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Trial ends in jury deadlock

| November 22, 2005 11:00 PM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter

A Eureka man charged in the shotgun slaying of his neighbor last spring will be getting a new trial after a jury failed to reach an agreement about his case.

Wayne Hixon, 52, is facing charges of deliberate homicide and evidence tampering. His case went to trial starting on Thursday, Nov. 10. The jury began deliberations around 12:30 p.m. the following Thursday. Breaking around 6:30 p.m. and resuming at 10 a.m. the next day, deliberations continued until 3:25 p.m. on Friday, when the jury announced that it was hopelessly deadlocked.

A new trial is scheduled for next March.

Hixon was initially arrested on charges of speeding and drunk driving just south of Eureka on the evening of April 30, around the same time a county deputy, responding to a report of a shot fired near the Roosville port of entry, found the body of Bob Mast, 42, lying in his driveway on his property a short distance from the port. Hixon was held on suspicion of killing Mast after a game warden relayed a report of a call earlier in the day in which Hixon had accused Mast of illegally shooting a bighorn sheep.

According to Deputy County Attorney Bob Slomski, in his closing arguments, Mast's killing was the result of "an anger and a resentment that had built up over two years."

Slomski pointed to statements from witnesses that Hixon resented Mast for having bought the parcel adjacent to his and was angry with Mast for letting his horses and dogs wander onto his property. Witnesses testified that Hixon was fastidious and kept his property neat and tidy while Mast's property — as Hixon said in a recorded telephone conversation with the game warden — looked like "a pig pen."

Game warden Jim Roberts responded to a call from Hixon around 5 p.m. on the day of Mast's murder and left around 6 after speaking with both Hixon and Mast and finding no evidence of an illegally killed sheep. He said that Hixon asked him not to tell Mast he had made the complaint, indicating Mast had threatened his life in the past.

Customs officers at the port of entry reported hearing a shot, which they thought was directed at their station, at 6:28 p.m., and a county deputy arrived at the scene at 6:50. He found Mast dead of a gunshot to the neck, later determined

to have been fired at close range by a shotgun firing 00 buckshot. The deputy remained at the scene and waited for backup while a Eureka city officer was dealing with Hixon on a traffic stop about 10 miles away. Hixon was pulled over when the officer clocked him on radar traveling 51 mph in a 35 zone.

The speeding ticket turned into a DUI arrest after the officer smelled alcohol on Hixon's breath and administered field sobriety and blood alcohol tests. The breath test put Hixon's blood alcohol content at more than three times the legal limit.

Hixon told the officer he was planning to go fishing with a friend. The friend, Steve Harsh, testified that Hixon had called him around 6 or 6:30 p.m. and suggested that he come over to Harsh's house and spend the night so the two men could go fishing the next day. Harsh testified that the call was unexpected but said they had gone fishing and camping together before — most recently the previous summer — although Hixon had never spent the night with him at his house.

Roberts, who had responded to a report of a dead deer in a yard south of Eureka, heard Hixon's name on the police radio, along with information about the discovery of a body somewhere to the north, and traveled to the location of the traffic stop. He testified that he told the Eureka officer Hixon might be a suspect in the shooting.

Officers investigating the scene found shoe prints, apparently made by a New Balance athletic shoe, going up and down Mast's driveway between his cabin and Hixon's. When Hixon was stopped for speeding, he was wearing only socks but had a pair of New Balance shoes behind the seat in his extended cab pickup truck. An expert from the state crime lab testified that the tracks photographed by the officers were made by shoes the same size and brand as Hixon's but could not confirm that they were made by the same pair of shoes. Hixon testified that he had walked the driveway earlier in the day of the shooting as well as on the two previous days because he was trying to find Mast to ask him about an outbuilding he had for sale.

Roberts, who left the site of the traffic stop to go to the scene of the shooting, testified that he saw one of the shoe prints on top of one of the tire tracks his vehicle had left during his earlier visit, indicating it had been made after he left. None of the other officers at the scene, however, recalled having seen the track, and no photographs were taken of it.

When asked how long ago he had left his home, Hixon told the officer "the time it took me to get from there to here."

Slomski pointed out that a deputy who timed the drive from Hixon's cabin to the site of the traffic stop found that it took around 20 minutes while traveling at the speed limit. That timing would put Hixon at the scene of the crime around the time Mast was killed, he said.

