A Richland man “was absolutely in shock” when Joshua Snapp was shot in front of him because there was no threat or fight leading up to it, a defense attorney said Wednesday.
John C.I. Young was not aware that Joshua H. Hunt had a gun with him while the three were smoking marijuana as they sat in the desert early July 4, John Crowley told jurors.
Crowley is representing Young, 19, who is on trial in Benton County Superior Court for his alleged role in the fatal shooting.
“He will tell you as (the three) stood up, for absolutely, positively no reason, he saw Hunt pull out a gun and look at Josh Snapp and say, ‘You b----.’ And for an unknown reason (Hunt) shot (Snapp), and shot him in the chest,” Crowley said in his opening statement.
“John will tell you he was absolutely in shock. He had no idea of what was coming,” the attorney added. “He’d never seen anything like that before, and he could see in living color that Josh (Snapp) had grabbed his chest and went down. It was really terrible and (Young) was in shock and he didn’t know what to do.”
Young claimed Hunt then shot the 17-year-old Snapp two times in the head.
Young was feeling “a great deal of remorse for what had happened” to Snapp and didn’t know if the gun was going to be turned on himself so, when Hunt handed him the gun, Young took it and fired a shot at the twitching Snapp, Crowley said.
“To this day he has no idea if he hit the target or not,” the attorney said.
When the two got back in the car, Young asked Hunt what should be done but got no answer, he said.
Young’s mind was clear at the time because he’d only smoked marijuana and had two shots of tequila the night before, Crowley said.
Young is charged with first-degree murder with a firearm. His trial started Monday, with jurors Wednesday hearing the first testimony in the case. Hunt, also 19, is serving 23 years and four months in prison for his conviction on second-degree murder with a firearm. He also was charged with first-degree murder, but his jury couldn’t unanimously agree on the more serious charge.
Crowley said the case really started two or three years before Snapp’s death, when Young got to know Richland police Detective Athena Clark when he was in some “minor trouble” with law enforcement. Young considers the detective to be an honest and decent person, so he in return was honest with Clark when she interviewed him about the circumstances surrounding the shooting.
Crowley told jurors that at the end of his client’s trial, they will find “the statement he gave that night is truthful” and there is no evidence for a guilty verdict on either charge.
“A young man was killed in a horrendous manner, but the facts of this case will not lead you to conclude that a murder was committed by John Young,” he said.
Like other males, Crowley said, Young was “attracted to guns” and carried one around quite a bit, and he helped Hunt learn to shoot when it became apparent Hunt didn’t know how to handle his “baby revolver.”
But there was no “warm-up to killing Joshua Snapp,” as prosecutors have suggested, because Young “had no reason to kill anybody, nor would he do such a thing, nor did he do such a thing,” he said.
Young was not friends with Hunt and only knew him by his nickname, R.J. He didn’t learn Hunt’s real name until after they were charged with murder, Crowley added.
However, Prosecutor Andy Miller told the jury that Young played an equal role in planning and executing Snapp’s death. Young came up with the remote location where the two could confront Snapp about their beliefs that he was a snitch and a thief, he discussed using a pillow to lessen the sounds and how many bullets it would take to kill a person, and he made sure the gun was loaded and in Hunt’s car that morning, Miller said.
Young told someone at a party the night before Snapp’s death that he’d been expelled from high school because of an informant, that the person was Snapp and that he was “going to do something about it,” Miller said in his opening statement.
After Hunt shot their friend in the chest, Young took the gun, aimed it at Snapp’s head and shot him “so that Josh stopped moving,” he said.
And later as the suspects drove around Benton City, Young took off his shoes and put on another pair that were in the car because he knew the tread pattern might be traced at the crime scene near Horn Rapids and Beardsley Road, the prosecutor said.
At some point, Young reportedly said he needed to use the restroom and they went to the Conoco gas station just off Interstate 82. Hunt parked the car near a gas pump so he could fill up.
Justin Danner, a cashier at Desert Food Mart in Benton City, testified that Young appeared distraught and had a “ghostly white look” on his face when he came into the store. Danner said the man tried to tell him something but he was “kind of whispering,” so the clerk had to lean over the counter to hear.
Deputy Prosecutor Julie Long asked what Young said.
“He told me if I could call 911 because he had witnessed somebody being shot. And that’s pretty much it,” Danner said. “You could see he was pretty much shaken, so I called 911.”
Long played four silent surveillance videos for the jury.
Danner said he was on the phone with a dispatcher when Young asked him for directions to the restroom. Then, Young briefly came back to the counter because the restroom was occupied, and the dispatcher had Danner ask him for a better location of the shooting. “He said he didn’t know and went back to the bathroom,” Danner said.
Benton County sheriff’s Lt. Chuck Jones said Young’s posture was rigid and he was acting nervous and upset when the two met up inside the store. Young was hard to communicate with because he wouldn’t give a response to questions, Jones said.
Young then was handed over to the care of sheriff’s Detective Scott Runge.
The detective said investigators were having a hard time finding Snapp’s body in the desert, so he took Young for a drive to find the actual spot. Young rode in the front passenger seat of the unmarked car because he was believed to only be a witness at the time, but another detective rode in the back seat and a deputy followed in a patrol car just in case, Runge said.
Asked about Young’s demeanor that morning, Runge said, “When I first met Mr. Young, he was very excited, like to the point of being almost inaudible. On the car drive over there he calmed down, and out there he started getting excited again.” He said Young did not break down or seem distraught once they found Snapp’s body.
Runge added that Young had described Hunt as a friend.
The trial is in recess Thursday and will resume Friday in the Benton County Justice Center.
Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer