Spokane reservation murder trial gets under way
A 31-year-old man is on trial in U.S. District Court, charged with first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and using a firearm in a crime of violence on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
The prosecution’s case against Norman Ford Jr. largely will be built around key witness Joey Jake Moses, who already has pleaded guilty to murder, seeking to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison by testifying to get a lighter sentence.
Moses, 24, hasn’t been sentenced but remains in custody. He is expected to take the stand today and describe how – after a night of drinking with Ford and others – he was taunted into shooting Gary R. Flett Jr. in his home on the Spokane reservation on June 1, 2006.
Moses is expected to testify that after he fired shots from a 9mm semiautomatic at Flett, Ford took the gun and fired more rounds at the 20-year-old victim, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Kimball said in opening arguments Tuesday.
Moses and Ford are equally responsible for Flett’s premeditated first-degree murder, the prosecutor said, describing the defendant as the instigator who fueled Moses’ feelings of inferiority and fear into a killing rage.
A contrasting version came from defense attorney Mark Vovos, who told the jury Moses was the only killer, a man who later became a liar and cut a deal with the Justice Department to serve just 18 years in prison, instead of his whole life, by testifying against Ford.
Ford was present during the murder, but didn’t fire the handgun, Vovos said. The defendant called police a day after the fatal shooting, while Moses fled to California for several days, Vovos told the jury.
Moses and Ford are both enrolled members of the Spokane tribe, as was the victim. The FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs, with jurisdiction over crimes committed on the reservation, investigated the murder.
Before testimony began, Judge Edward Shea asked the prosecution and defense if either objected to several expensive pieces of Western art, including one piece depicting Native Americans on horses, on the courtroom walls. Neither side objected.
In the prosecution’s opening, Kimball said Moses “was a broken man, a weak man” who had been bullied and intimidated by Flett for about two years prior to the shooting.
Mutual acquaintances mocked Moses, calling him names and suggesting he “was less than a man” for not standing up to Flett, Kimball told the all-white jury.
Against that background, Moses met Ford and other mutual acquaintances at a boxing match at Northern Quest Casino on the evening of May 31, 2006.
After drinking at the casino and at a Spokane bar that night, the group traveled to a home on the Spokane reservation before Moses and Ford, both under the influence of liquor in the early morning hours of June 1, decided to arm themselves and go to Flett’s home on the reservation, Kimball said.
Before leaving, Ford wiped off each bullet with a towel, presumably to eliminate fingerprints, before loading the rounds in two ammunition clips, telling “Joey Moses this is how it’s done,” the prosecutor told the jury.
At Flett’s house, Kimball said, Ford kicked in the door, awakening Flett, who was sleeping naked on a living room couch.
“Joey Moses walked in and fired three or four shots at Gary Flett,” before the shooter became nauseated and vomited, Kimball said. “He gave the gun to the defendant,” who fired another shot at Flett before Moses ran from the house.
Outside, as Moses continued to vomit, he heard five or six more shots fired inside. Then the two men fled in a pickup, traveling to Spokane where they threw the two 9mm ammunition clips over a hillside on Northwest Boulevard, Kimball said in describing the chronology.
Vovos told the jury that Ford initially was only charged with being an accessory to murder. But he was re-indicted on a first-degree murder charge after Moses began cooperating with investigators, ultimately striking a plea bargain to testify against Ford.
Vovos said Moses enticed Ford to join him in confronting Flett. Moses told Ford that Flett had been having an extramarital affair with Ford’s wife and was the biological father of Ford’s newborn son, the defense attorney said.
“This is a story about somebody who gets even with somebody else by using a lie,” Vovos said, then cutting a deal with the government to avoid life in prison.
Ford kicked in the door at Flett’s house, but didn’t fire a shot, Vovos said. “He did nothing but take a gun away from somebody after he killed his friend.”