Jury deliberating in Joshua Hunt murder trial

Tri-City HeraldFebruary 21, 2014 

— Joshua H. Hunt played the roles of judge, jury and executioner when he took a 17-year-old Richland teen into the desert on the Fourth of July and told him to start praying, a prosecutor said Friday.

Hunt could tell Joshua Snapp was scared after he confronted him about accusations he was a confidential informant and two warning shots were fired into the ground, Benton County Deputy Prosecutor Julie Long told jurors.

Long, in the state's final closing argument at Hunt's trial, tried to debunk the defendant's claims that his judgment was clouded from a combination of marijuana, methamphetamine and alcohol.

"No matter how much Joshua Snapp pleaded for his life ... (he) was never getting out of the desert that night," Long said.

"Joshua Snapp had his hat in his hand and his head down as if he was praying for his life," she added. "(Hunt) shot and murdered him because he didn't like him, he thought he was a snitch. He did it with purpose and he did it with premeditated intent."

Hunt, 19, is on trial in Benton County Superior Court for first-degree murder with a firearm allegation.

The case was handed to the jury at 11:50 a.m. Friday after listening to six days of testimony and arguments about the evidence.

The jury of four men and eight women didn't reach a verdict after deliberating for three hours Friday afternoon. They have the weekend off and will resume discussions Monday morning.

Judge Carrie Runge said jurors can consider the alternative charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter if they can't unanimously agree on first-degree murder.

Second-degree murder involves intent, but not premeditation. Manslaughter is for recklessly causing the death of another person.

Snapp died from a total of three gunshot wounds to the head and chest. His body was left in an isolated area of Richland area and only found by police after co-defendant John C.I. Young told a convenience store clerk in Benton City that he'd just seen someone shot.

Investigators discovered later that morning that Young allegedly played a greater role in the shooting than just a witness.

Young, 19, is charged with murder for allegedly firing one or two of the bullets that hit Snapp. His trial is scheduled March 10.

Hunt's lawyer, Shane Silverthorn of Ellensburg, told the jury Friday it is a terribly sad and tragic case because a boy lost his life in a violent way. Two other boys also ruined their lives forever that day, he said.

"I'm not going to be here to tell you that Mr. Hunt has no responsibility here. The question that you are faced with is which crime is he guilty of," Silverthorn said in his nearly hour-long closing argument.

Hunt was in a "voluntary state of intoxication" from the drugs and alcohol when he drove Snapp and Young to a remote location near Beardsley Road and Horn Rapids about 5 a.m. July 4, Silverthorn said.

It doesn't mean Hunt gets a free pass on the criminal charge because he was high and drunk, he said. But the jury can use it to evaluate if the defendant had planned beforehand to kill Snapp or, if once in the desert, "all of a sudden it ratcheted up to something that Mr. Hunt said he didn't expect."

The idea that Snapp was an informant with no facts to back up that claim "is a figment of a drugged-out mind" and "no reasonable person would draw that conclusion," Silverthorn argued.

The attorney defended his client's testimony, saying Hunt did make notes about what he wanted to tell jurors and that he really was crying when he recalled shooting Snapp in the chest. The jury also needs to weigh youthfulness in the case, he added.

"It takes more to be an adult than to be 18. He's not a hardened person," Silverthorn said. "Those are real tears. He knows what he did. He knows that he's responsible for what happened."

Prosecutor Andy Miller told the jury that even if Hunt didn't go to the desert intending to kill Snapp, when he pulled the hammer back on the revolver and then the trigger it became premeditated.

"The law requires some time, however long or short, in which your design to kill is deliberately formed," Miller said.

Miller reminded the panel of several discrepancies in Hunt's initial interview with detectives, including that he'd dropped Snapp off at home after a party and that he didn't have a backpack, despite being caught on surveillance footage carrying one toward the Yakima River.

The pack later was found submerged in almost six feet of water. It held the revolver with five empty cylinders, shoes, a box of ammunition and a bag of spent shell casings.

"One thing we know ... is that Josh Hunt has a proven record to you of being 100 percent capable of outright lying to your face when it suits his purposes," Miller said. "... We know the defendant is a liar and he's a killer."

The prosecutor said he doesn't get enjoyment out of prosecuting a young man because, despite his family support, "it's sad to realize what he came to."

"You know what we don't get from this trial?" he added. "Wouldn't it be nice to have Joshua Snapp sitting here so we knew something about him? Wouldn't it be nice to know as much about Joshua Snapp as we do about Joshua Hunt?"

Long wrapped up the closing arguments by saying it sounded like Silverthorn was making excuses for his client and reminded the jury that sympathy shouldn't come into play.

Hunt "is a functioning drug user and alcohol user" who wanted to kill Snapp because he was angry at the teen, she said. She reminded jurors how Hunt, after divulging all the details of Snapp's death to a sheriff's detective, said he wanted a second chance.

"Where was Joshua Snapp's second chance? He had been 17 years old for nine days, and now he will never have another chance at anything again," Long said, as Snapp's loved ones cried in the audience.

"(Hunt) murdered him and left him out there in the desert like a piece of trash. Discarded him and left him out there, and then he just went about his day ... never looking back."

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