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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Key witness testifies in Huggins murder trial

Friday, March 18, 2011

The third day of testimony in the Michael Huggins second-degree murder trial turned up some surprising revelations. Huggins is accused of killing Joshua Woods Utter, 21, of Pierce City, on Sept. 25, 2007.

First to the stand on Thursday was Georges Daoud, a detective with the Monett Police Department, who was assigned a number of tasks throughout the investigation. One of those tasks was to stage a phone call between a witness, Trevan Dacy, formerly of Monett, and Huggins.

In a recording of that call, the jury heard Huggins ask Dacy to tell law enforcement officials that he, Huggins, had spent time with Dacy at Dacy's home on the evening of Sept. 24, the night that Utter was murdered.

According to Dacy's testimony, that was not the case.

Other testimony included that of Gary Dillard, of Monett, who identified the people that had been at Stubblefield Access on the night of Sept. 24 when Utter was killed.

According to Dillard, his then-girlfriend, Christina Fleetwood, had a baby two weeks prior to that event and became upset when several people at the Dillard home got loud. The group then moved to the Stubblefield Access along Flat Creek near Jenkins where Dillard testified that Huggins became involved in an altercation with Utter.

Dillard said he "was nosy" and went to investigate the fight and found Huggins kicking Utter in the upper torso and head. Utter was on the ground, saying, "I'm done. I'm done." Dillard then lifted Huggins off Utter and "put [Huggins] to the ground." Dillard then said he told Utter, "I'm getting out of here, and I suggest you do the same."

When Dillard left the Stubblefield Access area, he said Utter was alive to his knowledge.

Later in the evening, Dillard said he got several phone calls from Huggins saying he wanted to come to Dillard's home to get his "stuff." Dillard said he refused to let him come to his home, where Huggins had been staying. Dillard also said that Huggins had threatened harm to his children if he spoke to anyone of the events that occurred at Stubblefield Access on the night of Utter's murder.

In a three hour videotaped interview between Huggins and Detective Daoud and Detective Brian Martin, of the Barry County Sheriff's Department, Huggins said that he heard Utter had raped a girl who later lost her baby. Martin said that they were familiar with the incident but "whoever murdered Josh [Utter] had killed the wrong guy."

In that interview, Huggins stated that only he, Dillard and Utter had gone to Stubblefield Access, and that Dillard was the person who had beaten Utter.

Detectives listened to Huggins statement, and then said they had placed Huggins at four different locations "all night long" on the evening in question. Martin said a number of interrogation techniques were used in the interview, including one where he and Daoud sympathized with Huggins, asking if something may have accidentally happened.

Martin also indicated that Huggins had been given ample opportunity during questioning to disclose the names of other individuals who had been at Stubblefield Access on the night in question and Huggins refused to indicate anyone other than Dillard, Utter and himself.

In that interview, Martin told Huggins of statements others made that implicated him in the assault, and Huggins invoked his right to an attorney.

In cross examination, defense attorney Brian Smith questioned Martin on whether jail personnel had monitored phone calls between Dillard and Jason Schroeder, Danny Henderson and Derek Anderson, who had also been at Stubblefield Access. Smith indicated that the group had time to "get their stories" together. He also asked if footprints, tire tracks and other evidence had been compared to any of the other individuals that were at the scene on the night of the murder. Brian said the tire tracks and footprints had not been compared to others at the scene as far as he was aware.

At mid-afternoon, the state rested its case, and the defense got underway with its witnesses.

Gary Allen, evidence and property officer with Barry County Sheriff's Department, was the defense's first witness. Smith asked Allen who made the decision as to which of the 40 items of evidence collected in the investigation were taken to the crime lab. Allen said that he had enough experience to know what was necessary to be sent to the lab. He also indicated that he was the person responsible for securing and transporting evidence.

When asked how many items were taken to the crime lab in Joplin, Allen said the information was contained in the main case file and was not at his disposal. Smith asked who was in charge of the case, and Allen again replied the information was a part of the main case file and not in his area of supervision.

The trial is expected to conclude today in Barry County Circuit Court with the Honorable Judge J. Edward Sweeney presiding.

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