By SAM ADAMS
The jury in the complicity to murder trial of James Richard Human IV will begin deliberations Friday morning, 15 days after jurors first entered the Letcher Circuit Courtroom.
Attorneys for the defense and prosecution delivered closing arguments late this evening (Thursday) after spending the better part of two days writing and rewriting instructions for the jury. Special Letcher Circuit Judge Kent Hendrickson spent 72 minutes reading the 49 pages aloud before defense attorney Robert Wright took the podium to argue that Huffman was acting in self-defense when he stabbed Michael Hogg to death early New Year’s Day in 2014. Wright acknowledged that his client should not have brought the Buck knife with a six-inch blade when he came to Whitesburg from Pike County that night, but placed the lion’s share of the blame for the stabbings on Hogg, the 24-year-old Kingscreek man and Eastern Kentucky University student who died in the passenger seat of his own Jeep on the way to the Whitesburg hospital. Wright also placed the blame for Huffman’s actions on Christopher Puckett and Stacy Phillips, two of Hogg’s friends who were also stabbed but survived.
Everyone involved in the altercation that took place on Whitesburg’s “Back Street” was intoxicated, Wright said, and that was one of several bad decisions made that night, not the least of which, he said, was Hogg’s decision to return to StreetSide Bar and Grill, then located on Whitesburg’s Main Street, at 1:16 a.m. to confront Huffman over an $18 bottle of Fireball, a 66-proof liqueur that bills itself as “Cinnamon Whiskey.”
“Nothing good happens after midnight,” Wright said, telling jurors his father had always told him that.
In his closing statement to jurors, Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II said the knife wound in Puckett’s back came within one millimeter of resulting in a second death at the hands of Huffman. The wound suffered by Puckett was nearly in the same location as the 7-inch-deep stab wound a state medical examiner said killed Hogg. Phillips received a large cut to his hand, Banks said, as he tried to stop Huffman from stabbing his friend.
Banks also mocked testimony Huffman gave to the jury on Tuesday and Wednesday, during which the accused killer claimed that Hogg had ripped off his own shirt, and Huffman’s explanation for a video recording that shows Huffman hopping up on a planter and walking near the edge of the sidewalk despite Huffman’s having testified that he was so drunk he could not remember most of the events of New Year’s Eve.
Banks also intimated to the jury that Wright’s assertion that Hogg ripped off his shirt in a rage, but then folded it neatly and laid it at trash cans 40 yards from the fight was ridiculous. Wright, the leader of a three-attorney defense team hired by Huffman’s family, suggested throughout the trial that a blue flannel shirt and a toboggan found by police on Hayes Street, down the hill from where the stabbings occurred in the rear of the old Craft’s Department Store building, was Hogg’s, though testimony was that Hogg’s shirt was black and gray.
After an objection by Banks, Hendrickson told the jury to disregard Wright’s statement that the shirt was blue, because that evidence was in dispute.
Banks also questioned Huffman’s assertion that he was afraid Puckett and Phillips would return and kill him, and didn’t call 9-1-1 because he wasn’t familiar with his cellular phone.
Huffman, Banks said, was familiar enough with the phone to place and receive more than 60 calls in five days, download a Google Earth map after the stabbing, and “Google” the rock band Foddershock, which he and two of his friends, including co-defendant Patrick Smith, saw perform at nearby Summit City before the killing.
Banks added that while Huffman claimed he was too drunk to work the new phone properly, he made numerous calls to his parents and “texted” them GPS coordinates on where they could pick him up in downtown Whitesburg.
“‘Come and get me, Mommy.’ ‘Here I am, Mommy,'” Banks said, referring to Huffman’s actions.
The jury will receive its charge at 9 a.m. tomorrow (Friday) and begin deliberations. Once deliberations begin, the jury will be sequestered until it reaches a verdict.