By Alan Sorensen
The case of the state versus Jacob Gary Spang in the murders of Kevin Caplette and Kristi Walker was placed in the hands of jurors at about 4:30 p.m. Monday.
Spang, 19, is being tried for his alleged part in the murder of Kristi Walker, 30, and Kevin Caplette, 30, both of Havre. They were found shot to death at Walker's trailer home in the 1200 block of Sixth Street shortly before 1 p.m. on Sept. 16.
Spang is charged with two counts of deliberate homicide by application of the felony murder rule, two counts of intimidation by accountability, one count of tampering with evidence, and car theft.
Spang's lawyers finished presenting their evidence and witnesses in Spang's defense Monday morning. The afternoon session began with 12th Judicial District Court Judge John Warner giving detailed instructions to the jury concerning all six charges against Spang. Warner told the jury that it would have to find Spang guilty of intimidation in order to find him guilty of the murder charge.
Then it was time for closing arguments by the prosecution and defense.
Assistant Montana Attorney General Joe Thaggard of Missoula argued that Spang chose to remain at Walker's home despite what the defense called his aversion to guns. Thaggard said that Reid Danell pointed two different guns at Spang during the evening and Spang stayed at the east Havre trailer house. Thaggard said Spang even went further, collecting shotgun shells and giving them back to the gunman and reloading a clip Danell had flicked empty and then giving the clip back to Danell.
Defense attorney Carl White argued that Spang had an aversion to guns and violence because of the grisly murder of his brother, Westy Spang, 20, at Rocky Boy in February 1999. White also justified Spang's comments the night of the slayings that he wanted to go to Rocky Boy and kill the person he believed killed his brother. He said that is how anyone would react if their brother were murdered and mutilated.
The case seemed to hang in the balance between what Thaggard and White said was Spang's part in the collection of "collateral" from Walker's garage. Thaggard said that taking a saw and amplifier from Walker's garage and putting them in her closet in lieu of a monetary payment Danell demanded from Walker constituted felony theft. He said that Spang helped move the items and was therefore guilty of a felony that led to Caplette and Walker's deaths.
Thaggard also said that one witness testified that Spang was the one who ripped three phones out the walls at Walker's home. He said that alone demonstrated intimidation and showed premeditation.
White argued that only one person testified that Spang tore the phone cords and that she was lying.
Amanda Grant had testified that she was a former roommate of Donny Ferguson, one of the last people to leave Walker's home before the murders and first to see Danell and Spang afterwards. Grant said under oath that Ferguson told her numerous details of the night and what Danell and Spang told her afterwards, but Ferguson denied ever telling Grant anything.
Thaggard insisted that all of Spang's actions the night leading up to the murders and the days that followed indicated his intentions. "Actions speak louder than words," Thaggard said in reference to Spang remaining with Danell even when Danell was out of sight or sleeping.
White agreed that "actions speak louder than words" and insisted that his client stayed with Danell only because he feared for his own life and those of his loved ones.
Thaggard reminded the jury that Spang was an initiate into a gang to which Danell was a full-fledged member, the LDL 13, and that the two had known each other during their stints at Pine Hills School, the state reformatory for boys in Miles City.
Thaggard claimed that Spang's use of his shirt to wipe down the murder weapon as he, Danell and Spang's sister Francine sped to Rocky Boy through Beaver Creek Park constituted tampering with evidence. He added that Spang's mistaken discarding of a stereo remote rather than the clip from the assault rifle also constituted tampering with evidence. Spang also admitted to helping his sister wipe down the car the three stole to make their escape from Walker's home.
All of those things, White argued, were done under duress, and that Spang was compelled to do them by the threat of reprisal from Danell. As a result, Spang was innocent of both the intimidation and murder charges. He also was innocent of the tampering charge and auto theft charge for the same reason.
"If you are compelled, you aren't guilty," White said. He quoted Spang as saying during police interrogations, "I did what he told me to do. I did everything he told me to do."
"You bet he did," White said, "and maybe saved his life in the process."
Spang's presence in the rooms at the times that Caplette and Walker were murdered led to post traumatic stress. As a result, White said, Spang wasn't to blame for failing to flee Danell and notify police.
The jury deliberated until 9:59 p.m. Monday and was dismissed without reaching a verdict. Jurors reconvened at about 8:30 a.m. today to continue their deliberations.