Bones to Talk With
After three weeks, a jury was seated and the prosecution team said it would seek the death penalty in this case. The defense asked for a change of venue, which was denied, and on September 28, 1994, the testimony began.
Clay Strange's opening statement summarized the case: Massey was introduced to Christina Benjamin in mid July 1993. He told the friend who introduced him that he wanted to kill her. Toward that end, he stole a gun, and bought ammunition, knives and handcuffs. He formed a plan to get her out of the house and on July 26, 1993, around midnight, put that plan into operation. He lured both children into his car, took them on a ride, killed Brian and then killed Christina, mutilating her body. They had hair, fiber, and blood evidence that would physically link Massey to the murders, along with witnesses who would fill in the gaps.
Court-appointed defense attorney Mike Hartley accused the state of an incomplete investigation, leaving out other potential suspects. He also pointed out that the physical evidence was based on probability and was not conclusive. He believed his client, Jason Eric Massey, would be exonerated rather than convicted by the evidence the state would present. Those witnesses whom the state would use were of such disreputable character that their testimony could be shown a way to deflect attention from themselves. Some of them once had been suspects and two had a grudge against his client. It was clear that more than one person was in the car on the night of the murder, and anyone else who was there might have been the killer.
Then the principals involved — the parents, investigators, medical examiner, and entomologist — provided their testimonies about the night of the murders. After that, it was time for the criminalists and biologists to explain their analysis to the jury. Finally came the other witnesses.
Chris Nowlin, in a prison jumpsuit from a parole violation, explained how he had been with Jason when they met Christina. He had been riding in a car with Massey about ten days before the murders, according to reports from the attorney general's office, and convinced him to drive over to see Christina, who was a friend of his. He had noticed Massey and Christina flirting and they talked about sneaking out together some night. Massey's plan had been to come by around midnight one night and honk his horn. That would be the signal for her to go to the old Fina station on I-45 and wait. Massey had told Nowlin that he planned to rape the girl, mutilate her with a knife, and kill her. But then, Nowlin said, Massey talked about killing girls "all the time," so Nowlin paid no attention to the comment. "It was weird."
On cross-examination, Hartley tried to use Nowlin's history of substance abuse to undermine his character. He also pointed out that Nowlin and his friend Mark Gentry had it in for Massey for approaching Gentry's former girlfriend. Nowlin admitted that this was correct, doing his testimony some damage.
Then the girls who had seen Jason's gun took the stand, as did the Wal-Mart clerk who had sold him the items of interest.
A former classmate from seventh grade, Anita Mendoza, told the court that as early as 1989, and on and off after that, Massey used to make threatening phone calls to her, harassing her with vile language and notes, and telling her that he had dreams about killing her. In fact her dog had been killed and mutilated in her driveway one day after she refused to meet him, its blood smeared on her car. She believed he had done it. He had also sent her a magazine photograph of a woman that he had beheaded with scissors, telling her that this is what she would eventually look like. She read sections of his shocking letters to the jury, which effectively illustrated how he equated obsessive sexual violence with love.
Then letters that Massey had written while in prison to a girl confined for mental problems were read to the court. In one he said that he wanted to "grab society by the throat and shake 'em with terror until they're awake and realize what's up, so they will remember who I am, when and why I came their way." Jason noted that July 26, 1994 marked one year "since it all happened." That seemed ominously to point to murder, but Hartley got Jason's mother to explain that on July 27, 1993, the day after the murders, Jason had gone to a revival meeting and been "saved." However, Clay Strange effectively proved that her son had exhibited decidedly unchristian thoughts and behavior since his "rebirth," which did not rattle her but had the intended effect on the jury.
Then Hartley grilled the lead investigator to get him to admit that Jason Massey had been the primary suspect from the start and that no one else had ever been investigated. The other man or men in the car that night were never identified. This could place reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury, despite the physical evidence that had mounted against his client.
Hartley might well have found some ground for doubt had it not been for a momentous discovery that occurred just before that phase of this bifurcated trial closed. In fact, in the middle of Strange's dramatic closing argument, one of his team was called out of the courtroom. It could only have been for an emergency.