloweagle's jury trial for the murder case is now set to begin on Aug. 20, 2013, with 7 days set aside for the trial. A status hearing has been set for July 31, 2013 for the hearing of any additional pre-trial motions.
However, since the separate case for encouraging a minor to commit/participate in manslaughter will also proceed, Yelloweagle's next appearance in court will be on March 12, 2013 at 9:30 a.m. for a preliminary hearing in that case.
Following Friday's hearing, Boring told The News that the state is ready to "go forward" with both cases, but didn't have any additional comments.
However, Scimeca did offer a few comments to The News on behalf of his client.
"The accused is disappointed and disagrees with, but respects, the ruling of the court. Mr. Yelloweagle is innocent of the allegations in both cases and now will be subject to the grueling and unpredictable trial process 2 times," he said.
As Scimeca has previously indicated Yelloweagle's eagerness to have his trial as soon as possible in the murder case, The News asked why the defense agreed to wait until the August trial date instead of choosing an earlier date with a different judge.
Scimeca replied by saying, "Mr. Yelloweagle and myself have confidence in Judge Linder's fairness and application of the rule of law."