The Woodward News

August 23, 2013

Jury to get murder case Friday

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — It is now up to a 7-man, 5-woman jury to decide the fate of David Lee Yelloweagle.

Yelloweagle is accused of participating in the alleged fatal beating of Jon Michael Watkins in Sept. 2010.  He appeared in Woodward County District Court this week for trial on a charge of 2nd degree murder.

On the third day of trial on Thursday the state called 2 additional witnesses before resting it's case, allowing the jury to hear testimony from an OSBI investigator, who testified about Yelloweagle's "somewhat detached" demeanor during interrogations, and from an eyewitness of the attack on Watkins.



AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

Prosecutors called Ashley Carriger to testify to what she remembered from the night of Sept. 22, 2010 as she was one of the group of people with Watkins in his final hours.

Carriger testified about meeting up with Watkins, Yelloweagle, Dillan Hager, Shawn Spencer and Arial Bozarth during a party at a friend's house and then leaving with them to go get more alcohol and drive "out in the country."

After stopping on a dirt road, she said "we were drinking and I think Jon and Dillan had called their girlfriends."  When they both got off the phone, she said "Jon wanted to go back to Woodward and go home, but Dillan for some reason didn't want him to go."

At some point after that she said that while standing in the back of the pickup Watkins dared Hager to hit him.  She said she watched the assault while standing on the ground from the side of the pickup

"Dillan proceeded to hit him," Carriger said.  "He hit him straight to his face and Jon fell.  Then Dillan proceeded to uppercut him and he fell again."

After the first punch, she said Watkins fell to his knees and after the second he "fell straight down and I didn't see him no more."

She said the assault then continued as "Dillan started kicking him" and Spencer and Yelloweagle then jumped up into the pickup bed and allegedly began kicking Watkins as well.

"I was yelling, 'Stop! Stop! Stop!" Carriger said, because she felt "that 3 on one is not right."

However, she said it was the screaming from Bozarth who was standing beside her that finally got the 3 men to stop the attack.

Then leaving Watkins alone in the back, Carriger said she joined the others in the cab of the pickup where Hager began "driving, ramping and going through fences" for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Eventually Hager stopped the pickup and they all got out where Carriger said the next thing she remembers is "just smelling blood."

She said they pulled Watkins' body from the bed of the pickup and she and Bozarth attempted to perform CPR.  Unable to resuscitate him, she said they returned Watkins to the pickup bed and decided to leave his body there as they returned to Woodward.

She testified that she later went along with Hager and Spencer the next day on Sept. 23, 2010 to report Watkins' death but didn't initially tell the truth "because of fear."

Noting she is a former drug addict, Carriger said she has some memory problems.  She also testified about being unable to recall exact times, saying "my concept of time is not very good."

However, she said she was telling the truth in court Thursday because "I just want to do what's right."

She also testified that she regrets not standing up for Watkins sooner.

"I should've stood up that night and done more," a tearful Carriger said.  "Even though I didn't know him, he didn't deserve to die."



HAGER ACCEPTS SOLE RESPONSIBILITY

The defense then called 5 witnesses, including both of the former co-defendants in the case Jeffrey Shawn Spencer and Dillan Shane Hager, who were each previously convicted and sentenced in connection with Watkins' death.  

Although Spencer testified for the prosecution on Wednesday, he was primarily recalled by the defense to testify about the time that passed between the assault that occurred on Watkins and when Hager took the pickup field jumping.

After reviewing a transcript of his previous testimony from a preliminary hearing, Spencer said he believes about an hour passed.  However, he said he couldn't testify to any exact times.

When Hager took the stand, he presented a different version of events than Carriger or Spencer had testified to previously.

While Spencer testified that he, Hager and Yelloweagle at one point were all punching Watkins and Carriger testified that all 3 were kicking him, Hager accepted sole responsibility for the assault.

"I'm the only person that ever had touched him (Watkins)," he said.

Hager appeared in court wearing a gray prison uniform as he is serving a 20-year sentence for pleading guilty to 2nd degree murder in Watkins' death.

When asked if Yelloweagle later hit or kick Watkins, Hager said, "No, he didn't touch him."

