Juror calls Hunt murder trial verdict 'emotional rather than logical'

Tri-City HeraldFebruary 25, 2014 

— Joshua H. Hunt was convicted of a reduced charge of second-degree murder Tuesday after a Benton County jury couldn't unanimously agree whether the shooting of a Richland teen was "premeditated."

Prosecutors say Hunt picked up a gun, cocked the hammer and told Joshua Snapp to pray before killing him.

Juror Brian Oliver told the Herald some members of the jury didn't believe that met the legal definition of premeditation.

"Most members of the jury felt that the evidence -- particularly at the desert site where the defendant took the gun, stood up, asked the victim to pray and then shot him -- sufficiently met (the legal definition of premeditation)," said Oliver, who declined to say how he voted.

"But jurors who didn't feel that way were not persuaded by that, " Oliver said. "Unfortunately (those) jurors couldn't verbalize why they wouldn't go for first-degree murder."

Hunt's age and appearance bought him some sympathy with jurors, said Oliver, a retired scientist at PNNL who has been a juror in five criminal cases, both locally and in California. He called some jurors' decisions "emotional rather than logical."

Another juror, who asked not to be named, said Hunt "wasn't convincing" and should have been convicted of first-degree murder. He expressed his condolences to the Snapp family.

"In my opinion, the defense didn't have a case," the juror said. "Hunt had already incriminated himself."

Snapp's family was emotional after the verdict was read in Benton County Superior Court. His father, Chris, called the verdict disappointing, but said he respects the jury's decision.

"I guess at this point and time we have to be thankful that they came up with the decision that they did," he said outside the courtroom. "Our family really feels that, in regards to our son Joshua, justice will not be served until God finds a way to make it right."

Hunt, 19, admitted to shooting Snapp, 17, after partying together early July 4. He testified he thought Snapp, whom he called a friend, was a thief and a confidential informant. Snapp was found dead in a remote area of Richland with three gunshots to his head and chest.

Hunt's co-defendant, John C.I. Young, 19, who faces a separate first-degree murder trial March 10, reportedly told a convenience store clerk about the shooting shortly after it happened. Both men were arrested in Benton City later that morning.

Moments after the verdict was read Tuesday, Hunt stood and shook the hand of his attorney, Shane Silverthorn.

Silverthorn said he was surprised by the verdict, and that Hunt was pleased. The Ellensburg attorney argued during trial that a mixture of methamphetamine, alcohol and marijuana clouded Hunt's judgment at the time of the murder.

"That was our whole case," Silverthorn said.

"Obviously (the jury) felt there was an issue with premeditation," he said. "We don't know if that has to do with the voluntary intoxication (defense) or with some other issue. But it's likely (voluntary intoxication) played a role."

Hunt was charged with first-degree murder, but the jury had the option of convicting him of either second-degree murder or first-degree manslaughter.

The jury never considered the manslaughter charge, Oliver said.

To convict Hunt of first-degree murder, the jury had to unanimously agree the shooting was premeditated. To convict on second-degree murder, the jury had to unanimously agree Hunt intended to kill Snapp but that the shooting was not premeditated.

The jury was split 10-2 in favor of convicting Hunt of first-degree murder before eventually unanimously deciding on second-degree murder, Prosecutor Andy Miller said.

Hunt's prison time will still be substantial, up to 18 years, Miller said. The firearm conviction will add another five years.

"There probably isn't going to be a lot of difference in the sentences based on (first-degree) murder versus (second-degree) murder," Miller said. "The manslaughter option would have had a substantial effect on the sentence. This is consistent with other cases I've had. Premeditation is a difficult concept and a difficult thing to prove."

The jury started deliberations Friday following six days of testimony and arguments. They came back on Monday but deliberations stalled after a juror was dismissed because she used her cell phone to research the definition of premeditation.

The court called an alternate juror, who quickly filled in, and the jury was told to start deliberations over. They went home Monday night after discussing the case for 2 1/2 hours.

Outside the courtroom Tuesday, tears rolled down Snapp's mother's face as she spoke about the pain the trial and verdict has caused.

Aimee Snapp-Reutercrona told the Herald the verdict is "confusing," but she believes her son will get justice when Hunt is sentenced. She plans to speak at the sentencing hearing, she said.

"I have faith that (the judge) will come back with something for Joshua," she said. "I am very surprised but it's not over yet. We still get to speak and put a face on our son."

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service