Machete attack trial: ‘Batman voice,’ throwing knives and lost money
Tyrus Vanmatre’s childhood friend, Henry Nelson, came to testify as a witness for both the prosecution and the defense on Thursday morning. Nelson said he and Vanmatre had known each other for 10 years and considered him as one of his “best friends” last summer before Vanmatre was charged with attempted second-degree murder after an alleged machete attack last summer.
While Nelson knew Vanmatre to have a stash of weapons, he had never thought of him as a violent person.
“He was actually really mild-mannered,” Nelson said.
He said the two would hang out almost every day and would often go to an “Asian Gifts” store at the mall in Denver, which carried “throwing knives, swords and a lot of bamboo.”
He remembered Vanmatre having two samurai swords, some throwing knives and throwing stars but did not recall seeing any machetes.
He also remembered Vanmatre’s many tall tales, such as one where he told Nelson he robbed his ex-stepfather once by tying him to a chair and using a “Batman voice” to disguise his identity.
“I probably would have thought more of it if he didn’t live with the guy for a few years after,” Nelson said. “I really liked (the stories) at first because they were entertaining. But, I still to this day don’t believe he blew up two cars and wrecked a truck on the only tree in a field.”
Nelson mentioned they had talked about what they would do if they murdered someone, though he assumed these conversations were purely hypothetical. Deputy district attorney John Franks followed a line of questioning in which Nelson admitted that Vanmatre had mentioned the mountains would be a good place to hide a body.
“He just kinda said something along the lines of, there was no one there, you could get the job done easily, you could leave it there and no one would find the body,” Nelson said.
Vanmatre had previously lived in Frisco for a year, attending Summit High School and playing as a goalie for their hockey team. While Nelson had never known him to have a job, Vanmatre did play for a semi-professional hockey team that provided him a gas card. He added that Vanmatre had also started taking modeling classes.
“Tyrus cared more about money than anything else … Well that’s not true, he cared about girls more than anything else,” Nelson said. “He started taking modeling classes, so he could get more money to impress girls.”
Nelson also knew the 16-year-old boy who was present the night of the incident and charged as a co-conspirator in the attack.
“He would have done anything Tyrus wanted him to,” Nelson said. “It was just a ridiculous amount of unfounded respect. He just wanted to be Tyrus.”
Nelson had only known Jadon Jellis, the victim of the alleged attack, since he moved to Denver that summer. Jellis was staying in Vanmatre’s garage for a period of time.
“Tyrus didn’t like him,” Nelson said. “He vocalized it more than once.”
He added that Jellis had recently sold a house and bought a motorcycle, and Vanmatre was looking to get an apartment with him.
“Pretty much Tyrus’ entire idea of JJ was that he was just an awful person to be around, but, if he could get free living out of it, why not?”
Franks asked Nelson if Vanmatre would have cared about Jellis if he didn’t have money.
“He probably would have pretended he didn’t exist,” Nelson said.
He was at Vanmatre’s house the day of the incident, but he did not know of his plans to drive up to the mountains later that day. Jelis left to take a shower while Nelson and Vanmatre were in the garage.
“JJ believes he left his wallet on his motorcycle, but I don’t recall seeing it there,” Nelson said.
When Jellis returned, unable to find his wallet — which he claimed contained $1,200 — the three searched the house for an hour and a half but never found it.
Nelson added that he never saw Vanmatre take the wallet but was also playing a game on his phone at the time. Private defense attorney Douglas Romero, of the Colorado Christian Defense Council, also pointed out that Nelson was told $1,200 was in Jellis’ wallet — not $3,000 as Jellis said in testimony.
Jellis had also claimed that Vanmatre stole from a lockbox in his car, as well as some cash stowed inside of the vehicle. In a cross-examination by Romero, Nelson said he never saw a lockbox in Jellis’ car and never saw or heard of the $7,000 that Jellis said was inside of the car.
“I’m still not sure on the actual amount that he lost,” Nelson said.
Just before Vanmatre, Jellis and the 16-year-old left for the mountains, Nelson remembers that Vanmatre “gave me a hug and told me he loved me, and, to my recollection, that’s the only time he ever told me that he loved me.”
Though Nelson planned to leave town for a week, he expected that Vanmatre was going to help him pack the next day.
The day after the incident, Nelson called Vanmatre and found out he was in the hospital. Vanmatre asked him to tell his mother he fell out of a tree. While Nelson suspected this was not true, he did anyway.
“It was extremely strange,” he said. “As soon as I figured out what actually happened, I called his mom.”
In a cross-examination by Romero, Nelson noted that he was distraught when he heard of the charges against Vanmatre.
“Oh I lost it. I cried a lot,” he said. “If all of this is actually real, if all of this did take place, then I feel that I actually never knew him as a person if he wanted to do this.”
FINDING THE PATH
Summit County sheriff’s deputy Nathan Opsahl was the next witness called to the stand that morning. As a handler for “Bobby,” a now-retired police dog, Opsahl responded the day of the attack to help track down the crime scene.
“Deputy (Sylvia) Simms wanted the dog to search near where they found the victim, and they wanted a backwards track to the crime scene,” Opsahl said.
At first, they looked on the northwest side of Swan Mountain Road, as Jellis had originally pointed police in that direction. However, after further interviews with him, police were able to locate the crime scene near the top of Swan Mountain, opposite the Sapphire Point parking lot.
Opsahl and Bobby hiked 20 minutes up the steep, thickly-`forested mountain to reach to crime scene. Police had found a large amount of blood, two beanies and a belt at the scene, according to Opsahl.
He gave the dog a command to search by locating ground disturbances by scent and found a small, black throwing knife 10 yards from the scene, covered in blood. They continued northeast, finding one blood-covered black leather glove, and then the other.
Between the items and drops of blood on the ground, “all of this confirmed that Bobby was on the right path,” Opsahl said.
They found a black jacket and a blue, plaid shirt further down the path — both covered in blood. A little further, the trail went cold, but Opsahl could see the traffic on the road below. Travelling to the road shoulder, he found a shallow stream nearby where Jellis said he tried to get a drink. He did not notice blood near the stream.
In cross examination, Opsahl noted that if an item or weapon had gone underwater, it would probably not give off a scent to be tracked. He also noted that there only appeared to be one trail, rather than multiple branching off, perhaps indicating a common path for multiple parties.
The afternoon ended with a recorded interview of Vanmatre being replayed in front of the court, with an opportunity for jurors to ask questions the following day. Court will reconvene at 8:30 a.m.
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