The trial that wasn’t.
Two years of pretrial motions.
Two preliminary hearings.
Two district attorneys.
Two families torn apart.
And two young men lost.
The case of Jarrod Wyatt gruesomely murdering his friend Taylor Powell in March 2010 is expected to conclude Thursday, when he will likely be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Wyatt accepted a deal for 50 years to life by pleading guilty to first-degree murder Sept. 6, just days before his trial was set to begin.
It was the culmination of hundreds of hours in trial preparations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money spent to make sure Wyatt received a fair trial — and was prosecuted to the fullest.
This case was never about whether he did it.
Wyatt was found standing naked, covered in blood, as Powell’s body lay disfigured on a couch a couple feet away.
Wyatt confessed, saying he thought his sometimes-sparring partner to be the devil during a psilocybin mushroom-induced episode. Wyatt told investigators he believed himself to be in a battle of good vs. evil while a tsunami brewed outside.
No, the case was about ensuring Wyatt never set foot outside of a prison, a mission that may have been accomplished even without a trial, although the deal means Wyatt could be paroled when he’s an old man.
Early on, defense attorney Jim Fallman called into question Wyatt’s sanity at the time of the murder. But several psychiatric evaluations later, he was deemed to have been sane while he removed organs from his friend’s body.
For District Attorney Jon Alexander, the crux of the case was whether he’d be able to convince jurors that Wyatt deserved to spend the rest of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole by proving he intended to kill Powell.
Alexander dismissed the original charges filed by his predecessor, Mike Riese, and refiled murder charges that included special allegations allowing the possibility of the death penalty or life without parole. That meant a second preliminary hearing — again subjecting Powell’s family to the evidence and recounts of the killing.
Then Alexander announced he would not be seeking the death penalty, at the behest of Powell’s family.
Alexander brought a special prosecutor, Nico Mavris, on board to spend hundreds of hours poring over research, immersing himself in what happened that night and helping prepare an argument designed to win over 12 jurors.
As the trial date approached, Alexander prepared an expert witness list that would have brought pathologists, criminologists and psychologists from three states spanning the coasts.
On the other side, Fallman constructed a defense around Wyatt’s sanity at the time. Wyatt’s case was suspended for about half a year while psychiatric evaluations were conducted to make sure he was mentally competent to aid in his own defense.
Fallman called on testimony from his own client on two occasions to question the integrity of a law enforcement officer and prosecutor. Those motions were ruled to have no merit.
Fallman’s trial witness list was a fraction of Alexander’s, but the defense attorney insisted the killing was not premeditated because Wyatt’s ability to formulate intent was impeded by the mushrooms.
Then came more delays. Continuances on motions. The case trudged along until the eve of a trial.
Then Wyatt bowed out.
A special hearing was called after the courthouse doors had been closed for the day.
Wyatt stated he understood the charges and the plea he was about to enter. He expressed sorrow for Powell’s family. He said he was entering the plea to spare his own family from testifying, and in the hope he would be released from prison one day.
Never mind he would be 79 years old before he was eligible to go before a parole board that would decide if he was fit to re-enter society.
Nor that he would likely be sent to a super-maximum-security facility, where prison gangs influence and recruit from the yards. Wyatt, a former mixed martial arts fighter, has openly spoken about his propensity for violence.
“I think that all fighting is worthwhile,” Wyatt said in a Triplicate story highlighting his MMA success printed three months before Powell’s killing. “This is my yoga. You can’t beat up the idiots in the grocery store, or the guy who cuts you off. Frustration builds up and fighting something is a great release.”
Thursday’s proceedings will likely conclude Wyatt’s residency in Del Norte County for at least five decades.