By Jon Schroeder

Killeen Daily Herald

GATESVILLE – A Coryell County jury heard one side of a tragic Copperas Cove story on Tuesday.

The trial is that of Stephen Hogankamp, 24, charged with capital murder in the October 2006 death of Kenneth Smith, 71, a registered sex offender.

The jury, seated in an alternate location for the 52nd District Court, will not hear that Smith was a registered sex offender, convicted in the early 1990s for sexual assault against a 20-year-old mentally handicapped man. The decision to bar that evidence was made during a hearing between the prosecution and defense while the jury was in recess on Tuesday.

Smith's body was identified after a fire at his home on Oct. 1, 2006. His throat was cut and his right temple sunken from the impact of a crescent-shaped object. He was found dead on the ground in his bedroom. His body was badly burned.

The prosecution made its opening statement Tuesday morning, but defense attorney Sandy Gately chose to wait until after the prosecution's witnesses to make hers.

According to District Attorney David Castillo's statement, the jury will likely hear that the death was a case of self-defense, but Gately and other members of the court are under a gag order.

Gately cited the order in declining to say whether Hogankamp would testify.

According to media reports in September, Hogankamp claimed in two letters to his mother that he had killed Smith after the 71-year-old man made sexual advances toward him and offered to help him financially.

For much of the day on Tuesday, various investigators testified about the circumstances surrounding Smith's death.

The home was found with the front door slightly ajar, the two bedrooms and an adjoining bathroom most heavily damaged. Several investigators pointed to arson as the cause of the fire.

Also found in the house was a blue plastic gasoline can, a lighter in the kitchen trash can and a pack of cigarettes on the floor, with one cigarette partially pulled out. Smith was not a smoker, according to the testimony of Lori Hix, a longtime Copperas Cove Police Department investigator.

She knew Smith before the fire; she said she had received several complaints from men saying Smith had given them a ride, then propositioned them for sex.

While Hix said that she didn't have any direct evidence that Smith was propositioning and paying men, mostly in their 20s, for sex, she found evidence of "loans," some for as much as $900, directed toward various men.

According to her testimony, Hix also found in Smith's possession newspaper clippings of registered sex offenders in Cove, along with lists he'd made of men with attached numbers, which she presumed to be ages.

In cross-examination, the defense entered into evidence Smith's lists and his checkbook register.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. today.

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