|Michael Roy Huggins (mug shot Monett PD)|
A mistrial has been declared for the second time in the murder trial of a man from Monett.
Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox charged Michael Roy Huggins, 26, with second-degree murder for allegedly killing Joshua Woods Utter, 21, of Pierce City during a fight late September 24th or in the early morning hours of Sept. 25, 2007.
|Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox|
Utter's badly beaten body was found by a Missouri Department of Conservation employee at the Stubblefield Access on Flat Creek near Jenkins on September 25th.
Dr. Keith Norton, who works for Southwest Missouri Forensics and performed the autopsy on Utter, testified that he couldn't determine if Utter bled to death or was the victim of some sort of blunt force trauma.
Dr. Norton told the jury that animals had gnawed on Utters nose, throat and lips and that he found seven puncture-type wounds on the victim's face that he believed were the result of animal activity to the body and would have caused massive bleeding.
McDonald County Sheriff Rob Evenson, a former detective with the Barry County Sheriff's Department, testified that several agencies participated in Utter's death investigation and it was handled in a major-case squad-manner with Lt. Greg Brandsma, of the Monett Police Department, serving as case manager.
|McDonald County Sheriff Rob Evenson (former Barry Co. detective)|
Evenson said that officers investigating the death did not know the victims identity until after the autopsy had been performed on Sept. 26. By that time, Evenson said Huggins told investigators that the victim was Utter when he was questioned BEFORE the autopsy in Springfield.
Investigators also talked to a homeless man who had been living under Monett's Centennial Overpass, Melvin Sutton. Sutton told investigators he had witnessed a fight underneath the bridge on September 24th where one man had kicked at another man, but the man fell and hit the rail instead.
A friend of both Utter and Huggins, Jason Schroeder, testified that he and several other people went to the Stubblefield Access to party the night of Sept. 24, 2007. He told jurors that they had been drinking, using meth and smoking pot before a fight broke out between Huggins and Utter.
Schroeder said both Utter and Huggins were standing up when the fight broke out, but Utter had fallen and Huggins began stomping him.
|Gary "Hootie" Lynn Dillard (mug shot BCSO)|
Another friend of the men, Gary "Hootie" Dillard, who is charged with hindering prosecution in this case, tried to break up the fight by grabbing Huggins off of Utter and throwing Huggins about three to five feet away. Dillard then allegedly told Schroeder it was time to leave.
Schroeder testified that when he saw Huggins the next day he told him to keep his mouth shut about what happened or he would kill him. Schroeder says he told police what happened after Huggins was behind bars.
Defense attorney Brian Smith hammered Schroeder on cross examination, detailing for jurors how many times Schroeder had previously lied to law enforcement officials about the night Utter died. Schroeder told jurors his fear of Huggins led him to lie to police to protect himself and his then pregnant girlfriend.
On the first day of testimony, Smith asked Detective Brian Martin, of the Barry County Sheriff's Department, why he called the state crime lab in Springfield and ordered them to "cease all testing" on 41 items of evidence collected during the investigation.
In day three of testimony, Smith asked Gary Allen, evidence and property officer with Barry County Sheriff's Department, who made the decision as to which of the 41 items of evidence collected in the investigation would be taken to the crime lab for testing. He [Allen] testified he had enough experience to know what items needed to be sent to the crime lab. He also said he was the responsible for securing and transporting evidence to Springfield.
This is the second mistrial in Huggins' case. In February, Judge J. Edward Sweeney declared a mistrial because only one alternate juror would have been available to hear the case due to inclement weather.
Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox says he's not sure at this point if he will retry the case against Huggins, "There are some things we have to look at and additional evidence we need to follow up on. There are too many variables in play right now and we'll make a decision after we've had a chance to review everything.
Huggins was remanded back to the Barry County jail where he is being held on $250,000 bond.
Dillard is scheduled to appear in court on the hindering prosecution charge on March 22nd.