Machete attack trial: Court awaits jury verdict on attempted murder charges
“Credibility, ladies and gentlemen. This is what this is going to come down to,” assistant district attorney Heidi McCollum began her closing statement.
After long and frustrating hours of revising jury instructions, the court finally brought both arguments to a close, leaving the decision — all nine counts — in the hands of the 12 jurors Thursday afternoon.
The jury must come to a unanimous decision on whether Tyrus Vanmatre should be found guilty of first-degree kidnapping, attempted second-degree murder, second-degree kidnapping, first-degree assault, conspiracy to commit first-degree kidnapping, conspiracy to commit second-degree kidnapping, conspiracy to commit first-degree assault, menacing and reckless endangerment.
The jury will also decide whether seriously bodily injury was a result of these crimes, whether Vanmatre acted in self-defense and whether or not he acted in the heat of passion.
According to the prosecution, Vanmatre and a 16-year-old conspired to bring Denver resident Jadon Jellis to Summit County, with the promise of a party, only to stun him, bind him and attack or scare him with an 18-inch sword.
McCollum encouraged the jury to take into account the testimony of each witness, their intent and their conduct at the stand. She questioned the validity of Vanmatre’s statements after he testified before the court just one day previously.
“It seems it is still evolving. We heard as late as yesterday, a new version of what happened. It seems Mr. Vanmatre’s knowledge of the law and how the law affects his case has grown proportionally with the evolution of this story,” she said. “Keep in mind the number of versions that you’ve heard and the reasons for those versions … The version you heard yesterday would have been nearly impossible to come up with 14 months ago because he didn’t have the evidence to form his version around.”
While Vanamatre claimed he lied to Summit County Sheriff’s officers in a previous interview to protect Jellis, to protect the juvenile and to protect his mother, McCollum said the consumption of LSD that Vanmatre referenced was never witnessed.
She also added that while there was some confusion as to whether Vanmatre or the 16-year-old hit Jellis with the machete, that did not matter. Under the theory of complicity, if Vanmatre promoted, facilitated and aided in the assault of Jellis, then he would be found guilty, she said.
McCollum claimed that the selection of a location, weapons and a code word indicated a conspiracy between the juvenile and Vanmatre.
“He intended to immobilize JJ, to tie him up and to restrain him. And, why did he do this?” McCollum asked. “Because he had never done it before; he just wanted to try it … it was going to be fun.”
WHO IS THE VICTIM?
In his closing argument, private defense attorney Douglas Romero questioned whether Jellis was really the victim in the attack or if Vanmatre had acted in self-defense after Jellis had stabbed him in the lung when the three were just climbing the mountain to find a place to take LSD.
“I’ve been pretty sarcastic, and I’ve been doing this tongue in cheek and I apologize, but either (Jellis) is the unluckiest man in the whole world, or this doesn’t add up,” Romero said. “Who do you believe?”
He asked, after being struck twice by the 16-year-old, why would Jellis opt to tackle Vanmatre? He also pointed out that Jellis testified that the juvenile was 10 yards in front of him, yet tased Jellis on his side.
Romero also brought Jellis’ sobriety into question, noting that after he left the crime scene, Jellis discarded several pieces of clothing, collapsed in a stream while trying to drink from it and could not point to the correct mountain when asked by police where the attack took place.
He also questioned Jellis’ financial security between contradicting sums of money, some of which he claimed was lost or stolen, and his need to stay at Vanmatre’s house despite having $50,000 from the sale of a house.
“They’re all stinking lying. All of them. The whole bit,” Romero said. “Do you really, really, really believe that Mr. Vanmatre took somebody up to the mountains to kill them after all of this?
“You know what? I found the cure. I found it. You know why? Stab wounds don’t lie,” Romero addressed the jury.
He pointed out the hole in Vanmatre’s red shirt, the wounds he suffered to his chest, shoulder and lung and the four wounds that Jellis suffered to his left eye, left hand and the right side of his head. Romero said as Vanmatre testified that he only swung at Jellis twice with the machete, and Romero claims the curvature of his sword could account for the wounds to both Jellis’ hand and head in one blow.
“Everything he testified to was the truth. He acted in self defense,” Romero concluded.
FOOL ME ONCE
John Franks delivered the final statement of the day, questioning Vanmatre’s honesty, even as he spoke under oath in his testimony before the court.
“You can think what you want about Tyrus Vanmatre, but he’s an intelligent young man,” Franks added. “You don’t spin the fabric of falsehood, think on your feet, keep moving the way he has, without practice, without intelligence.”
He added that while Jellis’ testimony was based on his memory, his statements helped officers locate crucial pieces of evidence, including the crime scene, that matched his story. Meanwhile, Franks added, Vanmatre’s testimony shifted to conform to the facts he heard in court.
With a physician’s expert testimony that Jellis had lost 25 percent of his blood by the time he reached the emergency room, fractured and hypothermic, Franks questioned whether Vanmatre intended to merely scare Jellis or to kill him.
“Having done all this stuff to Jadon Jellis, was he going to let him go? Or, was he going to take his life as he had talked about taking a life in a remote area, in the woods, in the mountains?” he asked the jury.
“Anybody ever heard ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me?’” Franks concluded. “I don’t think I have the math skills to compute the number of times Tyrus Vanmatre has tried to fool somebody.”
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