Jury selection began today in the trial of Roy George Haught, the prominent Star Valley businessman accused of punching local mechanic Jim Cooper in the head and killing him.
During what is expected to be a two-week trial, the 12-member jury must try to piece together the events of a crisp December day in 1997 that began for Jim Cooper of Strawberry with a trip to Flagstaff with his stepdaughter, and ended with a blow to the head that knocked him into a coma and caused his death six days later.
Haught, the 36-year-old owner of a local excavating firm who is known locally as a generous supporter of rodeo and youth sports programs, is charged with second-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault in Cooper's death.
If he is found guilty of second-degree murder, he faces between 10 and 22 years in prison. He can, however, be convicted on lesser charges such as negligent homicide, manslaughter or aggravated assault. Haught, whose roots to the Rim country run generations deep as a descendant of one of the ranching families that settled the Tonto Basin, was released without bond from jail last year.
The trial begins this week almost 14 months after Haught and Cooper crossed paths Dec. 14, 1997 at the Sportsman Chalet, a popular pub in the small, wooded village of Strawberry, north of Payson.
According to police reports, Cooper, a 53-year-old mechanic, and friend David Baham stopped at the bar that night for a couple of beers after Cooper took his stepdaughter to Flagstaff. While they were finishing their drinks, Haught and four friends, cousins Clayton and Reese Randall, Media Hunsaker and Alissa Herning, pulled up to the tavern in Haught's van.
Clayton went inside, bought a 12-pack of beer, and, by most accounts, left without any contact with Cooper and Baham, who left to drive home a few minutes later. Haught and his friends, who told police they were headed to Twin Buttes to drink beer, followed Cooper's car first to the Strawberry man's house.
Baham later told investigators that Haught began tailgating Cooper, and when they reached his friend's driveway, Cooper stopped and got out of the car "to see what the problem was."
Haught, who admitted to Gila County Sheriff's deputies that he punched Cooper once in the head, said Cooper got out of the car, started yelling and hit him in the jaw before he struck the mechanic on the left side of the head, knocking him unconscious.
After the fight, Haught and his friends left for Twin Buttes to drink while Baham and Cooper's wife, Esther helped Cooper into the house. Cooper later regained consciousness, but remembered little about the fight, his wife told investigators.
He then lapsed into a coma and died in a Valley hospital six days later from what the Pima County Medical Examiner determined to be a blow to the head that severed his carotid artery.