BUCKHANNON - A key witness in a murder-for-hire trial in Upshur County Circuit Court told a harrowing story Monday about allegedly witnessing a murder in the woods, driving the corpse around in a truck while buying a shovel and bleach, and burying the body after taking a photograph of the murder victim for proof.
Jessie Lee Heater, 30, of Buckhannon, is facing charges of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, the concealment of human remains and conspiracy to conceal a deceased human body. His trial began Monday in relation to the death of 29-year-old Joshua Oberg, whose body was discovered in July 2012.
Rodolpho "Chino" Villagomez Correa, 33, who allegedly paid Heater $5,000 to kill Oberg for having an affair with his wife, was called to testify Monday. He is charged with one felony count of first degree murder, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in connection with the death of Oberg. His trial is scheduled in July.
The Inter-Mountain photos by Melissa Toothman
The lead investigator in the homicide of Joshua Oberg, West Virginia State Police Trooper R.A. Moss, shows the jury Monday the gun allegedly used to kill Oberg.
On Monday, Correa said that, on the advice of his attorney, he declined to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to say anything that might incriminate him.
Correa's wife, Kelli, took the stand Monday and admitted to having an affair with Oberg, who worked at the Michoacan Mexican Restaurant, the Buckhannon eatery Correa owned.
She testified her husband asked her about her relationship with Oberg. She said, "I told him it was none of his business."
She also said Heater, who is her cousin and who also worked at the restaurant, never got along with Oberg.
Robert Eugene Siron III, 31, of Weston, was also called to the stand Monday by Prosecuting Attorney Jake Reger, and gave his account of the night Oberg was killed.
Siron pleaded guilty in December to one felony count of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to conceal a deceased human body in the death of Oberg.
Siron, who is a cousin to both Heater and Kelli Villagomez, said he didn't know Oberg before Jan. 23, 2012, the night Oberg died.
Siron told the court Monday Heater suggested going to Oberg's apartment that day to drink. Siron said the three of them later drove in his truck to a remote area in Upshur County called Hog Hollow, a location suggested by Heater. Siron said they smoked marijuana and drank beer until after the sun went down. Siron said he was very intoxicated by that time, and thought he heard a firecracker go off.
"I saw a bright flash," Siron said. "and a sound like a firecracker had gone off and a bag of potatoes had hit the floor."
Police have said Heater allegedly shot Oberg, who then began to plead for his life. Siron told police as part of his plea agreement that Heater began to stab Oberg after shooting him.
On the witness stand Monday, Siron said Oberg asked, "Why?"
"Jessie said, 'That's what you get for f------ someone's wife,'" Siron said.
Siron said he then struggled drunkenly to get to his truck, where he broke the door handle trying to get inside.
Siron said Heater pursued him and put a gun under his chin and told Siron he was going to help him "get rid of" Oberg's body.
"Then, I did whatever he asked me to do," Siron said.
Siron testified he struggled to load Oberg's body into the back of his truck, and then he and Heater made three stops - at Lowe's, a Go-Mart and The General Store. He said Oberg's body was in the bed of the truck, covered up, during this trip.
Siron said he intended to tell someone what had happened but he couldn't bring himself to do it because of his fear of Heater.
Siron testified he bought a shovel and bleach at Lowe's, but froze when the cashier, who he recognized from school, asked him jokingly if he was burying a body.
Siron said he suggested a location to dispose of Oberg's body, and he and Heater drove out to Abbot. Siron said Heater made him dig the grave while standing nearby, telling Siron to dig it deeper and bigger.
"My first thought was if I dug it big enough, it was going to be my own grave," Siron said, adding that before the body was placed in the grave, Heater used Siron's phone to take a photo of Oberg.
Siron said Heater then called someone and said, "It's done." Siron said Heater gave him $500 after the murder to keep his mouth shut.
Siron said Heater had wanted Siron to burn his truck after the murder, but because he couldn't do without the vehicle, he convinced Heater to just burn the truck bed. Siron said they set his truck's bed on fire on the property of one of Siron's friends.
During Monday's proceedings, FBI Special Agent Mike Hochroin testified he was on-scene when Oberg's body was excavated in July 2012. He said Oberg's remains were discovered in a shallow grave only four inches under the soil at a site along Bull Run Road in Abbot. Some remains of a deer were found on top of the human remains of Oberg, he said.
