Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

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July 14, 2014

Hammer found guilty

bporterfield@pvdemocrat.com — After eight days in the courtroom all dozen jurors agreed an Elmore City man was guilty of first-degree murder.
The verdict on Justin Hammer, 32, came from the eight-man, four-woman jury Thursday afternoon in a Pauls Valley courtroom after less than two hours in closed-door deliberations.
Hammer is now likely to spend the rest of his life in prison after all the days of testimony and arguments on what happened nearly two years ago when he fatally shot Brandon Duran.
Hammer, after killing Duran, a visitor from California, dismembered his body and disposed of the parts in the bottom of a farm pond on his property near Elmore City back on Aug. 7, 2012.
Prior to the jurors’ deliberations they were given two very different views of the case during closing arguments.
On the state’s side assistant district attorneys Tara Portillo of the Garvin County office and Jennifer Austin of Norman argued Hammer planned in advance to kill Duran and then claim self defense.
Hammer’s court appointed attorney Michael Haggerty agreed his client had done the wrong thing by cutting up and concealing Duran’s body after his death.
Despite that Haggerty urged jurors to make the verdict not guilty because there were too many holes in the state’s attempt to prove first-degree murder.
Portillo started by putting up on courtroom screens a photo of a smiling Duran before his death.
She then laid out a dramatic argument on why Hammer should be found guilty.
“Justin Hammer is trying to say he acted in self defense,” Portillo said.
“Justin did not say that he was scared of Brandon Duran. Justin never said Brandon tried to lunge at him. Brandon did not have a weapon. Justin never alleged that,” she argued.
“Justin Hammer was not acting in self defense. The evidence doesn’t support the defendant’s claim that this was self defense.
“The only thing Justin Hammer was afraid of was getting caught.
“He was acting in cold blooded murder.”
During each day of the trial that officially began June 30 the defendant, dressed in a long sleeve shirt and jeans, was joined by his defense team of Haggerty and Kelsie Lewis.
Right off the top of the defense’s closing Haggerty told jurors the key thing for them to consider was what’s known as the “Make My Day” law.
His reference was to the legal concept of a homeowner fatally shooting an intruder who has broken into their residence and represents a threat.
“Brandon Duran forced his way into Justin Hammer’s house, and Justin Hammer had the right to kill him period, end of story,” Haggerty said.
“The state has shown nothing to disprove how Brandon Duran got into that house.
“Justin Hammer has the right under the law to kill him.”
Haggerty also questioned the state’s case as he told jurors there were many things about Hammer’s actions not proven during the trial.
He agreed much of Hammer’s actions were wrong, like not contacting law enforcement after Duran had been fatally shot.
The defense attorney stressed despite all that the defendant’s actions didn’t warrant a first-degree murder conviction.
“He did an awful thing but he didn’t do what he’s charged with,” Haggerty said.
“You cannot, under the law with these facts alone, convict Justin Hammer of first-degree murder.”
Hammer’s official sentence is expected to be announced in early October.

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