Kidnapping, robbery charges filed in Laster murder case

2013-01-24T18:00:00Z 2014-08-25T17:25:20Z Kidnapping, robbery charges filed in Laster murder caseBy GREG TUTTLE gtuttle@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A complex scheme of "subterfuge and force" was used to abduct a Chicago man from a Billings motel in order to rob him of a large amount of cash, Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said Thursday.

In the most detailed account yet of the abduction and murder of Dejuan Laster, Twito explained in court records how he alleges James Adam Walker and Simon Elliot Jacobson posed as law enforcement officers to dupe motel employees and later drove Laster out of town and shot him dead as he tried to run.

The new information became available in charging documents filed against Walker, who made his initial appearance Thursday in Justice Court on charges related to Laster's murder.

Walker, 32, is charged with aggravated kidnapping by accountability, kidnapping, and two counts of robbery.

Twito said in court that more charges against Walker are "likely forthcoming" as Billings police continue a "large scale investigation."

Judge Pedro Hernandez set Walker's bond at $500,000 after Twito described the man as "no stranger" to the criminal justice system.

Walker is on federal probation for a firearm offense, Twito said, and he has a prior state conviction for felony criminal endangerment and several misdemeanor convictions.

Walker will be arraigned in District Court within 30 days, Twito said.

Meanwhile, Simon Elliot Jacobson, whom court records say Walker identified as the killer, remains in a Denver jail. He was arrested there Monday by federal agents.

Twito said Jacobson has waived extradition and will be returned to Montana.

Billings police detectives have traveled to Denver and remained there Thursday, he said. Denver police are assisting the Billings detectives, he said.

Charges are likely to be filed against 28-year-old Jacobson in the coming days, Twito said.

A five-page affidavit filed Thursday by Twito details an elaborate scheme that unfolded over at least two days.

Laster, a 29-year-old former Billings resident who most recently lived in the Chicago area, was the target of a robbery that Walker reportedly said was carefully planned and executed by Jacobson.

According to the affidavit, Billings police received a call from Laster's girlfriend, identified as A.L. in court records, during the day on Jan. 17. She said she was Laster's girlfriend, and the couple had been staying in Room 100 at the Extended Stay America hotel on Southgate Drive.

At about midnight the previous morning, A.L. said, she received a call from the front desk clerk saying that someone was outside tampering with vehicles. Laster left the room to check on his car, a Chevrolet Camaro, she said.

Shortly after Laster left the room, two men entered the room shouting, identified themselves as FBI agents and used zip-ties to secure her hands behind her back. A.L. said neither man showed any identification, and both appeared to be armed.

A few days later, A.L. identified the men in photo lineups as Walker and Jacobson, court records state.

A.L. said the men questioned her about a drug investigation, then moved her to Room 104, where the questioning continued. Walker remained with her in the room when Jacobson left, she said.

Several minutes later, A.L. said, she heard Laster scream for help and yelling that a man had a gun and had caught him.

A.L. said she was then led to the parking lot by Walker, where he put her in the car. Laster was placed in an SUV, she said. Both were then driven to the parking lot of another nearby motel, where Walker and Jacobson spoke for several minutes.

Walker then drove A.L. back to the Extended Stay America and had her collect her things from the room. A.L. said jewelry and money had been taken by the men.

A.L. said Walker then drove her to her mother's house and let her go after warning her not to discuss the "investigation."

Sometime after 3 a.m. that morning, A.L. said, she was contacted by Walker and Jacobson and was told they would pick her up and release Laster's Camaro to her. Walker did pick her up and drove her to the second motel's parking lot, where he left her with the car.

A.L. said it appeared not only that the Camaro had been moved but also gone through. A.L. gave police the number on her phone from her contact by the men. 

Detectives spoke with an employee of the Extended Stay America who said she was working the front counter on Jan. 16 when a man came in and identified himself as "Detective Jefferson." The man said he was working on a missing person case and requested a key to Laster's room.

The man left the hotel while she called the manager, who advised her to give the officer a room key.

Later that evening, the employee said, the man returned and was given a key. He also asked for a detailed diagram of the room.

The employee left her shift at 10 p.m. and told her replacement about the officer and his requests. She later identified Jacobson as the man who said he was a detective.

The second employee said the detective called at about 10:30 p.m. to say he was on his way to the hotel. He arrived a short time later and asked the employee to call Laster's room and tell the occupants that someone was messing with vehicles in the parking lot.

The detective left, then returned and asked for another room key to assist in the investigation, which the employee provided.

Some time later, the employee said, she heard a man ask for help, stating someone had a gun. She saw a black man jump over the counter and go into the laundry.

Thinking the man was the person wanted by the officer, the employee tried to persuade the man to surrender. The man surrendered, with his hands raised in the air, after a short conversation with the officer, the employee said.

At about 6:30 a.m. that morning, the detective returned to the hotel and took a recorded statement from her, the employee said.

Much of the employees' and A.L.'s accounts were corroborated by a hotel video security system, though the video was not always clear.

Using the cell phone number provided by A.L., officers found Walker on Saturday at a residence on North 31st Street. He provided several statements, court records state, and allegedly admitted to his role in the kidnappings and robberies of Laster and A.L.

Walker said "Jacobson was the person who planned and set everything in motion," according to the court records. He initially denied knowing what happened to Laster.

In a subsequent interview, Walker reportedly said he was with Jacobson when Jacobson drove Laster in another vehicle to a storage unit. Laster had told the men he had more cash and a vehicle to trade for his release.

The men drove in two vehicles to where the storage unit was thought to be located. Walker said Laster got out of the vehicle and Walker believed they would let him go. Walker said he was about to cut the zip-ties from Laster's hands when Jacobson shot at Laster.

Laster "ran to get away and Jacobson shot him a couple more times and Laster fell to the ground," court records state. Jacobson then shot Laster in the back of the head.

Walker said Jacobson threw the gun away in Two Moon Park. Walker also said Jacobson told him he returned to Laster's body later to try to move the body.

On Sunday, Walker led officers to where Laster was shot, and the body was found inside a culvert that runs under Clint Road, a few miles northeast of Billings.

Officers found three live and three spent 9mm casings and a plastic bottle that "appeared to have been turned into a homemade suppressor," court records state.

Potting soil was also found in the area of the body, including on the victim's clothing and face. A portion of his pants also appeared to have been bleached.

A video recording from the Heights Wal-Mart store shows Jacobson arriving at the store at about 3:15 a.m. and buying three bags of potting soil, a container of bleach and trash bags, court records state.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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