U.S. District Court Judge Edward Shea on Tuesday rejected a defense motion to dismiss a first-degree murder charge and two companion counts against Norman “Griz” Ford Jr., who is on trial for his role in a June 2006 homicide on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
Defense attorney Mark Vovos asked for dismissal of the charges after Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Kimball rested the prosecution’s case after five days of testimony from various witnesses.
“There is no legal foundation” to dismiss the case, the judge said after hearing arguments from Vovos and Kimball, with the jury out of the courtroom.
Vovos argued that the case should be dismissed because the grand jury indictment, charging Ford with premeditated murder, includes the element of “malice of forethought.”
With that element included, Vovos said he couldn’t present a defense that Ford was motivated by “rage or passion” when he accompanied Joey Jake Moses to the home of Gary R. Flett Jr. Such defenses can be raised in cases of manslaughter or lesser felonies.
Moses has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for Flett’s death, testifying he fired the first shots from a 9 mm handgun at the victim, before handing the weapon to Ford, who fired more rounds inside the victim’s home.
Moses’ testimony as the prosecution’s key witness was part of a plea bargain in which he hopes to get a sentence of 18 to 25 years in prison instead of life, in exchange for testifying against Ford.
The prosecutor said Ford admitted to the FBI that he “kicked in the front door” at Flett’s house the night of the shooting – the crime of first-degree burglary that is the underlying felony under Washington state law that can lead to a charge of first-degree murder.
“This should be a case that goes to the jury for (its) deliberation,” Kimball told the judge.
It is routine at the end of the prosecution case in criminal trials for defense attorneys to seek dismissal of the charges, but such motions are rarely granted.
Failing in that effort, Vovos began the defense case. He previously told the jury in his opening statement that Ford went to Flett’s home with Moses, intending to confront Flett, after being told by Moses that Flett was having sexual relations with Ford’s girlfriend.
As Ford confronted Flett, Vovos said, Moses came in the house, wearing a mask, and fired the handgun at the victim.
It’s not known if the 30-year-old defendant will take the stand in his own defense before the case goes to the jury, perhaps late today or Thursday.
Melvin “Gus” Peone, who is Moses’ uncle, was called as a defense witness. Peone told of telephone calls he had from Moses after he took a bus to California after the June 1, 2006, shooting at Flett’s home in the Kokanee Meadows housing development on the Spokane reservation.
Peone, interviewed by FBI agents in the days immediately following the murder, testified he urged Moses to return to Spokane.
“I told him he was in trouble, the police were looking for him and he should come home,” Peone testified.
In their various conversations, Peone testified, Moses did not say Ford fired the handgun.
Peone said he hid a handgun belonging to his nephew a few days before the shooting because Moses had been drinking “for several days straight.” But on the evening of May 30, after Moses was “practically begging for the gun back,” Peone said he gave the weapon back to his nephew.
“What did he say when you gave him the gun back?” Vovos asked the witness.
“He said, ‘I kill people,’ ” Peone said.
“Did he threaten you with the gun?” Vovos asked. Peone said no.
“Did he point it at your head?” the defense attorney followed up.
“Yeah, he did,” Peone testified. He later said he believed Moses’ actions with the gun were intended to be sarcastic.
That prompted Vovos to ask Peone if he had ever seen Moses actually fire the gun.
Peone said he was present in a car on a driveway of his parents’ home on the reservation when Moses pointed the gun out of the window and fired several shots.