PAULS VALLEY, Okla. (AP) — An Oklahoma man accused of fatally shooting his girlfriend's ex-husband, cutting up his body and stuffing the remains into cement-filled buckets was ordered Thursday to stand trial on a first-degree murder charge.
Garvin County Special Judge Trisha Misak ruled there is probable cause to try Justin Hammer, 31, in the Aug. 7, 2012, death of 32-year-old Brandon Duran. Misak scheduled formal arraignment for April 26 before District Judge Greg Dixon.
Hammer has entered an initial plea of not guilty in the case, and defense attorney Irven Box has said Hammer fired in self-defense after Duran forced his way into Hammer's home. But First Assistant District Attorney Mark Gibson said the evidence indicates Hammer planned to shoot Duran.
Among other things, prosecutors produced invoices from a Pauls Valley hardware store during the preliminary hearing that indicated Hammer purchased five five-gallon buckets, lids and bags of concrete on the day before Duran was shot.
"We believe it was pre-meditated," Gibson said. He said District Attorney Greg Mashburn has not decided whether to seek the death penalty in the case. First-degree murder is punishable by death or life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.
Hammer, who wore an orange jail-issued jumpsuit, said nothing when sheriff's deputies led him away following the hearing. But his grandfather, Skeet Welch, indicated Hammer's close relationship with his girlfriend likely played a role in the incident.
"Each individual has different thoughts when it comes to romance," Welch said. "We're talking about something very serious to him."
During the hearing, friends of Hammer testified they overheard his girlfriend tell Hammer that Duran beat and abused her when they were married. They said she also was upset about a custody battle over the couple's young child. Hammer's girlfriend did not testify during the hearing.
One of the witnesses, Brian Mathis, said it appeared to him that the woman told Hammer about the abuse she said she endured to upset him.
Another friend, Van Emblom, testified that Hammer picked him up at his house on the day of the shooting, drove him to Hammer's house and told him he had shot Duran.
"I didn't really believe him," Emblom said. But when he walked inside the house he saw buckets with blood on them.
"I'm just freakin' out," said Emblom, who choked back tears during part of his testimony. "I'm freakin' out and walking around in circles."
Emblom said he helped Hammer place the buckets in the bed of his pickup truck but walked away when Hammer said he might need help disposing of the buckets. He said he called the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation the next day and reported what he saw.
OSBI agent Marvin Akers said Hammer was taken into custody and claimed during a video-recorded statement that he shot Duran in the face with a shotgun after Duran kicked his back door open.
"I shot him right through the eye," Hammer said during the statement, according to Akers. Hammer said he dragged the body into a bathroom, severed the arms, legs and head with a saw and placed the body parts in the buckets.
When Hammer was asked why he dismembered Duran's body, "he said he freaked out," Akers said.
The buckets containing Duran's body parts were recovered on Aug. 10 in a pond on Hammer's property in rural Elmore City, 65 miles south of Oklahoma City. Akers said an autopsy revealed that in addition to the shotgun wound, Duran had three small-caliber gunshot wounds in the left side of his head.