Hess takes stand in own defense at murder-for-hire trial

Sean Philip Cotter

Update: Closing arguments ended Thursday afternoon. The jury is deliberating. Check back later for an update.

Reported earlier: Gregory Allen Hess took the stand Wednesday in his own defense, laying out what he said happened in May, June and July 2014 — a narrative that did not include him attempting to hire two people to commit murder, as prosecutors allege happened.

After an hour-long meeting in the judge's chamber, Hess testified for hours, first telling his own story with prompting from his lawyer Suzanne Smith, and then being cross examined by chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker. Hess is accused of attempting to hire Michael Crampton to kill Calvin Jones Jr., and then trying to hire Deonsae Bryant to kill Crampton when he went to the police.

First, Hess talked about how in May 2014 he had his son, Toby, illegally take pictures of Jones in court, where Jones was testifying that Gregory Hess had also hired him to kill Hess' then-wife's lover. He said he did indeed tell his son to do that, but he didn't know it wasn't allowed.

Hess defense questions prosecution witnesses' motives

He said he wanted the photos to help identify who the witness was; he knew Jones by a different name, so his lawyers had been unable to find any record of him.

Prosecution has alleged he wanted the photos to give to Crampton, so his fellow York County Prison inmate would know who Hess wanted him to kill. Hess denied that.

He said Crampton was the one who started talking to him about Jones, asking what his name and address were.

"He said he hated snitches," Hess said. "He was a drug dealer — he didn't want to deal drugs to a snitch."

He gave that information to Crampton — who he knew as Mike Jones — on a note that also had his own phone number and his son's number, too.

Crampton often also asked him for a job after they both got out; Hess says that's why he gave Crampton his contact information.

And Crampton did indeed get in touch with him through Toby's phone, asking Gregory Hess about the photos and what was new with the "situation." Prosecution has said Crampton was referring to the possibility of him murdering Jones at Hess' behest; Hess said Wednesday Crampton was talking about Hess giving him a job.

So the two did meet up June 11, 2014, on Smyser Street in York City.

"He started to actually solicit me," Hess testified. "Asking me if I wanted him to take care of the snitch."

Hess said he wanted no part of it. He said he patted Crampton down for a wire, handed him a job application, and left. He said he then proceeded to go about his day as normal, until he was pulled over on Interstate 83 and arrested. Crampton had been working with law enforcement.

Second attempt: Hess went back to jail, where he men a man named Edward "Kentucky" Luttrell, who he befriended. Toward the end of June, Luttrell began asking him to lend Luttrell's friend $500.

Hess, who never met the man he'd be lending money to, at first said no, but then relented; he liked and trusted Luttrell, and also felt he owed Luttrell a favor for keeping members of the Bloods gang off Hess' back during this stint in jail, he said.

So he directed Toby Hess to get in touch with Luttrell's friend's girlfriend, using information Luttrell had given him, and to bring her the money in cash. Toby Hess testified last week that he did so.

The prosecution says this money has a much more nefarious purpose: They say Hess had asked Luttrell to find someone to kill Crampton for him. Prosecution alleges Luttrell acted as a liaison between Hess and Bryant, a fellow inmate who also went by "Virginia" or "VA." The woman who Toby Hess gave the money to had been Bryant's girlfriend, and that this was a down payment on the killing of Crampton.

Hess denied those allegations.

On cross examination, Barker asked him why prison phone recordings showed Hess asking his son to get in touch with the girlfriend to give her the money if it wasn't a big deal to him.

"He's forgetful," he said of his then-teenage son. "He has a lot on his shoulders."

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.