Hochroin also said an unnamed witness led investigators to the exact scene and pointed to where they would find the body. Hochroin said Oberg's body was found lying on his left side with his shirt pulled up and his arms and head inside it.
Hochroin testified he assisted an FBI dive team in January recover evidence in Lewis County along the West Fork River, behind the house where Siron lived at the time. The evidence included two lighters and a pocket knife that allegedly belonged to Oberg, he said. The knife is alleged to have been used as a murder weapon.
The investigating officer in Oberg's murder, West Virginia State Trooper R.A. Moss, also took the witness stand Monday. He said Siron told police Heater threw three items - two lighters and a pocket knife - in the river behind Siron's house the day after the crime.
Moss displayed the other alleged murder weapon, a 9 mm pistol, to the jury Monday. Moss said Siron told police he recognized the gun because of a crack in the handle.
The gun was allegedly purchased by a woman who told police that Heater approached her about wanting to sell it, Moss said. The woman was then instructed by police to purchase the gun, which she turned over to authorities the same day as her initial contact with the officer, Moss testified Monday.
After Siron testified, he was cross-examined by Heater's attorney, Tom Dyer. Siron was asked if he told any other person about the murder, who may have then told police where the body could be found. Heater said he could not remember telling anyone. Dyer also asked if Siron had shown the unnamed witness where the body of Oberg was buried.
"I have no recollection of taking him to the area where he (Oberg) was buried," Siron said, later adding, "I tried for two years to think of who I could have possibly talked to."
Dyer said the unnamed witness's story was different from the one Siron told on the witness stand. Siron agreed that it was.
Dyer pointed out it was not Heater who performed many of the actions outlined in Siron's testimony. Dyer said it was Siron who bought the shovel at Lowe's, accusing Heater of refusing to enter the store. He said it was Siron who was seen at Go-Mart, Siron who put the body in the back of his truck and Siron who dug the shallow grave.
Dyer also said it was Siron's phone that was used to make calls to Correa, and Siron's truck that was used in the crime. He said Siron's home was where evidence was disposed of, and the home of one of Siron's friends was where the bed of the truck was burned.
The evidence presented by the state - two lighters, a pocket knife and a gun - is only evidence based on Siron's testimony, Dyer said.
"You're the one who told the officers that Heater had used the knife as a murder weapon," Dyer said.
Dyer asked Siron why he pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
"I understood at the time that through my actions another man died," Siron said, later adding, "I had every opportunity to do something to save Oberg's life. I had no idea if he was dead at the time (he was moved to the back of the truck)."
Dyer also asked how intoxicated Siron was the night of the crime. Siron said he could not remember exact conversations, times and distances, but that he could drive and that he remembered the details he outlined in his testimony.
"I think I'll remember that for the rest of my life, sir," Siron said.
Dyer pointed out that Siron and Heater allegedly made three stops on their way to bury the body, but that Siron never told anyone about the incident.
"You say nothing at all about 'a crazed lunatic in my truck outside,'" Dyer said, adding Siron could have had someone at any of the three stops contact the police. "You say and do none of that."
"Just to say something, anything, I just couldn't do it," Siron said, noting he knew two of the cashiers at those stops and was worried about what they would think.
"I think if it had been anybody I hadn't known, it would have been different," Siron said, adding that he was covered in Oberg's blood from moving the body to the truck, but was able to conceal the blood before entering the stores. "Being covered in somebody else's blood, how was I going to make someone else believe?"
Siron also testified Heater and Correa threatened his life and the life of his wife and child if he said anything about the murder. Siron said Heater showed Correa the photo of Oberg's corpse as proof of the murder. Siron said Correa was angry because he couldn't see Oberg's face in the photo.
"You have reason in your mind to be scared of Chino?" Dyer asked.
"Yes, I do," Siron replied.
"You're fearful that either or both of them might have you killed?" Dyer asked.
"Yes, I am," Siron responded.
Earlier during Monday's proceedings, prior to the jury's appearance in the courtroom, Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall decided to remove one juror and hold him in contempt of court.
The juror had previously stated none of his family members had been convicted of a crime. That juror said Monday he did have a brother who was convicted of murder many years ago, but he had forgotten about it during the questioning of jury members. The juror was fined $50 and one of two alternative jurors took his place.
As a safety precaution, Hall also ruled that Heater wear a shock belt to be concealed under his clothing, where the jury cannot see it, during the trial.
Heater's trial continues today in Upshur County Circuit Court.