Witness shares events leading up to Summit County machete attack
In a pretrial conference on Monday, the prosecution and the defense examined a witness leading up to the trial of Tyrus Vanmatre, a 20-year old man charged with second-degree attempted murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree assault and seven other charges.
The court brought in Henry Nelson, a childhood friend of Vanmatre’s who was present the morning of June 17, before Vanmatre and an 18-year-old accomplice allegedly attacked Jadon Jellis with a machete and a stun gun. Nelson said he was at Vanmatre’s home in Denver that morning when Jellis claimed his wallet had been stolen from his bike sitting in the garage.
“I was with Tyrus in the garage the whole day and never saw him take it,” Nelson said. “The investigator said it was found in Tyrus’ car. I don’t know how.”
Jellis, who had recently moved to Denver from Wyoming after he made $50,000 from the sale of a house, claimed that $1,200 was missing from his wallet. While Vanmatre and Jellis became friends through a connection with his older brother, Nelson claimed the two didn’t get along by the time of the incident.
Initialy, Nelson said Vanmatre had “planned to live with (Jellis) for six months and mooch off of him.”
While Vanmatre had looked for a job, he was still unemployed. But Nelson said he still managed to pay the bills.
“He always had money for gas, always had money for food and always had money for hockey,” Nelson said. He added that while the hockey team might have covered his gas costs, “I’m not sure where he was getting his money for hockey.”
Deputy District Attorney John Franks asked Nelson about an instance when Vanmatre had bragged about robbing his stepfather’s home in 2012. Nelson said Vanmatre had told him about it before but thought the story was just another tall tale.
“Tyrus had a lot of stories, but I don’t think that he would have done anything that he had said,” Nelson said.
He added that since Vanmatre continued to live with his stepfather after the incident, he assumed it never happened. But, Franks later confirmed that there were police reports taken on that burglary.
While Vanmatre had quite an arsenal of weapons— samurai swords and throwing knives — Nelson claims that he never saw a machete among his various articles. He added that he and Vanmatre would sit in the backyard, throwing the knives at a fence in their spare time, but that he “never saw (Vanmatre) commit a violent act toward anyone … He never mentioned doing anything bad to Mr. Jellis.”
While Nelson never heard plans for what happened the night of June 17, he said Vanmatre had mentioned a few times in casual conversation that if he were to kill someone, he would go up into the mountains. These instances were before the two had met Jellis.
“The entire idea was that if you took someone where no one ever went, you could just leave the body somewhere, and no one would ever know,” Nelson said. “I never thought he would take the steps to do that.”
Defense attorney Doug Romero, of the law office of Doug Romero, LLC, objected to the inclusion of these statements as evidence in the trial.
“These are just general statements made between friends over the years,” he said. “This is just teenage bravado.”
But, Franks disagreed, adding that the original charge of attempted-first degree murder should be restored and should go to the jury in August.
“He was following a script that he had thought about and conveyed to his best friend over the course of the years,” he said. “In this case, we have pretty extraordinary evidence of this plan.”
Leaving his house later that afternoon, Vanmatre, the 18-year-old and Jellis drove together to Summit County, where Vanmatre had gone to high school and played hockey for just over a year. According to Jellis’ testimony, they told him they were going to a party but first were going pick up a gun in the woods for a planned robbery.
Arriving at Sapphire Point, the three headed uphill into the forest just north of Swan Mountain Road. Jellis said that Vanmatre and the 18-year-old grabbed weapons from the multitude in Vanmatre’s car but told Jellis not to take one. He said they also told him not to bring a cell phone in case they were tracked. Jellis pocketed two knives, suspicious.
According to Jellis’ testimony, once Vanmatre said, “this seems like the perfect spot,” he slashed Jellis with a machete. The other boy responded, stunning Jellis with a taser and stabbing him. But Jellis said that he fought back, stabbed Vanmatre and stumbled down to the road, where he was found by a passing officer. Jellis was admitted to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center with lacerations to his face and hand.
Vanmatre drove to the hospital and was admitted with a punctured lung. Nelson said Vanmatre called him, asking Nelson to tell his mother that he was injured from falling out of a tree. At this point, Nelson still didn’t know what had happened that night.
Once he heard the news, Nelson was in disbelief.
“I was arguing for Tyrus the entire time,” he said.
While he never heard anything else from Vanmatre about the incident, he did speak to the 18-year-old, whose case was moved to juvenile court after a motion this year.
“He finally spoke up and said ‘It happened. He did it,’” Nelson said. “All he ever vocalized is that ‘It happened. I sat in the car.’”
He added that the boy does not like to talk about what happened that day, but Nelson doesn’t think that there was a plan or else the 18-year-old would have not participated.
Still, Nelson added that the 18-year-old did whatever Vanmatre asked him to do, adding that he “idolized Tyrus” and “was on his hip.”
The juvenile was sentence to five years in the department of youth corrections.
Vanmatre’s two week-trial will start on August 24 at 8:30 a.m., with another pretrial conference scheduled for August 11 at 2 p.m. Fifth Judicial District Judge Mark Thompson had yet to rule on which of Nelson’s statements will be admitted as evidence.
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