GLOBE -- In a last-minute change of strategy, attorneys for Roy George Haught of Star Valley, who is accused of beating up local mechanic Jim Cooper and killing him, dropped two key witnesses from their lineup Friday morning and sent Haught to the stand to testify in his own defense.
The 36-year-old businessman spoke softly as he answered questions for nearly two hours about the events of Dec. 14, 1997 -- the chilly winter evening when he allegedly followed Cooper to his neighborhood in the wooded village of Strawberry north of Payson, and got in a fight with the 53-year-old in the street.
Cooper, who was known by his friends and neighbors in Strawberry for his long white beard, skill as a mechanic and quiet, generous nature, died in a Valley hospital six days later from a severed carotid artery caused by a hard hit to the head.
Haught, the owner of a local earth-moving firm and a descendant of one of the ranching families that settled Tonto Basin, was indicted last year by a grand jury for second-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault. The Star Valley businessman, who is known locally for his generous support of local rodeo and youth sporting events, went on trial Feb. 9 in the Gila County Courthouse in Globe, and began his fifth day in court this morning (Tuesday).
Haught took the stand Friday after Cooper's widow, Esther Cooper, testified as the prosecution's last witness. Haught's close friends, Clayton and Reese Randall, who were with Haught the night of the fight and were scheduled to testify in his defense Friday, were unexpectedly dropped that morning from the defense's witness lineup.
During Haught's two-hour testimony, defense and prosecuting attorneys each asked him to step off the witness stand and show the 12-member jury and the people packed onto the padded benches in the third-floor courtroom how he and Cooper pushed and hit each other that crisp December evening.
Haught, who was identified by the Gila County Sheriff's Department as 6-foot, 1-inches tall and 220 pounds at the time of his arrest, was 18 years younger, four inches taller and at least 55 pounds heavier than Cooper.
He told jurors that Cooper pushed him twice -- both times hard enough to force him to take a step back, and that he pushed Cooper in return both times. He testified that Cooper then hit him in the mouth and he responded by hitting Cooper once in the head. No other witnesses were able to testify that they saw Cooper hit Haught.
When Gila County District Attorney Jerry DeRose asked Haught to show the jury exactly where and how hard he hit Cooper, Haught said he couldn't remember.
Contrary to the prosecution's contention that Haught and his friends were spoiling for a fight, Haught told jurors that they were merely driving around to pass the time when they were confronted by Cooper.
Haught began the evening playing pool and drinking beer at the Black Bear Restaurant in Strawberry with his friends Clayton and Reese Randall and their close friends Media Hunsaker and Alissa Herning. The five later decided to pick up some beer and go to the Randalls' cabin at Twin Buttes west of Strawberry.
They drove to the Strawberry Market but the store was closed, so they drove to the Sportsman Chalet nearby to pick up a 12-pack of beer. Clayton went into the pub, bought two six-packs and, according to Herning's testimony, said "there was a big burly hippie guy in there" when he came out.
Cooper and his friend David Baham, who both had long hair and beards, walked out of the Chalet moments later and got into Cooper's car to leave. The bartender on duty that night, Susan Kromrie, testified that Cooper drank one beer, Baham drank two beers, and no words were exchanged between Clayton and the two men while they were in the bar.
During opening statements last week, prosecutor Jerry DeRose told jurors that Haught targeted Cooper and Baham because they looked like hippies. He told jurors the evidence would prove that Haught went out of his way to tailgate Cooper's car through the Chalet parking lot and he later left Fossil Creek Road -- the only road in Strawberry that leads to Twin Buttes -- to follow Cooper into his subdivision.
The prosecutor contends Cooper stopped in the street in front of his driveway because he was afraid to lead the van to his house, and when he confronted Haught, Haught punched him in the head, knocked him unconscious and kicked him while he was on the ground. Haught and the other two men then got back in the van and drove to the Buttes with the girls as planned.
Haught testified that he was "just messing around, driving around" passing time when Cooper abruptly stopped his car in the middle of the road, got out and accused Haught of tailgating. Haught's attorney, Tracey Westerhausen of Phoenix, told jurors during her opening statement that Cooper initiated the first shove and threw the first punch, and Haught was merely defending himself when he hit Cooper in the head.
Westerhausen also tried to prove Friday, the first day of her case, that Cooper suffered many of his injuries in a fall sometime after the fight.
Two of the five witnesses she called that day, Payson Justice of the Peace Ronnie McDaniel and Payson Constable Eddie Armer, testified that Gila County Sheriff's Det. George Ratliff told them that Esther Cooper told him that her husband had fallen several hours after the fight.
A third defense witness, former Gila County Sheriff's Deputy John Thompson, who conducted the initial investigation, said Esther Cooper told him that her husband had fallen out of bed.
Ratliff testified earlier in the trial that his initial information about a fall was incomplete. He told jurors that when Cooper's widow was pressed for details about the incident she said he had slipped out of bed on the way to the bathroom several hours after the fight. At that point, Cooper could no longer walk or speak and had to be taken by ambulance to Payson Regional Medical Center.
