The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

August 2, 2013

2nd-degree murder trial on track in Woodward

By Rowynn Ricks, CNHI News Service
Enid News and Eagle

WOODWARD, Okla. — Things appear to be on track for the second-degree murder trial against David Lee Yelloweagle to proceed in a couple of weeks.

The trial is set to begin at 9 a.m. Aug. 20 at Woodward County Courthouse.

Yelloweagle was charged in June 2011 with second-degree murder in the September 2010 death of Jon Michael Watkins. He was charged along with Dillan Shane Hager and Jeffery Shawn Spencer.

Spencer, who was 17 at the time of Watkins’ death, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in February 2012. He received a 15-year sentence, but only served one year in Woodward County Jail. He currently is serving the remaining 14 years of the suspended sentence.

Hager pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in January 2012 and is serving a 20-year sentence at Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville.

Yelloweagle appeared in court Wednesday morning for a pre-trial hearing.

During the hearing, his defense attorney, Peter L. Scimeca, argued several motions regarding certain types of evidence he wanted to include or exclude from the trial.

District Judge Ray Dean Linder granted one motion to exclude testimony about certain unrelated activities Yelloweagle engaged in shortly after Watkins’ death, after agreeing with Scimeca such testimony could be unfairly prejudicial against Yelloweagle.

However, Linder said his approval “may be subject to change based on what develops during the trial.”

The judge denied a second motion to exclude other potential hearsay testimony, after Scimeca said he withdrew the request because he agreed with the state that it may be premature.

Assistant District Attorney Chris Boring said Scimeca can raise an objection to testimony during trial, and the judge can decide then whether or not it is hearsay and therefore inadmissible.

In a third motion, Scimeca said his client requested the jury be allowed to view the field where Yelloweagle’s group of friends had been riding through in a pickup with Watkins in the bed of the truck around the time of Watkins’ death. Watkins’ body was then left in the bed of the truck until his death was reported to authorities several hours later.

Judge Linder suggested Scimeca find a way of taking video of the area instead, stating it would be “difficult to transport 12 jurors and maybe two alternates” out to the field, which is located south of Woodward.

In yet another motion, the defense argued to exclude testimony from a blood spatter expert about the blood present in the bed of the pickup where Watkins’ body was found.

If not excluded, Scimeca said at the least he wanted to make the court aware of a possible issue with the expert’s testimony.

“The pickup in question was rained on, and we don’t know if that information was made available to the expert,” he said.

He argued the rain would have contaminated the crime scene evidence in the bed of the truck, including the blood spatter.

Scimeca requested the judge take time prior to the expert’s testimony during the trial to determine whether the expert’s opinion was based on knowledge that the truck had been rained upon.

However, Linder asked if the expert could not give a deposition before the trial.

Scimeca also asked that Oklahoma Department of Corrections release Hager into custody of Woodward County Sheriff’s Office, so he could testify for the defense at the trial.

Spencer is expected to testify on behalf of the prosecution during the trial. He is included on the state’s witness list and previously testified during Yelloweagle’s preliminary hearing.

The assault

Spencer testified about the assault on Watkins during Yelloweagle’s preliminary hearing in January 2012.

Spencer said four men and two female friends were out “dirt roading” and drinking during the early morning hours of Sept. 23, 2010.

At one point, he said Hager and Watkins decided to trade punches to see who could knock each other out. Hager punched first, knocking Watkins down, he said. When Watkins decided to retaliate, Spencer said he and Yelloweagle joined in the fight.

The men then stopped fighting and decided to go “dirt roading” again, he testified. While he, Hager, Yelloweagle and the two women rode in the cab of the truck, Spencer said Watkins decided to ride in the bed of the truck.

With Watkins still in the back, Hager began driving Watkins’ truck and jumping hills until the truck broke down, Spencer said. Everyone then exited the cab of the truck to find Watkins dead in the back, he said.

After attempting CPR on Watkins several times, the group left Watkins’ body in back of the truck abandoned in a field south of Woodward, Spencer testified.

He said a friend took him and Hager to Woodward County Sheriff Office later that morning to turn themselves in.

Ricks is assistant editor of the Woodward News.