Inmates likened to characters in JFK’s ‘Profiles in Courage’
April 4, 2008
HUGO, Colo. (AP) – A vicious prison homicide that a prosecutor said triggered fear of retaliation if witnesses spoke about it was sent to jurors Thursday.
Deliberations were to resume Monday.
The terror witnesses faced prompted Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan May to compare the inmates who testified to the eight senators in John F. Kennedy’s book, “Profiles In Courage.” JFK’s 1956 collection of stories of bravery and integrity earned him the Pulitzer Prize.
“They were literally putting their lives on the line,” to tell jurors what happened, May said during closing statements Thursday in the trial of David Bueno, one of two inmates charged in the death of 40-year-old Jeffery Heird at the Limon Correctional Facility in 2004.
Bueno and Alejandro Perez, 30, face the death penalty if convicted. Perez will be tried later.
Prosecutors say Bueno, 44, and Perez beat and stabbed Heird 29 times after he was labeled a “snitch” for not alerting other prisoners about a drug bust. Heird allegedly obtained the information from a female prison guard who defense attorneys say “let him get too close” to her and that Heird did not disclose the information because he didn’t want to get her in trouble.
Heird was imprisoned after he was convicted in Utah for the 1991 homicide of a gas station attendant he kidnapped in Cortez.
Bueno is serving a 24-year sentence for burglary.
Based on the account of former inmate William Wonnenberg – whom other inmates called “Crooked” – prosecutors say Bueno and Perez walked into Heird’s cell, overpowered him and stabbed him with a shank.
Prosecutors said Heird’s killing was gang-related, and that one of the prisoners caught trying to smuggle drugs was Bueno’s friend and a “shot caller” in his gang.
“He (Heird) broke their code and they were going to make a demonstration out of it,” May said.
Wonnenberg told investigators he heard screams and something banging on concrete. Investigators later determined the sound was someone crushing Heird’s head on the floor.
Although much of the testimony came from inmates, no one saw the actual killing. Defense attorneys said prosecutors assembled a case based on little physical evidence and testimony from unreliable witnesses, who set up Bueno.
“He’s on trial because those responsible for Jeffrey Heird’s death planned not only how to kill him but how to get away with it. This was a trap, and (corrections officials) fell for it hook, line and sinker,” attorney Derek Samuelson said in his closing statements.
Samuelson said the prosecution witnesses had ulterior motives. He challenged May’s comparisons to the senators in Kennedy’s book, especially in the case of Wonnenberg and Doug Hudson, who claimed Bueno asked him to kill Wonnenberg.
“And by the way, William Wonnenberg is no John Kennedy. And neither is Doug Hudson,” Samuelson said.
Last week, Bueno’s attorneys said prosecutors made a plea deal with Hudson, who faced prison time for walking away from a halfway house until he told investigators of Bueno’s supposed request in a letter. Investigators have not found the letter.
“There are people who do not deserve to be believed,” Samuelson said. Wonnenberg lost the privilege to be believed “sometime around his 11th or 12th or 13th felony conviction,” Samuelson said.
Samuelson alleged that Wonnenberg was released from prison seven years early in exchange for his testimony.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys also sparred over physical evidence. May said a boot print left amid the blood in Heird’s cell proved Bueno was at the crime scene, according to an expert’s testimony. But Samuelson said that expert merely said “it was possible” Bueno left the print. Samuelson said all inmates at the prison wear the same type of boots.
A third inmate, 34-year-old Michael Ramirez, is also charged in Heird’s killing, but he is not facing the death penalty. Prosecutors described him as the “lookout.”
Separately, Perez’s attorneys have asked a judge to review how the cases are being funded by the Department of Corrections, saying District Attorney Carol Chambers is using a state law to benefit financially from the case.
Chambers has said the law lets the DOC reimburse her office to prosecute prison crimes.
Perez’s attorneys want his case dismissed, or for a special prosecutor to take over the case from Chambers’ office.