The Woodward News

August 21, 2013

Day one of trial offers statements, 2 witnesses

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Two law enforcement officers were the first witnesses called in the 2nd degree murder trial against David Lee Yelloweagle.

Yelloweagle is one of 3 men who was charged with the Sept. 2010 death of 20-year-old Jon Michael Watkins.

His trial began Tuesday morning with the selection of a jury, with 8 men and 4 women impaneled.  Another man and woman were selected to serve as alternates.

The trial resumed Tuesday afternoon with opening statements from the prosecution and defense attorneys.

The prosecution's statement was delivered by Assistant District Attorney Christopher Boring.

After reading the formal charges against Yelloweagle, Boring began his opening statement by showing a smiling portrait of Watkins, who as a 20-year-old "had the whole world before him."

Then he went on to describe how after a night of drinking "with a group of people who were supposed to be his friends," Watkins got into a fight with Dillan Hager, one of the former co-defendants in the case.  (Hager and the other former co-defendant Jeffrey Shawn Spencer have already pled and been sentenced.)

Boring admitted that Watkins asked Hager to punch him, but after being knocked to the ground, Watkins got up and tried to get back at Hager, who then knocked him back down.

"Evidence will show that Jon never got back up again.  The evidence will also show that at that point the defendant David Lee Yelloweagle, Dillan Hager, and Shawn Spencer began their brutal attack on the victim," Boring said, adding "they beat him, they battered him and they broke him."

The ADA then showed another photograph of Watkins, one showing his bruised, bloodied and swollen face after his body was found left in the bed of his pickup in a field south of Woodward on the morning of Sept. 23.

In defense attorney Peter Scimeca's opening statement, he argued that there is some doubt over Yelloweagle's involvement in the attack on Watkins.  He said his client's involvement is "highly contested."

Scimeca told a similar story about the events leading up to the beginning of the fight between Hager and Watkins, including that there had been "drinking to excess."

Like Boring, Scimeca said Watkins initiated the fight with Hager, daring Hager to punch him.

"Hager hits him once and then he hits him twice and that's the shot that takes him out," Scimeca said.  "But at this point in the story you get different views."

The defense attorney says the reason for the different views is "the misty haze of alcohol and drugs on the memory" of those involved.

He claims that the narrative where Spencer and Yelloweagle join in on the attack against Watkins is Spencer's memories of that night.

However, he said Hager has a different memory and "will testify that there never was any subsequent punches and hits to the face."

And instead of being knocked down for good, Watkins got back up and the group of friends "made up and said 'sorry, that was stupid,' and then they sat around for another hour drinking," he said.

During that time, Scimeca said that although Watkins was highly intoxicated, he was still "up, alert, speaking in complete sentences and that he knowingly and voluntarily put himself in the back of the pickup."

He said the defense holds that Watkins didn't die until after he had been riding around in the back of the pickup while "Hager drove like a wild man" around the county roads and through fields in that area.

The defense attorney said a Dr. Edward Friedlander will testify that he believes the blows to Watkins' body are more consistent with "blows delivered as a result of riding in the back of the pickup."

"He will also testify about a subdural hematoma on the back of Watkins' head that he found to be more similar to the result of a car wreck and not from fists and feet hitting the head," Scimeca said.



OFFICERS TESTIFY

However, the only testimony heard on Tuesday was from two of the initial investigators on the case.

First to testify was Travis Riley, who is currently a corporal with the Woodward Police Department.  However in Sept. 2010, Riley was serving as a deputy with the Woodward County Sheriff's Office.

Riley testified that in that capacity he was called out in the early morning hours of Sept. 23, 2010, around 6:30 a.m., to a location approximately 7 miles south of Woodward on 34th Street (County Road N/S 201) for a reported vehicle accident.

However, upon finally locating the pickup truck in a field several hundred feet from the nearest roadway, Riley said it didn't appear to be a traffic accident.

In fact, he said he "contacted my supervisor then, Capt. Paul Cornett, because it seemed strange."

Boring asked why it seemed strange and Riley said "because I was contacted for a vehicle accident but all the damage seemed to be around his (Watkins') face and head."

During his testimony, the prosecution had Riley describe a number of photographs that he took of the crime scene which showed the location of the truck and the location of Watkins' body in the back of the pickup.

He also described how the photos showed how "the whole back half of the pickup bed on the floor was covered in blood."

In another photo, which was taken after the medical examiner had arrived and turned Watkins' body over from its side to see his face, Riley described how he observed "a lot of swelling and his bottom lip had serrations that matched up with his teeth; it looked like somebody beat him really hard."

The officer also described the signs he observed signaling how long Watkins' body had been left in the bed of the pickup, from the rigor mortis which kept his arms and legs bent even as the medical examiner turned him over, to how the blood had pooled on Watkins' left side where he had been left laying in the pickup bed.

The defense had Riley testify to other photographs taken at the crime scene which showed damage to the side of the pickup and damage to a fence, with evidence that the fence had been struck by the fence.  This evidence included scratches along the passenger side of the pickup, which Riley said looked like they were caused by barbed wire.  There was another photo showing paint transfer from the truck on a fence post.

Following Riley's testimony, his former supervisor Cornett, who is now a special agent with the Department of Agriculture, then took the stand.

Cornett was also asked to testify about many of the same photographs, as well as some aerial photographs showing a wider overhead view of the field where the pickup was located.

Like Riley, Cornett also testified about the large amount of blood in the bed of the pickup saying that was the first thing he recalled noticing at the scene.

"In my opinion, based upon the amount of blood at the location, it didn't appear to be an accident," Cornett said.

He also testified about searching the ground around the pickup for any additional blood evidence, but failed to find any blood that wasn't on the pickup.

Another portion of Cornett's testimony centered around reports he received in the days following Watkins' death about damage to fence line in that area.

The defense focused on a report of damage to a fence about a mile away from where the pickup was left.  The fence was around a field belonging to Jerry Story.

Cornett said he was notified about the damage by Story on Sept. 30, 2010, a week after Watkins' death.  He said he took photographs of the damage, which included 2 areas with 2 to 3 fence posts damaged, "where you could clearly see where a vehicle went in and came out."

Cornett said he left the photographs in the possession of the Sheriff's Office when he left for his new job in Jan. 2011.

However, Scimeca said those photos have since gone missing and are "no longer in the record of the Sheriff's Office."

After Cornett's testimony, Associate District Judge Rick Bozarth recessed for the day.

Bozarth primarily serves in Dewey County, but was appointed to hear this case by District Judge Ray Dean Linder.



ATTORNEYS' COMMENTS

Both the prosecution and defense attorneys seemed pleased with the progress made on the first day of trial.

"We're pleased with where we're at and we're ready to go forward tomorrow and present our evidence," ADA Boring said in a brief statement to The News after court was recessed for the day.

The defense seems equally eager to proceed.

"Mr. Yelloweagle is happy to have his day in court and we look forward to having the jury hear all the evidence," Scimeca said to The News.

Yelloweagle appeared in court Tuesday wearing a black pinstriped suit with a white shirt and blue tie.  A group of about 7 of his family members and friends turned out in his support.

Several family members of the victim were also in attendance for the first day of trial.

The trial will resume today at 9 a.m.