Daniel Hartman and his accomplices went to Jacob Wages’ home in the middle of the night looking to rip off his stash of Ecstasy pills and $5,000 in cash.
They knew Wages possessed an assault rifle and was proficient in mixed martial arts.
So Hartman brought a .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol, Assistant Prosecutor Norman Rouse alleged Tuesday during opening statements at Hartman’s trial in Jasper County Circuit Court in Joplin.
While four other young men were charged in the slaying of Wages, 23, on July 6, 2012, the 18-year-old Hartman, of Tulsa, Okla., is the alleged shooter in the case and the only defendant charged with first-degree murder as well as burglary. He also is the first to be tried.
Opening statements were made by attorneys after jury selection was completed Tuesday afternoon, with six women and six men chosen to hear the case.
Rouse said jurors will hear testimony that Hartman was the one who kicked in the back door of Wages’ home at 1912 S. Pearl Ave. After pausing a moment in the kitchen to see if they had awakened Wages, they proceeded to the bedroom where the victim was still asleep with his girlfriend, the prosecutor said.
One of the other intruders, Marcus Stephens, spotted the assault rifle and grabbed it, and they began looking for a black box in which, they believed, Wages kept drugs and money. When they couldn’t find the box, they woke him up, the prosecutor said. He rose up out of bed and was stretching when the defendant suddenly shot three times, he said.
“He hit him in the heart,” Rouse told jurors. “Killed him. That’s all it took.”
He said the intruders fled after the shooting, although some later returned to look once more for the box. This time they found it, he said. Only it turned out there was nothing in it, he said.
Hartman’s attorney, William Fleischaker, told jurors that the prosecutor’s account is just one of several versions that they will hear of what happened the night in question.
Fleischaker informed the jury that two of his client’s co-defendants, Marcus Stephens, 17, and Cody Stephens, 22, no relation, have taken plea deals in exchange for their testimony against Hartman, and that a third, Elijah Taylor, 18, was offered the same. Marcus Stephens and Cody Stephens pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary and have been promised not to have to serve more than 15 years behind bars, Fleischaker said.
“What you’re going to find then is that every witness against Daniel has some kind of deal to testify,” Fleischaker said.
But there also have been accounts provided in the case that Cody Stephens was the one who kicked in the door and that “up until a few minutes before the victim was shot,” the murder weapon — the .22-caliber pistol — was in the possession of the fifth co-defendant, Johnathan Taylor, 20, Fleischaker said. He said still more versions emerged during depositions of witnesses obtained just in the past two weeks.
“Nobody knows who did what,” Fleischaker concluded.
The state called two Joplin police detectives as witnesses before Circuit Judge Gayle Crane sent jurors home for the day in what is expected to be a three-day trial.
Detective William Davis testified that the slaying was not reported until 8 a.m., or about five hours after the presumed time of the shooting. Davis was never asked to explain why during his testimony, and Rouse provided no explanation during his opening statement as to why the girlfriend did not immediately call for help.
Davis testified that fragments of two separate bullets were recovered from a south wall of the victim’s bedroom and from a crawl space beneath the floor of the room. A third .22-caliber round was recovered from Wages’ body during an autopsy performed in Columbia, the detective said. Two shell casings also were found at the scene, he told the court.
POLICE DETECTIVE JUSTIN BARNETT testified Tuesday that he videographed a walk-through of the murder scene that co-defendant Cody Stephens made with police. A CD of that video recording was admitted as evidence but has yet to be played for the jury in Daniel Hartman’s trial.