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Accused murderer takes stand

| November 17, 2005 11:00 PM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter

Accused murderer Wayne Hixon took the witness stand on his own behalf Wednesday, testifying that he didn't shoot neighbor Bob Mast and offering explanations for his shoe prints near Mast's body and for a partially burned shotgun shell casing found in his woodstove.

Hixon, 52, is charged with deliberate homicide and evidence tampering. His jury trial began Nov. 10 and was expected to wrap up on Thursday.

Mast's body was found at his property near the Canadian border north of Eureka on April 30 by a county deputy investigating a report made by U.S. Customs officers of a shot fired near the Roosville port of entry. State medical examiner Dr. Gary Dale testified on Tuesday that Mast died after a charge of 00 buckshot fired at close range passed through his neck and severed his spine. Nine pellets apparently exited Mast's neck while another pellet and lead fragments were found inside the wound.

Hixon was pulled over for speeding about 10 miles away, just south of Eureka, about 20 minutes after the shot was reported. The Eureka police officer who made the traffic stop subsequently placed Hixon under arrest for DUI after he failed field sobriety tests and showed a blood alcohol concentration of more than three times the legal limit on a portable testing device. When asked where he had come from, Hixon first said near the border and later gave his address. Asked how long ago he had left, he replied "however long it takes to get from there to here."

Hixon quickly became a suspect in Mast's death after investigating officers learned that he had made a complaint earlier in the day about his suspicion that Mast had illegally shot a bighorn sheep. Hixon had called a game warden and told him that he had seen six sheep crossing his property onto Mast's and heard a gunshot immediately after losing sight of them. Game warden Jim Roberts testified on Monday that when he responded to the scene, Hixon had asked him not to tell Mast he had made the complaint because Mast had threatened his life in the past. Roberts talked with Mast and left the scene about a half hour before the shot was reported after finding no evidence that a sheep had been killed.

A number of witnesses, including Hixon himself, testified that Hixon had had problems with Mast over Mast's horses and dogs getting onto his property and over Mast's plans to build a fence that would have encroached on Hixon's land.

The officers who investigated the shooting found numerous footprints left by someone wearing athletic shoes going up and down the driveway between Mast's body and Hixon's residence about 200 yards away. The closest prints were within a few feet of the body, and more prints from the same shoes were found around Hixon's cabin. An expert from the state crime lab testified on Tuesday that the prints came from the same brand and size shoes found in Hixon's truck. At the time of his arrest, he was wearing only socks on his feet. He testified Wednesday that he doesn't usually wear shoes when he drives.

The expert, Deborah Hewitt Lougee, said she could not confirm from photos of the prints that they had definitely made by the same pair of shoes but that they could have been the shoes that made the prints.

Roberts testified on Monday that when he went to the scene of the crime after Mast's death, he noticed that one of the shoe prints was on top of one of the tire tracks left by his truck during his earlier visit, indicating that it had been made after he had left. None of the other officers recalled seeing the print, however, and no pictures were taken of it. A report written by Roberts later on the night of the shooting did not mention the print.

Officers who executed a search warrant at Hixon's cabin the day after the shooting found a 12-gauge shotgun under the couch and three shells — one slug and two bird shot — lying on the floor. Detective Darren Short testified that the shells on the floor looked out of place because the cabin was so "neat and tidy." Short also found the brass head of a 12-gauge shell on top of the ashes in the woodstove. The plastic hull of the shell had been burned away.

State crime lab firearms expert Brian Bouley testified that microscopic examination of the fired shell, compared to others fired in Hixon's gun, proved that it had been fired in that gun "to the exclusion of all other firearms." Bouley also testified that there was no evidence to prove Mast had been shot with Hixon's gun or that the burned shell had contained buckshot.

The shell was made by Winchester. All but one of the nearly 100 unfired shotgun shells found at Hixon's cabin were Federal brand. Four partial boxes of shells found in the loft of the cabin contained a mix of Federal shells containing two different sizes of birdshot, while one of the boxes also contained a single Remington shell loaded with 00 buckshot.

On the witness stand, Hixon said he had burned the fired Winchester shell along with some other garbage he had cleaned out of his truck a day or two before Mast's shooting. He said he hadn't built a fire in the stove since then. None of the officers who were at the scene recalled whether or not they had seen smoke coming from the chimney of Hixon's cabin when they arrived.

Hixon explained the shells found on the floor by saying he must have knocked them off a railing in his loft when retrieving some fishing gear.

Hixon acknowledged that he had complained "regularly" about Mast breaking covenants barring livestock on their subdivision. He also testified that Mast had once threatened him over the complaints.

