Brandon Fitzpatrick trial continues in Mingo County
WILLIAMSON, W.Va. — Prosecutors on Wednesday rested their case against a Kentucky man on trial for his alleged role in the 2016 slaying of coal executive Bennett K. Hatfield.
Jurors heard several phone calls allegedly made from jail by Brandon Lee Fitzpatrick, including one in which he mentioned purchasing a gun from a music studio in Toledo, Ohio. In another, he says he would give a friend $300 to find his three cellphones, delete text messages, log onto his Facebook account and deactivate it.
In a third recorded call, Fitzpatrick became enraged and threatened to beat up former friends and acquaintances he believed had “snitched” on him.
Fitzpatrick, 22, of Louisa, Kentucky, is on trial this week for first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and two counts of conspiracy in the May 22, 2016, fatal shooting of Hatfield. Prosecutors argue Fitzpatrick and his alleged co-conspirator, Anthony Raheem Arriaga, planned to steal Hatfield’s Yukon Denali SUV at Mountain View Memory Gardens in Maher, West Virginia.
Mingo County Prosecutor Duke Jewell played five recordings Fitzpatrick allegedly made after he was arrested in Kenton County, Kentucky, on an unrelated drug charge.
Susan Van Zant, Fitzpatrick’s attorney, fought to have the calls barred from the trial.
She objected to the recordings several times, causing Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Miki Thompson to close the trial for an in-camera hearing with only attorneys present. Van Zant questioned if the recorded phone calls were obtained legally.
She asked Mingo County Chief Deputy Joe Smith about how he obtained the recordings from the Kenton County Detention Center and scrutinized the fact he did not sign an evidence sheet for the disc containing the calls.
Attorneys researched West Virginia case law to support admitting the phone calls as evidence. Eventually, Thompson sided with the state and the calls were played for the jury.
Fitzpatrick made phone calls to at least one unidentified man and one unidentified woman. On the recordings, Fitzpatrick said Arriaga and another man, Ricky Peterson, had given him what he thought was “molly,” or synthetic MDMA. It was later testified that Fitzpatrick and Arriaga had been awake for approximately 14 days prior to the slaying, allegedly high on synthetic methamphetamine.
Fitzpatrick said he had known Arriaga for a few weeks and had given him $4,000 and planned to move into this house “to get a fresh start.”
“I put my life on the line for Anthony, man,” Fitzpatrick said in one phone call.
Van Zant had argued at the start of the trial that Fitzpatrick barely knew Arriaga and thought his name was “Kyle.”
Before resting his case Wednesday, Jewell called Arriaga to the stand to testify against Fitzpatrick. However, Arriaga invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not potentially incriminate himself.
In a recorded statement made to police during an extradition to West Virginia, Fitzpatrick said he was riding with Arriaga along U.S. 52 when Arriaga got the idea to steal a car. The pair had been following a red Mustang when Arriaga pulled into the cemetery “to use the restroom,” Fitzpatrick said in the recording.
That’s when Fitzpatrick said he heard gunshots, got in the driver’s seat and fled the scene, leaving Arriaga behind.
Also Wednesday, Van Zant requested Mingo sheriff’s deputies open a box of evidence collected from Hatfield’s body after the slaying. Among the items were a money clip with $1,500 and a wallet containing $58.
Van Zant asked Thompson to dismiss the case because, she said, the state did not adequately prove Fitzpatrick was at the scene of the shooting and he had not attempted to steal anything from Hatfield.
However, Thompson disagreed and said Fitzpatrick does not have to pull the trigger to be convicted of murder and did not have to actually take anything to be convicted of robbery if there was an attempt or plan.
The trial will resume Thursday, Dec. 7, with the defense calling more witnesses.
Travis Crum is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. He may be reached by phone at 304-236-6497.