Hess defense questions prosecution witnesses' motives

Sean Philip Cotter
  • Prosecution rests, defense begins its case in Hess trial.

Defense attorney George Margetas asked Stanley Spriggs if he knew what the phrase "jumping on charges" meant.

Sure, Spriggs said, sitting behind the witness stand at the Gregory Allen Hess double-murder-for-hire trial in his orange prison jumpsuit. It's when someone in jail gives false testimony to law enforcement about another inmate who's charged with something serious in the hopes of getting a shorter sentence or some other preferential treatment, Spriggs said.

Chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker objected to that line of questioning, saying it wasn't relevant to the court case.

Defense attorney Farley Holt snorted at that.

"That's our whole defense," he said.

That was more or less true, and clear during Tuesday's trial proceedings, when the defense began to make its case for Hess' innocence. Hess' attorneys focused on the criminal history of the prosecution's witnesses, and their motives — how they could benefit from jumping on Hess' charges, which had been all over the news.

That's what the defense suggested Edward Luttrell did. The prosecution has alleged Luttrell — aka "Kentucky" — served time with Hess in York County Prison in spring 2014, and acted as a go-between for Hess and Deonsae Bryant, who Hess allegedly hired to kill Michael Crampton. Hess allegedly hired Crampton to kill Calvin Jones Jr., who Hess was acquitted several months ago of hiring to kill his then-wife's lover. No one killed anyone — all the alleged would-be hit men went to law enforcement.

Spriggs said he knew Hess and Luttrell in passing, and saw Luttrell use a sign in a window in his cell pod to give Hess a number to call for some reason. But then, he said, he overheard Luttrell saying he was going to set Hess up.

"'I'm gonna get that sucker for some money,'" Spriggs said he heard Luttrell say to some other inmate, with the man known as Kentucky rubbing his fingers together the way people do when they're referencing money.

Spriggs testified he himself had no skin in the game, and wasn't getting any consideration for his testimony; he said he'd merely seen Hess' name in the news, and got in touch with Suzanne Smith, one of Hess' lawyers.

Preferential treatment?: The defense suggested Luttrell was successful in what they alleged was his quest to benefit from Hess' situation.

Cameron Romer, a treatment court administrator, was called to testify about how Luttrell was admitted into mental health court. She said it's unusual for someone with his criminal record to get into treatment court, but it wasn't unheard of. He was eventually thrown out of treatment court for "absconding" from what he needed to do, and for picking up more criminal charges, Romer said.

The defense also called Michael Rutt, a public defender who represented Luttrell's son in an unrelated case in which the son, Austin, was charged with stealing two guns around the time of the alleged hirings. He said the son was admitted into one of the county's treatment courts, which is not the norm for someone with firearm-related offenses. Romer said much the same.

"In my experience, he's the only exception I've ever had" to that rule, the lawyer said.

He did say in cross-examination that no one from the district attorney's office ever came to him and talked about special treatment for his client. But he also said in response to questions from the defense that a note on his client's file is phrasing normally used to indicate that the person is helping out law enforcement in some way.

The defense also examined members of law enforcement who had dealt with Crampton around the time of the trial; they said he'd never mentioned Hess to them, even though the alleged hire would have happened already.

Charges: Gregory Hess, 48, of Hoff Road in North Codorus Township, is charged with two counts of solicitation to commit murder, as well one count each of conspiracy to commit murder and using an electronic device to further a crime.

The case will likely go the the jury's hands by the end of the week.

— Reach Sean Cotter at scotter@yorkdispatch.com.