The prosecution and defense told vastly different stories during opening statements this week in the case of Michael Jones, who is suspected of murder after a drug deal gone bad in May 2017.
The murder trial began Monday with jury selection. Jones is suspected of shooting David Gaytan, 34, once in the chest. It’s believed Jones traveled with two accomplices from Texas to buy marijuana in Durango.
He is charged with first-degree murder, three counts of aggravated robbery, three counts of felony menacing and tampering with physical evidence.
On Thursday, attorneys questioned Dr. Michael Arnall, who performed the autopsy on Gaytan. Arnall testified that there was no residue from the gun on Gaytan’s body, implying that the gun was shot from a distance of “more than a few inches.” He also testified that Gaytan had traces of cocaine and marijuana in his system.
In opening statements made Wednesday morning, David Ottman, assistant district attorney, said Jones attempted to rob Gaytan during the drug deal, and in doing so, Gaytan lunged at him and Jones shot him in the chest.
Ottman said Jones, along with his cousin, Kevin Goff, 27, and mutual friend, Alysee Rios, 19, traveled from Texas, where marijuana is illegal, to Durango with the intention of selling it back in Texas.
“Not a joint, not an ounce, but pounds,” Ottman said.
Jones borrowed a 9 mm handgun from a friend in Texas, Ottman said.
Ottman said the trio arrived in Durango on May 13 to meet with two of Goff’s acquaintances – Alex Schaffhauser and Brittany Jamie – who knew people that had large amounts of marijuana for sale.
But the drug deal wasn’t successful that day, and the trio started getting frustrated, Ottman said. They then spent the night at Schaffhauser’s trailer in the Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park and partied late into the night.
The next morning on May 14, Gaytan, who also lived in the mobile home park, came over with the marijuana. Ottman said the trio planned to rob Gaytan and take off with the marijuana and money.
Ottman told jurors that Rios waited outside in a black Chevy Impala ready to speed off after the robbery.
As the drug deal was happening, Jones pulled out a gun and asked everyone in the room for their “money and wallets,” Ottman said. It was at this time Gaytan lunged at Jones and was shot.
The trio was spotted by a Colorado State Patrol trooper about 10 hours later in Chaffee County, about 200 miles northeast of Durango. The handgun was found hidden in a compartment of the engine of the car and the marijuana was found in the trunk.
Ottman said Rios told investigators the robbery was premeditated.
But Annie Woods, Jones’ public defense lawyer, said Jones was a “stranger in a strange land,” and he acted in self-defense when he pulled the trigger.
She said there was no pre-planned, premeditated robbery. Instead, Jones asked his friend in Texas for the handgun for protection, she said, as is customary in drug deals with random people.
“It’s not the most emotional story, it’s a human story,” Woods told jurors.
According to Woods, the drug deal was Goff’s idea, and Jones just tagged along.
She agreed the drug deal “went terribly wrong” but argued it’s “unclear” what happened in the trailer.
Woods said Gaytan and Schaffhauser were unhappy with the deal, and that they both attacked Jones, prompting him to shoot the gun “blindly,” striking Gaytan. Woods said Gaytan and Schaffhauser were high on cocaine at the time.
Woods also questioned the prosecution’s key witnesses, Rios, who was given a “drastically shortened sentence,” and Jamie, who was given “immunity” for testifying against Jones.
Woods also said Rios told investigators about plans of robbery after being pressured by investigators. And, she said law enforcement did not analyze all the evidence at the scene, especially Schaffhauser and Jamie.
“Yes, a man lost his life from a gunshot wound, but that doesn’t mean it was murder,” Woods said. “He’s (Jones) an innocent man.”
The trial, which is being overseen by 6th Judicial District Judge William Herringer, is expected to last a week and a half.