Jury finds man guilty of murder, burning RV
A Mesa County jury said a Grand Junction man killed another man and conspired to destroy evidence by burning the victim’s body inside an RV on Orchard Mesa last year.
But Julius Sutton, 27, didn’t act deliberately when he killed 51-year-old Bill Smith on June 12, 2012, during an alcohol-fueled fight involving three men, according to verdicts returned Wednesday night at the Mesa County Justice Center.
Sutton turned to family seated behind him — several of them sobbing — as District Judge Thomas Deister announced guilty verdicts on seven counts: Second-degree murder, first-degree assault, first-degree arson, tampering with evidence, abuse of a corpse, conspiracy to commit first-degree arson and conspiracy to commit first-degree tampering with physical evidence.
Sutton, however, was found not guilty on the two most serious charges in the case: Attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
Word of a verdict in Sutton’s two-plus week old trial spread around 8:30 p.m., which marked nearly a second full day of deliberations. Jury selection in Deister’s courtroom started on July 22. Jurors didn’t get the case until noon Monday.
Deister ordered Sutton held without bond at the Mesa County Jail pending sentencing, scheduled for Nov. 12.
Testimony from Sutton’s trial suggested Smith was dead after being assaulted by the time his body was burned in an intentionally set fire inside his RV at 830 Unaweep Ave.
Sutton and Lucos Schultz, 23, gave varying statements to police implicating each other in Smith’s beating and subsequent fire.
Schultz testified he was walking down Unaweep Avenue when he was invited by Sutton — the men were strangers to each other — to a party at Smith’s RV. Schultz had a fresh pint of vodka after paying a stranger to buy it at a nearby liquor store. Clerks had earlier refused to sell to a drunken Schultz.
“He (Sutton) was slurring his words a little bit ... I was pretty intoxicated,” Schultz testified.
At some point during the party, Schultz testified Smith hit him over the head with one of the numerous bottles of alcohol consumed between the men.
Schultz told the jury he never saw Sutton actually retaliate and assault Smith. He said he only remembered seeing Smith bleeding from the mouth and nose.
In a statement to detectives, Schultz said Sutton had stepped on Smith’s throat while he was on the ground.
Schultz said he and Sutton carried Smith inside the RV, laid him on a bed and put a pillow under his side to prop him up. Schultz told detectives he and Sutton later returned to the RV, where Sutton sprayed lighter fluid and lit a fire. They both fled.
Schultz said he walked home, eventually arriving to his destination despite getting lost along the way because of intoxication.
“I think I was watching ‘Family Guy’ until I fell asleep,” he testified.
Schultz testified in Sutton’s trial after pleading guilty in June to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Schultz faces between 16 and 30 years in prison and is scheduled for sentencing Aug. 26.