EUREKA-Whispers filled the court room as the victim of the Eureka attempted murder took the stand. Rhett August was shot multiple times allegedly by Bodhi Tree, who is also the suspect of the double murder in Arcata days later.
August wore a gray button up and black pants as he sat confidently on the stand. Prosecutor, Elan Firpo asked questions about his relationship with Tree and the events of a party where Tree had been beaten.
Prosecutors argue that the fight where Tree had been beaten up, following a inappropriate sexual assault with a woman, had been the motivation behind the shooting. August said Tree did not fight back, saying, "I felt like he deserved it."
His testimony will continue on Friday.
One of the key witnesses in the case, Sean Butler-Smith, finished up his testimony. He is the man who allegedly accompanied Bodhi Tree to Eureka, and sat in the car during the shooting. He also claims to have seen Tree with the gun following the double murder in Arcata.
On Wednesday, Butler-Smith gave his account of the evening of May 15th, the night where Rhett August had been shot and the night of May 18th, the night he spent with Tree following the double murder in Arcata.
The prosecution is relying on his testimony for Tree's conviction because he is the connection between both crimes. Butler-Smith claims he saw the shots fired in Eureka and saw Tree run back into the car and claimed Tree bragged to him about the murders in Arcata.
Under fire was Butler-Smith's accounts of both nights and their inaccuracies in both his interviews with law enforcement and his testimony in the preliminary trial. Tree's defense attorney, Casey Russo, focused on details of the case that had changed, such as seeing the weapon after the Eureka shooting, changing the amount of money promised to the driver and where the car had been parked in Eureka.
Russo looked into Butler-Smith's heavy heroin use during the time of both crimes and his past criminal record. In cross examination Russo attempted to discredit his testimony to the jury.
During his testimony, Butler-Smith admitted to using heroin, but said he had been sober since August, when he went into custody for another crime. He said the differences in his past accounts of the nights was due to his drug use, or were done when he was in the early stages of detox. He said Wednesday and Thursday's account were the most accurate because he was the most sober. "I try to be honest with anything I do [now], it's easier than spinning a web of lies," he said.
Butler-Smith said he had been beaten up in jail following his testimony at the preliminary trial. Russo suggested the same could happen if he violated his probation and was sent to prison. "I feel it is a considerable risk, but I feel it is the right thing [to testify]," he said.
Towards the end of Butler-Smith's testimony, the defense went over the details that had changed. He said he had forgotten some details of the night, but said he remembered the major ones. "If you saw someone getting shot in front of you, that would be pretty burnt in your mind," he said.