Case goes to jury

2010-09-17T05:15:00Z Case goes to juryLARRY HENDRICKS Assistant City Editor Arizona Daily Sun
September 17, 2010 5:15 am  • 

Two eyewitnesses saw the killer shoot Justin Jackson, 16, in the back of the head in a forested area off Woody Mountain Road on July 10, 2008.

But all the physical evidence the killer left was a bullet.

It's now up to a jury to decide if Benjamin Hamilton, now 20, accused of murder, robbery and kidnapping in Jackson's death, is innocent or guilty of the crimes. He has pleaded innocent.

During trial, Hamilton did not take the stand in his own defense.

The parents of Jackson and Hamilton were in the crowded gallery in Coconino County Superior Court listening to closing arguments by attorneys Thursday.

Lead prosecutor Jonathan Mosher, deputy Coconino County attorney, said the evidence presented at trial included two eyewitnesses to the shooting.

Micah Neumann, 19, and Jesse Collier, 20, had both been at the scene. They testified at trial -- after making deals with the prosecution for lesser charges with prison sentences -- that Hamilton fired the fatal shot with a .45-caliber handgun.

The three had lured Jackson out to Woody Mountain Road on the pretense of a drug deal. But, in reality, they were going to rob Jackson because Jackson had beaten and robbed Neumann, a drug runner for Collier and Hamilton, the night prior.

Hamilton forced Jackson out of Collier's vehicle with the handgun. Jackson got onto the ground face down. Then, say Collier and Neumann, Hamilton fired.

Mosher reminded the jury that Hamilton's friend, Drew Wildermuth, after neglecting to tell police until several months later, testified that Hamilton had confessed to the killing.

DIDN'T DESERVE EXECUTION

"If you believe Micah Neumann, Jesse Collier and Drew Wildermuth, you're done," Mosher said, adding that the jury must then find Hamilton guilty.

Yes, Jackson had done bad things in his short life. He took and sold drugs.

"But he didn't deserve to get executed for it," Mosher said.

Coupled with the witness testimony is physical evidence in the case that corroborates what the three young men said under oath, Mosher added.

Crime scene testimony concluded that the killer stood in an area described by Neumann and Collier. At such a location, the killer was unlikely to get any blood evidence on him. Telephone conversations matched up. Events with witnesses matched up. And the stories of the two other men at the scene matched up.

STAR WITNESSES LIED TO POLICE

Defense attorney Stephen Glazer began his closing by stating to the jurors, "The problem each and every one of you should have with this case is their star witnesses."

Glazer said that Neumann had the motive to kill Jackson and Collier had the means. It was Neumann who had been robbed by Jackson the night before Jackson was killed. It was Collier's gun. A bullet matching the casing found at the scene was found in Collier's room in a house shared with Hamilton. Blood on Neumann's shoes, not Hamilton's, belonged to Jackson.

Investigators found not a shred of DNA evidence that Hamilton had been at the scene. There were no shoe prints that could be matched to Hamilton, Glazer told the jury.

Collier, Neumann and Wildermuth lied repeatedly to police before coming out with their final versions that the prosecution now considers "the truth." All three witnesses who fingered Hamilton used and sold marijuana and ran around with other people who used and sold marijuana.

'EVERY PARENT'S NIGHTMARE'

Glazer described Collier as "every parent's nightmare" -- on one side, an upstanding young man, on the other, a drug dealer making his living off selling drugs. Neumann was a "lost soul" whose parents left him to move out of the country, who was homeless and who ended up a drug addict and dealer.

Neumann and Collier struck deals with the prosecution because they knew they were facing life in prison otherwise, Glazer said.

"Blaming Ben is the desperate act of desperate people," Glazer also said.

As for the deals Neumann and Collier struck with the prosecution, Mosher said that Neumann faces 5 to 15 years in prison and Collier faces 7 to 21 years in prison. Both will be labeled as "snitches."

"That's life for them now," Mosher said, later adding, "They've paid for what Ben Hamilton did."

The jury began deliberations at 4 p.m. Thursday and broke for the day at 5 p.m. They were scheduled to resume deliberations today at 8:30 a.m.

Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or lhendricks@azdailysun.com.

Copyright 2015 Arizona Daily Sun. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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