Furthermore, Hager testified that he only hit Watkins twice and only after "Jon starting saying he couldn't be knocked out."

"I said 'I bet I can knock you out,' and he said after he finished his beer I could try," Hager said.  "So he finished his beer and I took a swing at him, but just kind of grazed his head.  I then took a hit at him again at his chin and knocked him out.  He falls face down in the back right corner of the pickup."

Hager testified that Watkins remained unconscious for several minutes afterward, even as he drove the group to a pond near his mom's house.  

Hager said the group was at the pond for "probably 15 to 20 minutes.  After that we ran out of chasers so we went to my mom's house, me and Shawn drove to my mom's house to get more chasers and Jon was still laying in the back."

While at his mom's house, Hager said his mother drove up and he joked with her about knocking out Watkins.

"I thought I'd mess with her and asked if she wanted to see a dead body in the back of the pickup," he said.  "Jon was still in the back of the pickup but he wasn't dead.  He actually woke up shortly after that."

After replenishing their alcohol, Hager said he, Spencer and Watkins all returned to the pond where Yelloweagle, Bozarth and Carriger had stayed.

"We were hanging out there for a minute, drinking and stuff and then Jon's girlfriend starts texting him wanting him to come back to Woodward.  I don't know if he was supposed to pick her up or he had to be back by a certain time or what, but he told me to drive back to town," Hager said.

However, before leaving, Hager said that he and Watkins made up.

"I asked him 'you mad at me?' and he said 'no, just go back to town,'" Hager said.

But instead of taking the road back to town, he said he began "ramping fields, cattle guards and taking out fences."  At one point he said, "I ramped so high that we did a nosedive on the way back down, so we were about 5 to 6 feet off the ground."

He said he was driving around like that for 10 to 15 minutes before the truck broke down causing him to stop.

"I got out to see what was wrong with the truck to see if I could fix it," he said.  "And I could smell iron or whatever it is that blood smells like.  I smelled a lot of blood."

He then went around to the back of the pickup where he said Watkins was "laying there dead."

"There was so much blood that when I opened the tailgate it began to run off onto the grass," Hager said.

He then testified to jumping into the back of the pickup to check on Watkins and how the girls attempted to resuscitate him with CPR.

When they couldn't revive Watkins or repair the truck, he said the rest of the group got a ride back to Woodward.

After returning to a friend's house, Hager said that he "was pacing the floor and thinking what should I do."  He testified that as he was pacing he began "panicking and crying.  I didn't know what to do."

But he eventually decided to go to the Sheriff's Office and asked Spencer and Carriger to go along as well so they could report Watkins' death.

However, like Carriger and Spencer, Hager testified that his initial statement to sheriff's officials was not the same as to what he testified to in court.

But he claimed to be telling the truth in court and that he felt responsible and guilty for Watkins' death.



OTHER DEFENSE WITNESSES

The defense also solicited testimony from Dillan Hager's mother, Robby Hager about what she witnessed on the night of Sept. 22, 2010.

Robby Hager testified to returning home after church and dinner with family friends around 11 p.m. and seeing her son and Spencer pull up to the house in an unknown pickup.

She said she spoke with her son and Spencer for a few moments before then observing Watkins get out of the back of the pickup, stumble, fall and then get back up.

She said she became concerned for Watkins and "asked if he was okay because he was so drunk."  She said she even asked if he needed to go to the hospital, but in response, "he said, 'no, I got this.'"

After that, Robby Hager said she went into her house and didn't witness any of the other events that evening.

Other defense witnesses included a man who rented property near the field where Watkins' body was found in the back of his pickup, as well as an investigator with the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System (OIDS).

Jerry Story was the man who held a farming lease for a wheat filed near the Hager residence in 2010.  Story testified to finding damaged fence posts in Sept. 2010 right around the time when he would've been planting wheat.

He said that he found "half a dozen, maybe 10" T-posts were damaged as "2 fences were torn up by someone driving through them."

He then testified to the terrain in the area, saying it was "extremely rough ground right on the north side of the creek," but that most of the field would have likely been pretty level due to plowing in preparation for wheat planting.

