Daniel Hartman was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder and related charges in the shooting death of Jacob Wages, and received two life sentences and a 15-year term.
Jurors at first convicted Hartman, 18, of first-degree murder, armed criminal action and first-degree burglary at the end of a three-day trial in Jasper County Circuit Court. But the convictions were vacated by Circuit Judge Gayle Crane when jurors could not unanimously agree that he should spend the rest of his life in prison without any chance of parole.
State law requires life without parole for a first-degree murder conviction in cases in which the death penalty is not on the table.
The jury had deliberated for about two hours before finding Hartman guilty as charged on all three counts: first-degree murder, armed criminal action and first-degree burglary. They took less time to decide that they could not agree to life without parole.
They subsequently found him guilty of second-degree murder and the other charges, and gave him life sentences with the possibility of parole, and the lesser term for burglary.
The defendant, a reputed member of a Hoover Street Crips gang in Tulsa, Okla., did not take the witness stand in the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial, but he did during the penalty phase, telling jurors he was innocent and that they had him all wrong.
“Yeah, I’m a gang member,” Hartman said. “I’m a Crip. Community Revolution in Progress.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s a killer, he said. He denied having been involved in any of the numerous shooting incidents in Tulsa that co-defendant Elijah Taylor testified that Hartman had confided to him that he was involved in. And he denied committing a previous murder that Taylor testified that Hartman had “beat” when his co-defendant refused to testify against him.
“They charged me for it, but I wasn’t good for it,” Hartman told the jury.
He said he wanted to apologize to members of Wages’ family who were in the courtroom and had attended each day of the trial. He regretted what happened to the 23-year-old Joplin man, he said, but he had nothing to do with it.
“I never been to 19th and Pearl,” Hartman said, referring to Wages’ home where he was shot to death in the middle of the night on July 6, 2012. “I never been nowhere around there.”
He said he came to Joplin “with the wrong people,” got messed up and fell asleep. He never went with his co-defendants to the victim’s home, he said.
His attorney, William Fleischaker, attempted to shift the blame for the shooting death to Johnathan Taylor, one of four co-defendants charged with being Hartman’s accomplices. One of the other co-defendants, Cody Stephens, had testified that the .22-caliber handgun believed to have been the murder weapon belonged to Johnathan Taylor, although he also testified that it was Hartman who had it with him the night in question.
“Why would a person go to a robbery and not take his own gun, and give his gun to somebody else?” Fleischaker asked during closing arguments.
He said there was no evidence that Hartman was there that night other than the testimony of three co-defendants, who were not consistent in their accounts and had their own motives for wanting to blame his client instead. Stephens had impeached himself on the witness stand by admitting that he lied to investigators early on in the case.
“The only way you can find Daniel guilty is if you accept versions from all of these liars,” Fleischaker said.
Prosecutors countered that while there were inconsistencies in the testimonies of Stephens and co-defendant Elijah Taylor, who testified as witnesses for the state on Wednesday, and co-defendant Marcus Stephens, who was called as a defense witness Thursday, all three were consistent on the crucial point.
“Every witness who was at the scene who testified said (Hartman) shot him,” prosecutor Norman Rouse said in closing arguments.
He said each of them admitted what he had done and pleaded guilty to murder. They were “owning up to what happened” and were not being liars, the prosecutor said.
Rouse told jurors that the crime was all the more tragic because the culprits’ reason for breaking into Wages’ home in the first place — to rob him of a supposed stash of Ecstasy pills and $5,000 in cash — appears to have been a mistake. By their own accounts, they found no “mollies” and no cash.
Police found only a small amount of marijuana in the home, he said. The medical examiner found no traces of Ecstasy in a toxicology screen, he said.
If Wages was a drug dealer, Rouse said, there sure wasn’t any evidence of it.
“Jacob Wages was somebody who got killed for nothing,” Rouse said. “For nothing. Because of a mistaken perception.”
CO-DEFENDANT JOHNATHAN TAYLOR’S girlfriend, Brittany Copeland, testified for the prosecution that she was awakened the day of Jacob Wages’ murder by Daniel Hartman and Elijah Taylor. Taylor told her that the victim was dead, and Hartman made an incriminating gesture and comment, she told the court.
“HE HAS A TATTOO of a gun on his chest,” Copeland said. “He touched his gun and said that he shot him.”