EVERETT — George Hatt Jr. doesn’t deny he killed a man in 2015 but it wasn’t a cold-blooded murder like prosecutors make it out to be.
That’s what jurors heard from Hatt’s defense attorney as the man’s trial got under way earlier this week. Elizabeth Mustin, a public defender, told the jury in opening statements that Andrew Spencer was out for blood the day he showed up unannounced on Hatt’s property in Granite Falls.
Spencer sucker-punched Hatt’s buddy in the face. He kicked and punched him while the man was down, Mustin said. Hatt was defending his friend when he shot Spencer, she said.
“He used lawful force,” Mustin added.
Deputy prosecutor Hal Hupp said evidence will show the killing was premeditated and motivated by revenge. Hatt had made it known around Granite Falls that he was out to get Spencer, whom he blamed for a break-in at his house. Witnesses will testify that Hatt threatened to kill Spencer more than once, Hupp said.
“It became an obsession,” he said.
Hatt, 50, is charged with first-degree murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Prosecutors also charged him with second-degree murder under the theory that he intended to kill Spencer, 32.
Jurors on Thursday continued to hear testimony from the man Spencer clobbered. He lived in a trailer on the property. He admitted that he helped cover up the crime and ditch Spencer’s car. He also admitted that it wasn’t until Spencer’s family cornered him and drove him to the police station that he came clean about what he’d seen and done.
Prosecutors allege Spencer died Nov. 1, 2015. His remains were recovered 10 days later. He’d been shot in the head.
The witness rubbed his head and fidgeted with the microphone Thursday as he recounted the minutes, hours and days after the killing.
Spencer showed up while he was working on his rig, the man said. They were acquaintances and he’d bought a gun off the man. Spencer acted like he was going to shake his hand and instead punched him in the face, splitting his lip. He was crawling on the ground and was kicked or punched in the side. After that blow, he heard Spencer say, “Now that you’re warmed up, we can talk.”
He was on the ground when he heard the gunfire, the man said. He curled up into a ball, scared that Hatt was going to shoot him, too. He told jurors Hatt had warned him that if Spencer ever showed up again, he should scram, otherwise the man would be a witness to a crime and Hatt would have to kill him, too.
The man recounted Hatt digging a hole in a fire pit after the shooting.
“He says, ‘Grab a leg,’ ” the man said.
The men dragged Spencer to the hole, pushing him in feet first. The man told jurors that Hatt jumped on the dead man’s back several times before burying him. Hatt, he said, built a fire on top of the makeshift grave and kept it burning for three days. He also poured gasoline and acid into the pit, the man said.
“Did you call 911? Did you report it to police?” Hupp asked.
“No,” the man said, glancing at the jury.
He denied knowing why Spencer was upset enough with him to attack him.
Spencer’s family showed up on the property, looking for the missing man. Hatt and his girlfriend were gone. The witness told Spencer’s relatives he didn’t know anything. Two days later they “kidnapped” him and forced him to talk to Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies, he said.
Hatt was arrested in Auburn a few days later after police received a tip on his whereabouts. Hatt has multiple felony convictions out of California and North Carolina.
Detectives were told that Hatt ran a chop shop on the Granite Falls property, taking in stolen cars, forging the titles and selling the vehicles.
His trial is expected to stretch into next week.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.