OIDS Investigator Steve Wilson also testified to the terrain around the former Hager residence and neighboring field that Story was leasing in 2010.

Wilson said he took photographs in 2011 and 2012 of the field and a dirt access road along the edge of the field.  He said the photographs showed a ditch measuring around 18-inches across between the road and edge of the field in some places and showed that the field was a couple of feet higher than the road in some places.  Still other photographs showed "a gully" running along the edge of the field just inside the fence line.

 

AN EXPERT WITH A DIFFERENT OPINION

The defense's only other witness was an independent expert pathologist, who testified that he reached a different opinion as to Watkins' cause of death.

Dr. Edward Friedlander is a certified anatomical and clinical pathologist and chairs the Department of Pathology at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, in Kansas City, Mo.

Friedlander said that he reviewed the autopsy report and autopsy photos from Dr. Marc Harrison, the pathologist with the Oklahoma Chief Medical Examiner's Office who conducted Watkins' autopsy.

He testified that he agreed with most of Harrison's findings in the autopsy report and called it a "good report."

However, where Harrison testified on Wednesday that "it is my opinion that he (Watkins) was beaten and that was the cause of death," Friedlander said he didn't believe that the punches to Watkins' face could have caused his death.

Friedlander said that was based on the assumption that Watkins was up walking and talking more than 15 minutes after he was punched.

"If you're talking after more than 15 minutes (following a blow to the head), then you are not going to die from that blow," he said.

Friedlander said his assumption about Watkins' level of consciousness following the blows to his head came from the defense counsel Peter Scimeca.

"I'm assuming the subject was talking 15 minutes after," he said.

"Where did you get that information?" Assistant District Attorney Susan Meinders asked during cross examination.

"Mr. Scimeca.  He assured me of that," Friedlander said.

When asked if Scimeca provided any evidence that Watkins might not have been up walking around after the attack, the pathologist said no.

Nevertheless, he said, "I trust what Mr. Scimeca told me. If the jury finds different then that's up to them."

In addition to testifying that the blows would not have been fatal if Watkins was still talking more than 15 minutes later, Friedlander testified that he believed a lot of the bruising to Watkins' body was more consistent with bouncing around in the back of the pickup rather than with getting punched or kicked.

He said that the tight grouping of multiple bruises on the side and back of Watkins' head, seen in autopsy photos were the scalp was lifted back to see the skull, were "not from blows moving the head, but from the head bouncing again and again off of some surface."

Friedlander admitted, though, that the injuries to Watkins' face indicated he was hit more than just 2 times to the face.

During cross examination, Friedlander testified that he was receiving compensation for his testimony.  Saying prior to appearing in court he had billed the defense around $2,100 for his work in reviewing the autopsy report and that he planned to bill an additional $3,000 for his appearance in court.

However, he described serving as an expert witness as "a terrible way to make a living" and that he testifies as an expert because he likes it and "because I want to do what's right."

CASE TO GO TO JURY

After the defense also rested it's case around 2:15 p.m., the jurors were released for the day and told to return at 9 a.m. today ready to hear closing arguments and then go into deliberations.

Once the jurors were released and the case was recessed, the judge met with both the prosecution and defense attorneys to work out what instructions will be presented to the jury with regards to their deliberations.

Both sides have the opportunity to request special instructions asking the jury to reach a verdict in their favor if certain conditions are met.

Assistant District Attorney Chris Boring and defense attorney Peter Scimeca told The News they were looking forward to seeing what the jury decides.

"We're pleased that we got done today," Boring said after the case recessed Thursday.  "All the information is into the jury that was available to them and we will make closing arguments tomorrow and then they can decide."

In return, Scimeca said, "Mr. Yelloweagle is satisfied with the evidence that has been presented and is hopeful that the jury will see the truth in the facts."

And the "truth" he hopes they find is "that Mr. Yelloweagle is not guilty of 2nd degree murder."

"Everyone is remorseful.  Everyone involved in this case is saddened by the lost of Jon Watkins.  But that is no excuse for another young man to lose his liberty," Scimeca said.