"With all the complaining I've done, Bob one time told me, 'Quit making waves for me or I'll take you out,'" he said.

Hixon said he had walked up Mast's driveway early in the afternoon on the day of the shooting as well as on the two previous days. He said he wanted to talk to Mast about an outbuilding he was interested in buying from him but hadn't found him at home.

Cross-examining Hixon, Deputy County Attorney Bob Slomski expressed puzzlement that Hixon would want to meet with Mast after their history of problems.

"So you're going to walk over to this bigger guy's house, this guy who threatened to kill you?" he asked.

Hixon said he prefers talking to people face-to-face instead of over the phone or leaving a note.

"Even if they're guys you've had a lot of problems with, who have threatened your life?" Slomski asked. He suggested that Hixon might not have been afraid because he was carrying a gun, but Hixon denied that he had been armed.

According to Hixon and friend Steve Harsh, Hixon had called Harsh around 6 or 6:30 p.m. on the day of the shooting and said he was going to come over to Harsh's house to spend the night and go fishing in the morning. Hixon said he had been thinking earlier in the day about going fishing later and that he knew Harsh was always ready to go fishing. Both men testified that the last time they had gone fishing together had been the previous summer, and Hixon said he had recently bought a fly rod from Harsh and wanted to try it out.

Harsh testified that Hixon's call was unexpected, however, and said that Hixon had never spent the night with him at his house. When Hixon was stopped for speeding, he told the officer he was on his way to go fishing with a friend.

On Wednesday, Don Appleby, who described Hixon as his best friend, testified that he had been at Hixon's cabin on the morning of April 30. He said he usually visited Hixon every day of the week except Sunday, typically arriving around 9 or 9:30 a.m. and staying until around noon. He said they normally would watch television and talk and would often go to town together to run errands and do some shopping.

Appleby testified that before he left on the day Mast was killed, Hixon had mentioned that he might go fishing later. Under cross-examination, however, he said he didn't remember telling police during an interview on Oct. 1 that Hixon hadn't told him of any plans that day. He was shown the transcript of the interview, which indicated that he had been asked several times and said Hixon hadn't had any plans that he told him about.

"This is so hard to recall," Appleby said. "It's been so long between. I can't remember all this."

Hixon testified that he had walked down to the nearby First and Last Chance Bar after Appleby left and bought a pint of whiskey. He said he drank some of the whiskey along with some beer. He said that when he was pulled over for speeding he was on his third can of beer and "didn't pay attention" to how much whiskey he had consumed.

After Hixon was arrested and taken to the Eureka police station, the Eureka officer placed paper bags over his hands to preserve any potential gunshot residue, at the request of the county deputy who found Mast's body. The bags were later removed at the request of Detective Short, who had determined a shotgun had been used in the shooting and didn't expect to find any residue on the shooter's hands. Short testified that while residue may be found on the hands after someone shoots a handgun, shooting a shotgun or rifle is unlikely to leave any residue.

Another sheriff's deputy, Sgt. Steve Short — no relation to the detective — testified Wednesday that he saw Hixon through one-way glass, handcuffed to a desk after the bags were removed, pouring coffee onto his right hand and wiping it on his pants. The scene was recorded by a surveillance camera, and the video recording was shown to the jury.

Hixon testified that he had "no idea" why the bags were on his hands. He said he had spilled some coffee and wiped it off, then noticed something on his hand that looked like dirt and was trying to wash it off. He said he assumed he was being recorded and wasn't trying to hide anything.

Slomski asked Hixon why he stopped wiping his hands when an officer came into the room. He said he wasn't aware of when he started or stopped.

"Could that be a coincidence?" Hixon asked.

"That's why I'm asking," Slomski replied.

"It must have been," Hixon said.

Slomski asked Hixon why he hadn't asked to wash his hands in the restroom when an officer had escorted him there to relieve himself.

"I didn't think of it," Hixon said.

"It was easier to pour coffee on your hands?" Slomski asked.

"It was just a spontaneous thing," Hixon said.

Defense attorney John Putikka has pointed out that a witness testified to seeing several hundred dollars in Mast's wallet the day before the shooting, and that the wallet was not found after his death. Hixon testified that he neither shot Mast nor stole his wallet. He also testified that while he had contemplated buying the property on which Mast built his cabin before Mast bought it, he didn't have the resources to do so and wouldn't expect killing Mast to remedy the situation.

In his opening statements, Putikka told the jury that the prosecution's theory of the case is "only theory" based on circumstantial evidence. He pointed out no blood from the victim was found on Hixon's shoes or clothing despite laboratory testing and promised to give the jury nine separate reasons to find Hixon not guilty.