Officers who executed a search warrant at Hixon's cabin the following day found a 12-gauge shotgun under the couch and three shotgun shells — one slug and two containing birdshot — lying on the floor. Slomski argued that the meticulous Hixon, who testified that he must have accidentally knocked the shells down from the loft when he was retrieving his fishing gear, would have been unlikely to have left the shells lying on the floor if he hadn't been in such a hurry to get away.

"By the time they find Bob Mast's body, the defendant figured, 'I wasn't even there. I was at Steve Harsh's, spending the night,'" Slomski told the jury. "Great alibi."

Officers also found the brass head of a 12-gauge shotgun shell on top of the ashes in the woodstove in Hixon's cabin. The plastic hull had been burned away. While Slomski argued that the shell was likely the one used to kill Mast and an expert from the state crime lab testified that the shell had been fired in Hixon's gun, Hixon testified that he had put it in the stove a day or two earlier along with some trash that had been in his truck.

"Some of the most telling evidence," Slomski said, could be seen on a surveillance video of Hixon at the Eureka police station. Paper bags had been place on his hands following his arrest, to preserve any gunshot residue, but the bags had been removed at the direction of a detective who determined that it would be unlikely to find residue if a shotgun had been used. Alone and handcuffed to a desk, Hixon could be seen on the video washing first one hand, then the other, by pouring coffee on them and then wiping them on his pants. Hixon testified that he hadn't had any idea why the bags were on his hands and was washing them with the coffee because they were dirty. He suggested that it was just "a coincidence" that he had paused when an officer came into the room.

"The defendant is trying to wash his hands of the murder of Bob Mast," Slomski told the jury. "Don't let him get away with it."

Defense attorney John Putikka countered that the prosecution had not proved its case against Hixon and offered the jury more than a dozen reasons to find his client not guilty.

Putikka said the timeline offered by the state didn't add up, noting that the deputy had testified that it had taken him 23 minutes to follow Hixon's route from home to the traffic stop. Using that as a guide — even without considering that Hixon would have had to get back home, unload the gun, throw the shell in the wood stove, call Harsh, get in his truck and take off his shoes — would have required that Hixon leave home one minute before the shot was reported by Customs, Putikka said.

"By the state's own timeline my client would have had to leave before the shot was fired," he said.

Putikka said there was no evidence Mast was killed with Hixon's gun or that the shell found in the woodstove had been loaded with 00 buckshot. No officer at the scene reported seeing a fire in the stove on the evening of the shooting, he added.

There was also no evidence that Hixon had ever threatened to harm Mast, despite his complaints.

"Being a whiner and a complainer doesn't inevitably make you a cold-blooded killer," he said.

Putikka attacked Roberts' credibility, arguing that he was irritated with Hixon over his complaint and pointing out that he had told the police officer who made the traffic stop that Hixon was "an ass." Roberts was the only one who saw the shoe print on the tire track, which was "a valuable and important piece of evidence," and he didn't even mention it in a report he filed the night of the killing, Putikka said.

"Now this is like finding Noah's ark or finding Jimmy Hoffa's body," Putikka said.

Roberts didn't mention the shoe print on the tire track until September, after tests revealed that a suspected spot of blood on Hixon's shoe did not contain Mast's DNA, Putikka said. If the DNA test had shown the presence of Mast's blood on Hixon's shoe, the print would have been irrelevant, Putikka said.

Putikka also questioned the angle at which Mast was shot and suggested that the shooter had taken him by surprise and had not been in the driveway. He noted that photographs of Mast's body showed he had dropped a package of cookies that he had apparently been eating when he was shot.

"I can't imagine Bob Mast would have been eating cookies while my client strolled up to him with a shotgun," he said.

Putikka dismissed Hixon's hand-washing with the coffee, arguing that Hixon had thought "the bags themselves were the test" and that he thought the test was over when the bags were removed.

Putikka also pointed to the fact that Mast's wallet, which a witness said had contained several hundred dollars the day before the shooting, was never found, and that a handgun Mast was known to have had a month or two before his death was not found either. He noted that witnesses had reported hearing one or two shots earlier in the day, when Hixon had accused Mast of shooting a sheep, and suggested that some unknown person had been in the area with a gun. Officers never checked at the nearby First and Last Chance Bar for possible suspects, although it would have been easy for someone to walk up the hill from the bar, shoot Mast, and then walk back down, he said.