Fort Worth murder trial goes to jury

Posted Thursday, Feb. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- Jurors in a capital murder trial Wednesday heard a secretly recorded, profanity-laced tape in which defendant Jeremy Hopkins threatened to kill his co-defendant in the case for talking too much and described wiping fingerprints from the gun and bullets.

The recording was made by an acquaintance who received a reward for leading detectives to Hopkins and Frederick Jones after Jones killed convenience store owner Azmi Elqutob on June 1, 2011.

Jones, 32, has been convicted of fatally shooting Elqutob and is serving a sentence of life without parole. If convicted of capital murder, Hopkins, 31, will receive the same sentence. He has also been charged with the lesser offense of aggravated robbery.

Jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon and are to resume this morning.

Prosecutors called to the stand the acquaintance who secretly taped Hopkins. The man is now in the Tarrant County jail on a theft charge. The Star-Telegram is not naming him because he said he fears retaliation for his testimony.

The man testified that he saw Mimi Elqutob a few days after her father's death. "She was past upset. She was breaking down," the man said.

Later, he saw posters at an apartment complex offering a reward for information about the killers. The man called police and agreed to wear a recording device while talking to Hopkins.

Hopkins told the man that he was angry with Jones because he was talking about the slaying.

"I told him 'You talkin' too much, fool. You need to shut your mouth,'" Hopkins said on the recording. Much of what he said cannot be repeated in the newspaper.

The witness also testified that Hopkins told him that he wiped both the gun and the bullets before giving them to Jones. Hopkins was recorded saying that he tossed the gun into the Trinity River after the slaying. The witness testified that he received a $2,500 reward.

During closing arguments on Wednesday, defense attorney Daniel Young called the man a "snitch" and a convicted felon who secretly recorded a conversation with a friend. But even in the recording, no intent to commit capital murder can be heard, Young said.

"Intent, that's what defines capital murder in Texas," Young said. "There is no evidence that Hopkins acted with intent to commit capital murder. Was he going to rob a weak man, yes. Did he want some of the money, yes. Was that admirable, no. Sure, he wiped off some of the bullets in case something went wrong. But was that intent?"

Young said his client already admitted to helping with the robbery, and he would leave the robbery vs. capital murder decision to the jury.

Prosecutors William Vassar and Jacob Mitchell argued that even if Hopkins was not in the store when the murder occurred, he was still guilty of capital murder under the law of parties.

"Why wipe off the gun unless you think it's going to be used?" Mitchell asked. "Why wipe off the bullets unless you think they are going to be used?”

But it was Jones, not his client, who was in the store and who pulled the trigger, Young said.

“This man wanted Frederick Jones to get arrested,” Young said gesturing toward Hopkins. “That fool, he shot and killed the man. That’s not how you commit a robbery.”

Vassar told the jury if Jones had gone into the store and tripped and the gun went off by accident, or if Jones and Elqutob struggled for the gun and it went off, then that would have been evidence of a lack of intent.

But you do not give a gun and ammunition wiped clean of fingerprints to a masked man wearing gloves and then later pretend that you had no idea of what was about to happen, Vassar said.

“What did he do after the robbery?” Vassar asked. “Did he call the police or MedStar? No, he buys cocaine with his proceeds.

“When you take someone like this, a human being, a father, a friend, a loved one and you turn him into a cold piece of meat on the autopsy table you deserve a capital murder conviction.”

The jury is scheduled to resume deliberations this morning in state District Judge George Gallagher’s court.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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