Testimony under way in Richland murder trial

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 13, 2014 

A Richland man charged with killing a teen in the desert initially told detectives that he drove the victim home, then parked his car on a dead-end road and passed out for a few hours.

Joshua H. Hunt, 19, explained he was at an impromptu party on Williams Boulevard early July 4 when Joshua Snapp showed up as they were all about to leave.

Hunt took Snapp's ex-girlfriend home about 4 a.m., dropped off Snapp at his dad's house and then continued on to a Benton City gas station, he said.

But when detectives Larry Smith and Lee Cantu -- in a video played Thursday for jurors in Hunt's murder trial -- asked what happened between 4 and 7:30 a.m., Hunt clarified that he didn't go straight to the Desert Food Mart and Conoco.

He described the spot where he and John C.I. Young slept in his red Cadillac, near an Interstate 82 on-ramp outside Benton City, until video cameras caught them at 7:30 a.m. at the convenience store, where Young used the bathroom.

The Benton County Superior Court jury watched about 17 minutes of the video before Hunt's attorney, Shane Silverthorn, asked to have it stopped and jurors removed from the courtroom.

The video should be redacted to remove any references to what Young said Hunt had done that morning, Silverthorn said. He acknowledged he should have raised the issue before the trial.

The Ellensburg lawyer pointed out that Hunt's and Young's trials for Snapp's death are separated for a reason. Hunt has the Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser and Young would have the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, Silverthorn said.

Judge Carrie Runge previously ruled that Hunt's statements can be used as evidence in his trial.

In the interview, which began at 9:37 a.m. July 4 at the Benton County Sheriff's Office, Hunt allegedly changed his story at some point after being confronted with Young's separate claims and admitted he shot Snapp once each in the head and chest.

Hunt is on trial for first-degree murder with the allegation that a firearm was used in the crime.

Young -- who first claimed to be just a witness to the fatal shooting -- faces his own trial March 10 for first-degree murder.

Prosecutor Andy Miller said the two acted with premeditated intent when they took turns shooting the 17-year-old Snapp. They reportedly took Snapp to a remote location near Horn Rapids under the guise they were going to smoke more marijuana. Instead, they threatened Snapp with the revolver by firing two bullets into the ground, let him try to plead his case, told him to start saying his prayers and then aimed the gun at him and pulled the trigger, Miller said.

Weeks before Snapp was killed, Hunt "let it be known that he was interested in purchasing a gun," and told people he wanted to shoot and kill Snapp because he was concerned the younger teen was an informant and had stolen money and drugs from him and Young, Miller said.

Silverthorn set up his theory of the case in his opening statement, suggesting that Hunt had a diminished capacity from excessive drinking and drug use.

It was summertime in the Tri-Cities and Hunt was hanging out with a group of "young people" who were drinking hard alcohol, smoking pot and some even using harder drugs like methamphetamine on a daily basis, Silverthorn said. They would spend their days down at the Columbia River and partying in public parks or private homes.

The lawyer told jurors they'll learn from witnesses what it's like to be high and how it affects a person's state of mind.

"Through this testimony, we're going to learn a little bit about the social dynamic that's taking place," Silverthorn said. "You might even learn about people staying up all night long, night after night, and how that might affect them."

At the end of the trial, the panel must judge if the substances could have affected a person's premeditated intent, or if there was "a different plan that changed momentarily in the desert," Silverthorn said.

Jurors listened to testimony from nine witnesses Thursday, ranging from law enforcement officers to people who were with the group in the hours before Snapp's death.

Clarisa Keas, who was in an on-again off-again relationship with Snapp for about three years, testified that a few days before the party she went with Hunt, Young and two others to "the middle of nowhere." Hunt, who she only knew as "R.J.," showed her a gun and she fired it twice before returning to the car.

Keas also talked about smoking marijuana with the group during the early July 4 gathering in the Williams Boulevard home, and said when Hunt dropped her near her house, it was the last time she saw all three.

Justin Danner, manager at Desert Food Mart, said a man, later identified as Young, came into the store later that morning and said the clerk needed to call 911 because he'd witnessed someone being shot.

Margaret Ashley, a clerk and kitchen cook at the store, recalled selling a pack of cigarettes to Hunt and asking him for identification to verify his age. Hunt later returned to buy $20 in gas, she said.

Danner explained that the store has 12 surveillance cameras before Deputy Prosecutor Julie Long introduced the footage that shows Hunt park in front of the store at one point and go inside for the cigarettes. Then later, he parked at a gas pump while Young went to use the bathroom, and that's where Young was when sheriff's deputies pulled up for the 911 call.

Hunt had been at his car and, once the first patrol car pulled in, he opened the trunk, grabbed a backpack and could be seen crossing the street toward the Yakima River as a second patrol car responded. Deputies said he later caught their attention because he was soaked as he walked back to the car, and was immediately handcuffed because he matched the description of their suspect.

Also Thursday, prosecutors requested a $100,000 material witness warrant for Shea Austin Smith of West Richland.

Smith was a friend of the two suspects and the victim, and was approached by Hunt before July 3, wondering "if he knew where would be a good place to kill somebody," Miller told jurors in his opening statement. Hunt had said that Snapp was No. 1 on his list because of his suspicions, but Smith didn't realize how serious his friend was and only told Snapp to be careful of Hunt, Miller said.

Smith hasn't yet missed his scheduled date to testify in the trial, but authorities who went to contact him about the subpoena reportedly discovered he took off and can't be reached.

Judge Runge signed the warrant, and appointed lawyer Ryan Swinburnson to represent Smith on the matter once he's in custody.

The trial resumes this morning with a half-day of testimony in the Benton County Justice Center.

w Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1532; kkraemer@tricityherald.com

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