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Trial opens in death of homeless man

Fri., Jan. 23, 2009, 12:01 a.m.

Victim was killed in businessman’s Spokane apartment

Only three people knew what triggered a bloody fight between two homeless men and a Spokane businessman in Browne’s Addition last year, and one is dead.

Jason Casey, 29, died Oct. 5, 2008 when his jugular vein was severed as he was stabbed with a letter opener.

His buddy, Mark Russell, survived to testify against Craig M. Heiny, the owner of a Spokane carpet-cleaning business who’d invited the intoxicated drifters to his place for hamburgers.

In opening arguments Thursday, a Spokane Superior Court jury heard conflicting versions of what triggered the melee, which led to second-degree murder and first-degree assault charges against Heiny.

Heiny, 57, stabbed Casey six times after Casey resisted Heiny’s sexual advances, Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Anthony Hazel told the jury.

“We’ll prove the defendant committed the crime of second-degree murder” and intentionally assaulted Russell, Hazel said.

The state will call Russell as a witness. He’ll testify that he was helping himself to beer from Heiny’s refrigerator when he heard Casey say, “I’m not gay,” and slap Heiny. Russell turned and saw blood gushing out of Casey’s neck, Hazel said.

When Russell tried to intervene, “he received an uppercut with the knife to his throat” and nearly died, Hazel added.

Heiny gave police several versions of what happened that night, including that he acted in self-defense after the men tried to rob him. He didn’t call 911 and tried to clean up his blood-smeared apartment before police arrived, Hazel said.

In a videotaped police interview a day after the incident, Heiny said he picked up the transients and brought them to his apartment. Heiny said that Russell tried to “make out” with him and that Casey became jealous and attacked, Hazel said.

Both homeless men had been drinking for hours and were highly intoxicated. Casey had a blood-alcohol level of .14 and Russell had one of .33 – more than four times the legal limit. Heiny had been drinking as well, Hazel said.

“We expect the evidence to show that the defendant, when he drinks, can’t control himself when it comes to his sexual desires,” Hazel added.

Heiny told police he is gay.

Heiny’s lawyer, David Partovi, told the jury that Russell – the state’s star witness – is not credible.

“Mr. Hazel was not in the apartment that night. The story he tells you comes largely from the testimony of Mark Russell, who’s a drunk, homeless bum with a blood-alcohol level of .33,” Partovi said.

On the day of the incident, a Sunday, Heiny had been running his carpet-cleaning business and stopped by to check out the carpets at Chan’s Dragon Inn on West Third Avenue. He sometimes hired homeless men to help him, Partovi said.

He met Casey and Russell at the bar, a local hangout where Heiny knew some of the regulars. The two asked him for money for food, and Heiny told them he’d fix them hamburgers at his apartment, Partovi said.

“While he’s cooking, Mark Russell takes his shirt off. He grabs Heiny and kisses him full on the lips,” Partovi said.

After a second advance from Russell, “the big guy (Casey) flipped out. Casey slapped Heiny hard. At that moment Heiny knew he was in major trouble,” Partovi said.

Heiny saw Casey lunge for a letter opener, and Heiny grabbed it first, Partovi said. Casey pulled him backward over the top of a chair, Partovi said.

“Heiny doesn’t know what happened at that point,” Partovi added, describing the fight as a “Tasmanian devil” scene.

Heiny has cleaned carpets in Spokane for 30 years and has lined up a series of character witnesses who will testify he’s never been violent or aggressive.

Partovi, however, said Heiny did several “monumentally stupid” things: inviting the homeless men to his house, trying to clean up the blood, lying to police and throwing the letter opener out the window.

Heiny told detectives where he’d thrown it but it was never found, so the state has no murder weapon.

Despite these mistakes, “you can’t convict someone of murder for bad judgment. The evidence will support Mr. Heiny’s story that he didn’t start the fight. If he hadn’t gotten that knife, it wouldn’t be him sitting here telling you his story,” Partovi said.

Heiny’s trial resumes Monday in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Michael P. Price.

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