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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Witnesses say party was scene of deadly beating

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The prosecution called 11 witnesses to the stand during the second day of Michael Huggins' second-degree murder trial, which is taking place this week in Barry County Circuit Court in Cassville.

Huggins, 26, formerly of Monett, is accused of killing Joshua Woods Utter, 21, of Pierce City, on Sept. 25, 2007.

First to the stand was Sgt. James Musche, an investigator with the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Criminal Investigation Unit. Musche opened several evidence bags he had collected at the Stubblefield Access area on Flat Creek where Utter's body was discovered.

Musche displayed a blood-soaked T-shirt, sweat pants, shoes, grass stained and muddy socks and blue boxers worn by the victim. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney J. Patrick Sullivan had Musche explain the relevance of each item and how he assisted the Barry County Sheriff's Department in processing the scene.

McDonald County Sheriff Rob Evenson, a former employee with the Barry County Sheriff's Department, also testified that the cooperating agencies investigating the death had handled the case in a major-case squad-manner with Lt. Greg Brandsma, of the Monett Police Department, serving as case manager.

Evenson said that officers investigating the death had no idea of the identification of the victim until after the autopsy had been performed on Sept. 26. By that time, Evenson said Huggins had already expressed knowledge of the victim's identity when questioned by law enforcement officials. Huggins admitted to Evenson that he had heard of Utter's death by 9:30 or 10 a.m. the morning of Sept. 26, several hours before the autopsy got underway in Springfield.

On cross examination, defense attorney Brian Smith questioned Evenson about a steak knife that had been found at Stubblefield Access a few days after the murder. Leon Short, who lives near the Stubblefield Access, had located the weapon when he was hunting for arrowheads. He called the Barry County Sheriff's Department and turned the weapon over to Evenson, who said he processed it and turned it over to the evidence officer.

Smith also questioned why no one from the sheriff's department had canvassed the neighborhood and questioned nearby residents on the day the body was found or shortly thereafter. Evenson said he was not aware of why that action had not occurred.

Possibly the strongest testimony of the day came from Jason Schroeder, who told Prosecuting Attorney Johnnie Cox that he and several other people had gone to Stubblefield Access to party the night of Sept. 24, 2007. He admitted his group had all taken part in drinking alcohol, using methamphetamine and smoking marijuana to varying degrees.

Schroeder indicated that he had driven to the park, as had Derek Anderson and Danny Henderson. When the group arrived, they continued "partying," and a scuffle broke out between Huggins and Utter. Schroeder said both Utter and Huggins were upright at first but that Mike soon was on top of Utter stomping on him.

"Gary [Dillard] tried to stop the fight," Schroeder said. "[Dillard] threw Mike three to five feet. Then he came up to me and said 'It's time to get out of here.' We got in the Durango and were gone."

Upon questioning, Schroeder said he did see Huggins the next day.

"He told me to keep my mouth shut or he would kill me," Schroeder said. "My girlfriend was pregnant at the time and I was afraid of Mike."

Schroeder admitted he finally told police what happened that evening, but only after Huggins was in jail.

Smith hammered Schroeder on cross examination, emphasizing the many times Schroeder had previously lied to law enforcement officials concerning the events of that night. Schroeder agreed, reiterating his fear of Huggins and concern for his pregnant girlfriend.

Henderson then took the stand, testifying as to the amount of drugs and alcohol the group had consumed prior to going to Stubblefield Access on Sept. 24, 2007.

"We were partying and then a scuffle started," Henderson said. "[Dillard] went and broke it up. Huggins was kicking. Josh was on the ground trying to defend himself. We went back to [Dillard's] house. No one knew what happened to Josh."

Smith continued emphasizing the length of time the witnesses had been acquainted with Dillard as opposed to Huggins, who had only been in the area for about two months before the night of Utter's murder.

Also testifying on Wednesday were:

* Robert Vaughn, a criminal investigator and veteran of the Missouri State Highway Patrol for 23 years.

* Chelsea Holliday, a friend of Dillard's then-girlfriend, Christina Fleetwood.

* Sandra Molton, formerly of Monett. She was the woman Utter lived with on occasion along with several other individuals.

* Derek Anderson, of Purdy, who attended the party at Stubblefield Access the night of Utter's murder.

* Amanda Anderson, wife of Derek Anderson, who was also at Stubblefield Access that night.

* Jerrod Young, who lived at the home of Sandra Molton.

* Scott Stanley, formerly of Monett, who testified that he had heard Utter say he was "going to get Josh for raping some girl."

The trial is scheduled to continue throughout the week in Barry County Circuit Court with the Honorable Judge J. Edward Sweeney presiding.

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