Woodward, Okla. —
“A country ass whooping.”
That is how Jeffrey Shawn Spencer described the attack against 20-year-old Jon Michael Watkins on the night of Sept. 22, 2010.
Spencer took the stand Wednesday in the 2nd degree murder trial against David Lee Yelloweagle, who is accused of participating in the allegedly fatal attack on Watkins.
The prosecution is arguing that Watkins died from injuries he sustained from the attack, while Yelloweagle's defense attorney Peter Scimeca is arguing that Watkins survived the fight and only died after riding around in the back of a pickup that was driven through "rough terrain."
The prosecution called Spencer to testify because he was present for the attack on Watkins. In fact, Spencer participated in the assault and was also charged in connection with Watkins' death.
However, Spencer pleaded no contest in Feb. 2012 to a lesser charge of manslaughter in the first degree as part of a plea agreement with the District Attorney's Office.
Spencer testified that while he accepted the DA's plea agreement, he only did so because he was afraid of being sent to jail for life. And he said that he entered a no contest plea, as opposed to a guilty plea, to the charge of manslaughter in the first degree, "because I wasn't guilty."
In return for the reduced charge and a reduced sentence, in which he received 1 year in incarceration and a 14-year suspended sentence, Spencer agreed to testify on behalf of the state.
During his testimony, Spencer described the events of the day on Sept. 22, 2010 leading up to the assault on Watkins and his subsequent death.
Spencer said he, Watkins and Dillan Hager had been drinking throughout the day, and at one point, stopped at the liquor store to purchase bottles of whiskey and vodka, each approximately a half-gallon in size.
He said the drinking had started early when they were working on Watkins' truck at a friends house in the morning and continued as they went on to Hager's mother's house in the afternoon and "were shooting at trees and having a good time."
"Later in the day we went back to Troy's (a friend's) house and that's when the party started because we had alcohol," he said.
It was during this party that he said the defendant David Yelloweagle and 2 female friends, Arial Bozarth and Ashley Carriger, joined their group.
Eventually though the residents of the house they were at called the party to an end and asked them to leave.
"We had alcohol and still wanted to go on but everybody else wanted to pass out, so we decided we'd go make our own little party and go out on a dirt road," Spencer said.
So he, Hager, Yelloweagle, Bozarth and Carriger joined Watkins in his pickup and drove out near Hager's mother's home which is located approximately 7 miles south of Woodward on N/S 201.
They stopped on the road, climbed into the back of the pickup and "turned up the music, drank and just hung out," he said.
A 'SCUFFLE' ERUPTS
After a couple of hours though, when they had all "got drunk," Spencer said, "Jon and Dillan decided to have a knock-out contest." He later agreed during cross examination that Watkins had the idea for the knock-out contest.
But it was Dillan who hit first, he said.
"Dillan hit Jon and it pretty much knocked him out cold for a second," he said, noting that Watkins "fell to his knees" from the blow.
Spencer said he initially "thought it was funny once he got knocked out; it was guys being guys."
But things turned serious when he saw Watkins get up and "came at Dillan with an aggressive force."
"I thought 'what's going on? why did he come at Dillan like that?' and I got pissed off," Spencer said.
As Hager and Watkins began to "scuffle," he said "I got myself in there as a presence to try to break things up. But then I felt that I got hit and then I got pissed off and I threw a couple of punches and kicks. Then after that David got in a couple of hits."
However, he testified that he only saw Yelloweagle punch Watkins and never saw him kick the victim.
He said the whole attack lasted for "around 5 to 6 minutes at the most."
"But it wasn't nothing much. It was a misunderstanding, a scuffle," he said.
Throughout the fight he said, "the girls were screaming, wanting to know what was going on. ... They were trying to get us to stop and screaming, you know, 'Why?'"
He said eventually all 4 guys "came to our senses and realized it was just a misunderstanding and we all stopped."
Spencer testified the guys then "all apologized" to each other and hung out and drank some more "for a while," before deciding to head back to Woodward.
The defense indicated that Spencer had previously testified they had been at location for up to an hour and a half after the fight before driving away, but he couldn't testify to any specific times on Wednesday.
However, he did testify that Watkins was upright and sitting on a tool box in the back of the pickup and talking in complete sentences following the fight.
Spencer also said that when the group decided to drive off, Watkins chose to stay in the bed of the pickup, while the rest rode in the cab, "because he had gotten drunk and couldn't drive and wanted to sit back there and sober up on the way back to Woodward."
"But we never made it back to Woodward then," he said.
Instead, he said Hager who was driving Watkins' pickup down the county road decided to "drive into a ditch, ran into a fence and then jumped into a field," driving around for about 20 to 30 minutes, before ending up back near Hager's mother's house, where the truck had "broken down somehow."
