By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – With a sentencing of life imprisonment, the capital murder trial of 22-year-old Matthew Harris ended today.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for less than an hour, before convicting Harris. The charge carried with it an automatic life sentence.
Harris was convicted for the June 3, 2005, death of Capt. Jason Gonzalez of Harker Heights, a San Antonio native and 1998 West Point graduate. Gonzalez, 28, was an Apache helicopter pilot in the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood.
He now shares the same fate as the three men who were with him that night: Russell J. Alligood, 25, a former 1st Cavalry Division soldier, Brandon Lee Hammock, 17, and Erik Leonard Siperko, 19, all of whom were sentenced to life in prison in July 2006.
Closing arguments and the reading of the charge by 264th District Court Judge Martha Trudo ended before noon today.
Both the state and defense rested late Wednesday afternoon following the third consecutive day of witness testimony.
The morning testimony Wednesday included several peace officers who interviewed Harris and took his statement in the days following Gonzalez's murder. They said that they first went to talk to Harris in hopes of taking a witness statement, but then asked him to come down to the station as his culpability in the crime became apparent.
In addition, the prosecution, led by First Assistant District Attorney Murff Bledsoe, presented the jury with Harris' videotaped statement as well as the written statement he gave to police.
Harris' testimony revealed a chain of events that began weeks prior to Gonzalez's death with a string of car burglaries in the Harker Heights and Nolanville area.
"Russell came up with the idea of robbing a house and everyone agreed," Harris said in the statements, commenting that the need for a gun was brought up.
Harris said Hammock didn't want to be unarmed because he was concerned about someone shooting at them once they broke into a house.
Testimony on Tuesday from the gun manager at Action Pawn in Killeen revealed that Alligood had purchased a .22-caliber gun at the pawn shop earlier that week.
Harris said in the statement that sometime after midnight, June 2, the group scouted around for a house to rob. They brought zip ties, handcuffs and a gun in case they needed to subdue anyone, Harris testified.
Harris said he turned the car onto Iron Jacket Trail in Harker Heights and parked the car.
They then drove down the street and saw Gonzalez's house on the corner of Iron Jacket and Nocona trails.
Alligood, Harris, Hammock and Siperko got out of the car and walked around the front of the house to the side.
Meeting at the back of the house, Harris said someone shined a light in the back window.
"We saw (Gonzalez) laying in bed. He appeared to be asleep," Harris said. "We were trying to figure out whether to proceed with burglarizing the house. The group decision was to proceed."
Harris said Siperko kicked in the back door, and then went with Hammock through the kitchen to the master bedroom. Harris and Alligood started to walk into the house.
He said someone began yelling, Get down!' and then he heard a gunshot, which sent Alligood and him scuttering for cover behind the wall between the kitchen and hallway.
Siperko came running toward the back porch with Hammock following.
Harris said in the statement that he saw Hammock pointing the gun through the kitchen window from the porch, telling Gonzalez to get down. He said Hammock, who was 15 at the time, stepped back into the house, still holding the pistol as Gonzalez's groans emanated from inside.
Harris said Hammock fired the gun for the third time, and then a fourth, before hearing a flat thud as Gonzalez collapsed. He said that he and Alligood returned to Gonzalez's house later that night to retrieve the truck, which was discovered by divers in Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir near the long bridge on Farm-to-Market 3481.
Dr. Reed Quinton, of the Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office, testified that of the four bullet wounds suffered by Gonzalez, only the one to the back of the head would have caused instant death.
Gonzalez was shot four times, and each of the wounds was displayed to the jury on the overhead projector. He had one in the left side of his chest, in the back near his upper left shoulder, in the right cheek, about an inch from his nose, and in the back of his head.
Quinton said that two of the bullet wounds, ones suffered in the cheek and back, were survivable, even though the shot to the face knocked out several of the victim's teeth.
The shot to the chest, like the one to the back of his head, was also fatal because of the damage it did to the internal organs. But Quinton added that the wound placed the angle of fire as coming from high above, and to the side. Such an angle could only have been made if Gonzalez was on the floor or leaning down, as the home has no
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