Colorado machete attack trial opens with conflicting narratives
The Summit County District Court seated a 14-person jury late Tuesday morning to determine whether Denver resident Tyrus Walter Vanmatre should be found guilty of second-degree attempted murder, as well as nine other charges.
The prosecution began opening statements later that afternoon, with strikingly different narratives from assistant district attorney Heidi McCollum and private defense attorney Douglas Romero, with the Colorado Christian Defense Council. McCollum asked that the jury find Vanmatre guilty on all counts, based on allegations that he drove Jadon Jellis and another friend to Sapphire Point in Summit County before the two attacked Jellis with a taser and a machete.
Jellis was found early the morning after the incident, on Tuesday, June 17, 2014, when Summit County Sheriff Deputy Steve Maes saw him stumbling on Swan Mountain Road, soaked with water and covered with blood. Maes saw three deep cuts; two above Jellis’ right eye and a deep slash to his left hand. Maes later found a gash on Jellis’ scalp.
In further investigations of the crime scene, Summit County Sheriff’s officers discovered blood near the top of Swan Mountain, with a dog sniffing out a knife Jellis had, a black hoodie and plaid flannel shirt that he wore as well as his gloves and a sheath for a knife. Later along the path, they also discovered a tiny stream, from which Jellis said he tried to drink.
During her opening statement, McCollum pointed out Vanmatre’s varying narratives over the course of several interviews with Summit County sheriff’s investigators. She said that “version number one” of the story was that Vanmatre simply planned to give Jellis a scare.
Another version, she added, was that the three boys were going to a party in Summit County. And yet another, that they were going to visit a friend named John at his house.
“There was no John. There is no house on top of Swan Mountain,” McCollum said.
She added that in later testimonites, Vanmatre claimed they were going to look at the stars and do some acid. He said they brought the machetes to deal with animals. But, that didn’t account for the fact that, according to Jellis’ statements, he was told not to bring a weapon and not to bring his cell phone.
Jellis, Vanmatre and a minor who was 16 at the time, hike up the steep slope across from the Sapphire Point parking lot. McCollum said that as soon as Vanmatre spoke the words, “this looks like the perfect spot,” the 16-year-old stunned Jellis with a stun gun, and Vanmatre swung at him with a machete.
“You don’t swing an 18-inch blade of a machete sword at a human being’s head and not intend to kill him,” McCollum said. “He and his co-conspirator planned to stun him (Jellis), tie him to a tree and kill him. The only thing the defendant didn’t plan on is that Jadon fought back, and he’s alive and here today because he fought back.”
Regarding the count of menacing, McCollum pointed out a statement by Vanmatre indicating his clear intention to frighten Jellis. She said that in an interview, Vanmatre claimed, “I just wanted to tase him. I just wanted to tie him up and scare him. I never got to do that before, so I wanted to see what it was like.”
HOLES IN THE EVIDENCE
Throughout the course of his opening argument, Romero pointed to gaps in Jellis’ statements regarding the events leading up to the incident. That summer, Jellis came to Colorado from Wyoming, with extra money from the sale of his parents’ house. Romero said Jellis first claimed to have $75,000 as a result of the sale, but later claimed to have $50,000, and then just $30,000.
He knew Vanmatre through a connection with his brother; the two planned to get an apartment together, and Jellis asked Vanmatre’s mother to co-sign a lease. At the time of the lease, Romero said that Jellis claimed to have lost his wallet and didn’t have all of the money needed. After hearing this, and the fact that Jellis had no job, Vanmatre’s mother refused to sign.
On the day of the incident, Jellis, Vanmatre and another friend were at Vanmatre’s house. Jellis claims to have left his wallet on a motorcycle in the house, taking a shower and finding it missing later. While they searched for an hour or two, Romero said Vanmatre received an email from a modeling agency. Wanting to celebrate, Romero said Vanmatre went to get acid, while Jellis went to buy party supplies.
“He said let’s just go someplace, let’s go somewhere where we can see the stars,” Romero said.
After deciding to go to Swan Mountain, Romero said Vanmatre distributed weapons to each of the three. According to Romero, Jellis got two knives for his pockets and one that straps around his leg.
The three had passed a small cabin on the side of the mountain, when Romero claims Vanmatre heard something behind him.
“(Vanmatre) feels himself being stabbed. But, he didn’t see the knife and didn’t think he would be stabbed,” Romero said. After turning around, “he feels another knife going into his side, and hears the air coming out of his lung. They started rolling down the hill. Vanmatre pulls out a sword, and J.J. blocks it with his hand. That’s how he got the cut on his hand.”
Romero later claimed that Jellis had a knife on Vanmatre’s throat, telling him “give me your keys. Give me your (expletive) car keys,” before Vanmatre struck him with the machete again.
He added that the fact that Jellis took off some of his clothes and was parched for water, might indicate the use of LSD.
Vanmatre was admitted to the same hospital as Jellis — St. Anthony’s hospital in Lakewood — with a punctured lung and stab wounds. Both men had surgery. As for the differing accounts, Romero claims that Vanmatre was interviewed by police while he was on painkillers.
“It takes two to tango, whatever the prosecution says,” Romero said. “Somebody, whoever stabbed him in the heart, was intending to kill Mr. Vanmatre.”
To conclude the afternoon, the prosecution brought in Deputy Maes as their first witness. He briefly recounted finding Jellis at the side of the road, shaking, blood covered and saying “please help me. They’re trying to kill me.”
He added that Jellis was staggering and, at first, appeared to have been in a car accident.
“His teeth were chattering; I thought he was going into shock at the time,” Maes said.
He also noted the gashes to Jellis’ face and hand, some of which he guessed were nearly an inch deep. He also noted some abrasions on his right leg, which he thought were possibly from brush, though Romero noted that they could be from a strap in cross examination.
Maes said another officer refused to take photos of the scene, as she was nauseous from the smell of blood. He noted he had only encountered that strong of a smell in murder or suicide cases. After getting a few photos and asking a few questions, Maes left Jellis to be transported by ambulance to the hospital.
“Once I took the photographs, his life was more important to me than anything else, so I stepped out of the ambulance,” Maes said. “I knew he had lost a lot of blood.”
He concluded his testimony, wrapping up that afternoon’s proceedings. The court will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 26.
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