Granite Falls defendant says he didn’t mean for victim to die

EVERETT — Within seconds of taking the witness stand Monday morning a murder defendant admitted to fatally shooting another man in 2015.

The killing wasn’t premeditated, George Hatt Jr. said. He didn’t intend to kill Andrew Spencer, the defendant added. He believed Spencer had a gun when he saw Spencer kicking and punching his friend.

“I thought he was going to shoot me or my buddy,” Hatt said. Later Hatt admitted that Spencer was not armed with a gun, although he said he found a metal bar in the slain man’s hand after Spencer had fallen from a shot to the head.

Hatt, 50, was on the witness stand most of the day as his attorney walked him through the months leading up to the deadly shooting on a remote piece of Granite Falls property, where felons were known to squat.

Jurors are expected to hear closing arguments Tuesday and begin deliberations.

Spencer, 32, was missing for more than a week before Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives unearthed his remains in a makeshift grave on the property. Hatt is accused of burying the slain man in a fire pit, where a fire was kept burning for several days. Photographs of the scene show lawn chairs pulled up around the pit.

Hatt is charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors allege that Hatt shot Spencer in retaliation for a burglary at the house where he and his girlfriend were living.

Hatt had made it known that he was angry and blamed Spencer for the break-in. He estimated that more than $40,000 worth of property was taken. The defendant on Monday confirmed telling others in his circle of friends that he was out to get Spencer.

Witnesses testified that Hatt had told them he was looking for Spencer. Hatt denied that he’d been hunting the other man, saying he knew where he lived and could have easily gone to his house.

Hatt told jurors that he’d been warned to stay away from Spencer. He’d heard that Spencer was frequently armed. He also testified that he believed that Spencer was connected to an outlaw motorcycle gang and a prison gang.

Hatt said he believed Spencer broke into his house a second time and drew a swastika on a wall, along with the message, “Go home Jew.” Hatt is Jewish. He testified that the vandalism happened after Spencer clobbered him outside a gas station.

Hatt said those events led him to purchase a gun. Hatt said he was worried about his safety and that of his girlfriend and family. The defendant is a convicted felon who isn’t allowed to possess firearms.

The beef, however, seemed settled after Spencer visited the property a couple days before his death. Hatt told jurors the two men talked things over and their conversation ended cordially with a handshake. He said he asked Spencer not to come back.

Jurors were told that Spencer returned to the property a day or so later. Hatt’s buddy testified that he was working on a vehicle when Spencer pulled up. He said Spencer went to shake his hand and punched him in the face.

Hatt said he saw the assault and grabbed his gun from his safe. He went outside, yelling at Spencer. He said his shouts drew Spencer’s attention and the assault stopped. He testified that he believed he saw a gun in Spencer’s hand. He said he fired a warning shot and then thought Spencer was coming at him. He quickly fired again, hitting Spencer in the head.

Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Hal Hupp questioned Hatt’s actions in those moments. If he believed Spencer was armed with a gun and a true danger to him and his friend, why did he choose to fire a warning shot?

“You weren’t trying to hit him?” Hupp asked.

“I’m not one to kill anyone, no,” Hatt said.

Hatt told jurors he didn’t call 911 and didn’t report the shooting. He said he was afraid of going to jail.

Hatt and his friend dug a hole in a fire pit and buried Spencer. Hatt admitted to jumping on the grave to pack dirt. He also admitted to starting a fire on top of the makeshift grave. They dumped Spencer’s car a few miles away on a Forest Service road.

Spencer’s remains went undiscovered until his family and friends forced Hatt’s friend to go to Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives. He led detectives to Spencer’s body.

Hatt admitted Monday that he wrote a letter from jail after his arrest, filled with lies. He was primarily trying to devise a plan to point the finger at the man who helped him destroy evidence and hide Spencer’s body. He wrote about making sure the witnesses didn’t show up for trial.

Hatt told jurors he was trying to deflect his culpability out of fear that his girlfriend and family would be harmed. Jurors had not been allowed to hear evidence that the house he lived in was set on fire after Spencer was killed.

“You take care of business yourself, right?” Hupp asked.

“I’m not going to call the cops,” Hatt answered.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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