A STRANGE SMELL AND LOTS OF BLOOD
With the vehicle disabled, the group exited the cab and Spencer said he noticed "a distinct smell in the air that wasn't normal."
He said he then went around the side of the vehicle to check on Watkins.
"I let down the tailgate and the bed of the pickup was just sopping with blood," he said.
So he climbed into the back of the pickup and tried to rouse Watkins. "I put my foot on him and tried to talk to him," he said.
After getting no response though, Spencer said he sat down and "put his head on my knee and leaned over to try to hear if he was breathing. He wasn't breathing so I tried CPR but got nothing out of it. Then the girls tried CPR."
When they were also unsuccessful, he said, "we came to the conclusion he had died."
At that time he said Watkins' body had felt "cold and stiff."
The group then exited the pickup, leaving Watkins' body in the back and began to talk about what they were going to do. Spencer said that Hager and Yelloweagle "already had warrants out for their arrest" and didn't want to report the incident to authorities.
"I said 'alright whatever you want to do, if you don't want to call the police we won't call,'" he said, but added that he later tried to convince them to turn themselves in saying "if we run from this it will only be worse and make it look like we're guilty."
However, the group just decided to begin walking back toward Woodward and Carriger eventually called someone to come pick them up. Spencer said he, Hager and Carriger eventually ended up back at a friend's house where they "changed clothes, got in the shower to wash all that bloody stuff off us, had something to eat and then, to tell you the truth, I sat down on the couch and passed out."
He said he slept for about an hour before Hager woke him up and they spoke with their friends and made the decision to turn themselves in. He, Hager and Carriger then came to the sheriff's office around 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 23, 2010 and "told them 'we think our friend is dead.'"
He and Hager were then taken by police to help show law enforcement where the pickup and Watkins' body was located.
INVESTIGATOR AND EXPERT TESTIMONY
Also testifying Wednesday was Curt Terry, a special agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
Terry testified about taking several blood samples from the bed of the pickup and a piece of a broken tooth, and sending them to the OSBI lab for analysis. He said all were forensically matched back to Watkins.
Terry also testified about other evidence he collected away from the crime scene, including bloody clothes found at Spencer's friend's house where the trio had gone to clean up after returning to Woodward. He never said whether any of these clothing items were analyzed to have the blood stains DNA tested.
However, he said he eventually collected a pair of shoes belonging to Yelloweagle after getting a search warrant several weeks after Watkins' death. The shoes were sent in for OSBI analysis and it was determined they had come into contact with Watkins' blood.
Terry also testified about copies of several different phone records that he reviewed as part of his investigation, including Watkins' phone records showing numerous texts he sent to his girlfriend on the night of Sept. 22, 2010.
When asked about the content of those texts, Terry said, "Through my investigation I learned that they said Jon was wanting to go home, to go back to Woodward and wasn't being allowed to by Mr. Hager."
The OSBI agent also testified about records showing numerous phone calls between Carriger and the person she called to pick the group up from out in the county. However, despite all those calls, he said none of the phone records he reviewed showed that any of the group including Yelloweagle, Hager, Spencer, Carriger and Bozarth ever called 9-1-1 following Watkins' death.
Spencer confirmed this during his testimony when Assistant District Attorney Chris Boring asked if they called emergency officials and Spencer testified, "I don't think we ever did."
The jury also heard testimony from 2 expert witnesses: Dr. Marc Harrison, who is a forensic pathologist with the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Oklahoma City, and Doug Perkins, an OSBI blood spatter expert.
Harrison testified about the autopsy he performed on Watkins' body on Sept. 24, 2010. He primarily explained a number of photographs he had taken during the autopsy to document injuries to Watkins' body. This included graphic photographs showing damage to his brain, in the form of several hemorrhages, or areas where there was bleeding on his brain, and a photograph of an x-ray showing Watkins' broken jaw that was "most likely from a blow to the chin," Harrison said.
Other photographs showed the approximately dozen different lacerations to Watkins' face and numerous contusions to his face, back of his head, hands and knees. But most of the injuries were "localized to his face and head and back of his hands," the pathologist said.
Harrison said that all the wounds on Watkins' body "tell a story" about how he died.
And from analyzing them, he said, "Jon Watkins told me that he had been beaten."
However, upon the defense's cross examination, Harrison said that some of the injuries, such as the large contusion to the back of the head, could also potentially be consistent with a car accident. Upon Scimeca's questioning, he also agreed that forensic science cannot determine what specific blow might have led to Watkins' death, just that he died from multiple blunt force trauma.