Don Chester, a friend of the Coopers and a paramedic for the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department, also testified earlier in the trial. He told jurors that he examined Cooper soon after the fight and noticed a number of cuts, bruises and lumps on his head and face and a bruise across his ribs.
Cooper, who had suffered some memory loss but seemed otherwise cognizant, did not want to call the authorities or go to the hospital, Chester told jurors.
"I was very concerned," Chester testified. "If I could have thrown him over my shoulder I would have taken him to the hospital myself, but I respected his privacy."
Pima County Medical Examiner Bruce Parks, who was called to the stand by the prosecution, told the jury that many of the bruises on Cooper's head and body could have been caused by the size 11 1/2 Spalding high-top tennis shoes Haught was wearing the night of the fight, or repeated falls on rough ground. He could not say conclusively what caused the injuries to Cooper's body, but he was able to identify the exact cause of death.
Haught left the courtroom Wednesday while Parks used slides of Cooper's autopsy to explain the man's injuries, their possible causes and how one of the hits to Cooper's head caused his death. Cooper's widow remained in court during Parks' testimony.
"He died from a big stroke on the left side of his brain that was caused by a damaged blood vessel that was damaged by a hard hit," Parks told the jurors. "The carotid artery is deep in the neck, close to the spine."
When Cooper was hit, his head snapped back with enough force to hyperextend the carotid artery deep inside the left side of his neck, tearing the artery and causing a blood clot to form, Parks testified. "The clot cut off the blood supply to Cooper's brain and caused a large part of his brain to die," he said. "This carotid injury can occur with a blow to the neck or a blow to the head that causes the head to snap back and the artery to tear."
Haught's defense team, which presented its case faster than expected, is set to rest its case this morning (Tuesday). Both sides are expected to present their closing arguments today before the case is turned over to the jury for a decision.
The prosecution contends
Deputy County Attorney Patti Wortman and County Attorney Jerry DeRose, in their prosecution, are contending that:
- Haught, who went to the Sportsman Chalet in Strawberry to buy a 12-pack of beer with his good friends, Clayton and Reese Randall, and acquaintances Media Hunsaker and Alissa Herning, targeted Jim Cooper and David Baham because they looked like hippies.
Herning testified that Clayton, who went into the Chalet to buy the beer, said "there was a big burly hippie guy in there" when he climbed back into Haught's van. Cooper and Baham left the Chalet shortly after Clayton did.
- Haught passed two exits to make a U-turn and follow Cooper's car through the parking lot. Hunsaker and Herning both testified that Haught tailgated Cooper to the parking lot exit.
- Herning testified that she heard Haught say "let's play with him" and Hunsaker testified that "when we came back up behind that guy, he hit his brakes and Roy said 'let's mess with him.'"
- Haught followed Cooper's car off Fossil Creek Road, the only road in Strawberry that leads to the ranch that Haught and the four others said they were driving to.
- Cooper was afraid of Haught due to the aggressive way Haught was driving. Cooper was worried that he would lead Haught onto his property and perhaps home to his wife if he drove into his driveway so he stopped in the road before reaching his house.
"These statements are ... relevant to rebut the defendant's self-defense argument," DeRose wrote in a motion filed Jan. 19 and granted by the judge Feb. 1.
- Haught punched Cooper in the head, knocked him unconscious and kicked him while he was down.
Several witnesses told the jury they saw Haught hit Cooper. No witnesses said they saw Haught kick Cooper, but none of the witnesses could see Cooper, who was standing by his car, once he fell to the ground.
Pima County Medical Examiner Bruce Parks testified that Cooper died due to a hard blow to the head that severed his carotid artery.
He also testified that the bruises on Cooper's body could have been caused by Haught's size 11 1/2 Spalding high-top tennis shoes or repeated falls onto rough ground. He couldn't say with certainty, however, what specifically caused the injuries to Cooper's body.
The defense contends
Tracy Westerhausen, attorney for defendant Roy Haught, is contending that:
- Cooper pushed Haught first.
• Haught hit Cooper in self defense.
- The injury that killed Cooper, a severed carotid artery, was unusual and Cooper's death was an "unforeseeable outcome."
This point is important to the defense because one of the definitions of second-degree murder is a person who "recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death and thereby causes the death of another person."
- Cooper may have suffered some of his injuries, if not the fatal blow, during a fall at his home after the fight.
- The Gila County Sheriff's Department mishandled evidence.
Two witnesses, the victim's wife, Esther Cooper, and his friend David Baham, each had to give two taped interviews because the tape recorder didn't work the first time they were interviewed.
The taped interview of a third witness, Pine-Strawberry paramedic Don Chester, went missing for nearly a year, but finally turned up again shortly before the trial, Westerhausen said.
- Cooper mistakenly thought Haught tailgated him from the Sportsman Chalet to Cooper's driveway, and that made him angry. Witnesses testified that Haught tailgated Cooper through the parking lot of the Sportsman Chalet and for a distance down Fossil Creek, Rimwood and Antelope roads. Witnesses said, however, that the two cars were separated by a third vehicle on Highway 87 and for a distance on Fossil Creek Road.