Diver testifies at Richland murder trial about finding suspected murder weapon

Tri-City HeraldFebruary 18, 2014 

A black backpack Joshua H. Hunt is believed to have tossed in the Yakima River after allegedly killing a Richland teen was later found almost six feet underwater.

Mark Allen, owner of Allen Water Rescue Services and a former member of Columbia Basin Dive Rescue, testified Tuesday that he found the backpack in an eddy, or small whirlpool, downriver from the bridge that goes into Benton City.

After marking the location and taking pictures, Allen took the pack off the bottom and noted that "it weighed quite a bit" as it was handed over to a waiting Richland detective, he said.

The backpack was found July 15. It was allegedly thrown in the river more than a week earlier. Hunt was captured on surveillance video July 4 walking across the street with it from the Desert Food Mart in Benton City.

Hunt returned to the gas station a short time later -- reportedly soaking wet -- after sheriff's deputies responded there for a 911 call. He no longer had the backpack.

Hunt, 19, is on trial for first-degree murder in Benton County Superior Court for Snapp's death. Snapp, 17, was shot three times in the head and chest, in a remote area near Beardsley Road and Horn Rapids.

Hunt and co-defendant John C.I. Young are accused of shooting him because they believed the teen was an informant and had stolen drugs and money from them.

They took Snapp out to the desert under the guise they were going to smoke marijuana, but then confronted him about their allegations and later told him to pray before pulling the trigger, according to trial testimony.

Prosecutors allege Hunt and Young acted with premeditated intent. Young's trial is scheduled for March 10.

About 11/2 hours after Snapp was killed, the suspects went to Desert Food Mart because Young needed to use the bathroom. Inside the store, Young told a clerk to call police because he'd just witnessed someone being shot, the store manager testified.

Meanwhile, Hunt was waiting outside by his car and was seen on video walking away after the first patrol car pulled into the station.

The backpack found in the river contained shoes, a revolver with five empty cylinders, a box of ammunition and a bag of spent shell casings, testified Richland police Detective Dean Murstig.

The detective showed jurors Tuesday each of the items recovered from the pack and from the crime scene. He also explained pictures taken of how they found Snapp's body, as well as autopsy photos.

There were three sets of different tread patterns in the sand leading up to Snapp's body, then two sets of shoe prints leaving the area, Murstig said. There was an impression in the sand that "looks like someone sat down," and one set of prints got fairly close to the body before turning around.

Prosecutor Andy Miller asked if both sets of prints were close enough to fire a shot at Snapp and wound or kill him. Murstig answered "yes," adding that he couldn't exclude either set of prints as being responsible for the killing.

Hunt allegedly shot Snapp once in the head and chest, then Young took the revolver and fired another shot into the head.

When police moved Snapp's body at the scene, they found his hat underneath him clasped in the teen's hands, Murstig said. The hat had a bullet hole in it.

Two bullets were recovered from the teen's body, one inside the head and the other behind the right armpit, Murstig said. Bullets also were found at the scene.

Also Tuesday, a female juror had a "strong emotional reaction" when shown a close-up picture of Snapp's face.

Miller quickly called for a recess. Then, once the jury was out of the room, he said that the woman started covering her face with her hands as she looked at the enlarged photo. He recognized that it is difficult for jurors to view such evidence, but said he wanted to bring it to the court's attention.

The juror was brought into the courtroom by herself and Judge Carrie Runge asked the woman if she's "comfortable proceeding on this jury and moving forward."

The woman said she was caught off guard by the picture, but upon further questioning by defense attorney Shane Silverthorn, said she can continue to approach the trial with impartiality.

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