Scimeca asked whether Watkins' .23 blood alcohol content (BAC), or almost 3 times the legal limit, could have exacerbated his injuries. Harrison said "it can be argued that alcohol in the blood would allow an individual to bleed more freely."
"So we don't know that if he didn't have any alcohol in his system he may have lived or may have still died from this, we just can't tell?" Scimeca asked. "Correct," Harrison said.
Perkins testified about the "large density of blood spatter" located in the rear of the bed of the pickup on both the driver's and passenger's side walls behind the wheel fender wells and on the tailgate. Although he didn't respond personally to the crime scene, Perkins said he analyzed the blood splatter through photographs taken by investigators.
From the shape of the droplets, he said the majority of the spatter was created by striking a bloody object "very low or at the floor level" in the back of the truck.
"So it would not be from someone standing up, but more like someone's laying down," Perkins said.
In addition, he testified that the size of the droplets were consistent with a medium velocity impact, meaning "the blood droplets were acted upon by an object moving between 5 to 25 feet per second." As examples, he said medium velocity impact spatter could be created when a bloody object was "struck by a 2x4, struck by a baseball bat or hit with a fist."
In summarizing his analysis, Perkins said, "The patterns, size, density and populations of the blood spatter and the injuries to the victim all indicate blunt force trauma injuries, which would be in the range of beatings, but I'm not sure of what weapon might have been used."
Following the second day of testimony, both the defense and prosecution remained optimistic about the progress of the case.
Scimeca told The News that his client, "Mr. Yelloweagle is happy with the presentation of today's evidence."
When asked why, since all the witnesses who testified did so on behalf of the state, the defense attorney said, "we think it showed some serious problems with the state's case."
However, Scimeca said he couldn't elaborate as to what those problems might be.
But the prosecutors didn't seem worried.
"We're pleased we got as far as we have today; we've gotten lots done and we look forward to wrapping the case up and getting it to the jury," ADA Boring told The News.
Both Boring and Scimeca said they have "a goal to get this to the jury by Friday afternoon."
A CHANGE TO THE JURY
Before any testimony was heard in the second day of trial on Wednesday morning, one of the original 12 jurors impaneled in the case had been excused from service.
The first alternate moved up into his place, now making it a 5-woman, 7-man jury with one male alternate remaining.
Judge Bozarth explained that Juror 11 was excused after it was discovered following the first day of trial that the juror had previously pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, but failed to make his record known during the jury selection process on Tuesday.
“The state thought that he was disingenuous because he didn't reveal his prior dealings with the District Attorney's Office and with our criminal justice system. They felt that disqualified him from serving as a juror,” Bozarth told The News. “We made the determination that since he hadn't been forthright about his past, he would be excused from service.”
Woodward, Okla. —
“A country ass whooping.”
- Local News
House advances tax cut measure
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A plan to cut both Oklahoma's corporate and individual income tax rates once certain revenue triggers are reached cleared the Oklahoma House on Thursday over the objections of Democrats who contend the resulting loss of funds will decimate critical state services such as education, public safety and health care.
Documentary to feature Harvey Girls
They inspired a film starring Judy Garland called “The Harvey Girls.”
County set to buy 2 graders
County commissioners will take action regarding the purchase of two John Deere motor graders for Woodward County District 2 as well as address requests for permitting Monday morning at the regularly scheduled meeting.
Family big part of livestock show
It takes a lot to get a kid and his steer or heifer to the Woodward District Livestock show, but people do it.
Vintage movies coming to downtown theater
Friday afternoons my Grandmother would pick my older brother and myself up from school and we would spend the evening in the old Ritz Theatre in my hometown.
Obama offers budget designed to rally Democrats
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's election-year budget seeks to rally fellow Democrats with new help for the working poor and fresh money for road-building, education and research. It also pulls back from controversial cuts to Social Security that had been designed to lure Republicans to the bargaining table.
Local families ready to move forward after court judgment
Nearly two years after a tornado ripped through Woodward and destroyed their homes, three Woodward families finally have hope they may be able to make their lives whole.
Local residents awarded damages in lawsuit
Lawsuit against insurance companies decided.
Investigation into fire continuing
Monday there was little more than a wet, charred and frozen mass of rubble to mark the homes of 12 displaced families after a Saturday night blaze claimed an entire building unit at Briarwood Apartments.
Dr. Bement returning for museum program
Imagine large villages of Native Americans situated along local river banks and major streams in northwestern Oklahoma. As early horticultural groups, they have plots of corn, beans and squash. The men hunt buffalo with bow and arrow to provide meat for the village.
- More Local News Headlines
- House advances tax cut measure