Jury finds Covington guilty of deliberate homicide

Convicted of 15 felonies
2010-03-17T13:05:00Z Jury finds Covington guilty of deliberate homicideDIANE COCHRAN and GREG TUTTLE Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette

A Yellowstone County jury on Wednesday found Richard Covington guilty of three counts of deliberate homicide and all other charges.

Covington, of Billings, was accused of killing three neighbors in 2006.

Jurors reached their verdicts at 1 p.m. after about five hours of deliberation over two days.

“It just shows we were able to put together a very solid case,” said Deputy County Attorney Scott Twito. “We were able to put it together in a way the jury could understand it and process it.”

The 21-day trial spanned six weeks and included 400 exhibits and testimony from more than 60 witnesses.

“This is probably one of the longest trials we’ve had in the county,” said Deputy County Attorney Rod Souza. “We thank the jurors for their service.”

“We hope this brings some closure for the victims’ families,” Souza added.

Covington’s public defenders, Randi Hood and Matthew Wald, declined to comment on the verdicts.

Jurors convicted Covington, 47, of 15 felonies, including the murder counts, two counts of robbery, one count of arson and one count of theft. Several other charges were drug-related.

Covington did not react as a clerk read each of the 15 charges and verdicts. Members of Gerald Morris’ family gasped and cried as the verdicts for the deliberate homicide charges were announced.

Family members were emotional and quickly left the courtroom.

The jury deliberated for about an hour Tuesday after hearing closing arguments from prosecutors and the defense and again for about four hours Wednesday.

Covington was charged with two counts of deliberate homicide in the deaths of Norman Leighton and his female companion, Patti Hubbert, under the felony murder rule. Under that rule, someone commits murder if a death occurs in the course of committing another serious felony. In this case, prosecutors said that Covington kidnapped the victims and that they were held for several days in their apartment before he killed them.

Covington also was charged with killing Gerald Morris, whose body was found off Blue Creek Road with a gunshot wound in the back on Oct. 4, 2006.

Attorneys in the case spent much of the last day of trial before District Judge G. Todd Baugh spelling out in detail their competing theories of Covington’s guilt or innocence. Covington sat quietly throughout the presentations, as he did through the entire trial.

Souza began by spending two hours laying out for jurors what he said was the circumstantial evidence pointing to Covington’s guilt. From a single dog hair found on a rag stuffed in one victim’s mouth to Covington’s own words and actions about the crimes, Souza said, the evidence proves Covington’s guilt.

“There is no one else,” Souza said at the end of his closing argument. “He is the killer, and all that circumstantial evidence, it ties him, it binds him to his awful crimes,” the prosecutor said.

Hood, the state’s chief public defender, countered that prosecutors had failed to prove many of the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt, and she urged jurors to carefully review each charge before making a decision.

The bodies of Leighton and Hubbert were found in their South Side apartment on Sept. 22, 2006, after emergency personnel responded to a fire.

Prosecutors said Covington started the fire to cover up the robbery and slaying of the couple, who were found bound with duct tape, telephone cord and metal coat hangers.

Prosecutors argued that Covington later shot Morris to death with a .44-caliber Magnum revolver stolen from Leighton because Morris “saw something or knew something.”

Jurors convicted Covington of a weapons enhancement charge in connection with Morris’ death.

All three victims lived in the same cluster of small apartments on South 28th Street, where Covington also lived with his wife and young son.

During his closing argument, Souza described Covington as a “smart and sophisticated” predator who knew his victims well. Covington was motivated to commit the crimes, Souza said, because he knew the couple kept large amounts of cash.

Although there are no witnesses to the murders, Souza said, the results of a two-year investigation clearly pointed to Covington’s guilt. He urged jurors not to “give him a walk because he’s smart enough to make sure there are no witnesses.”

Souza also recounted the testimony of the numerous trial witnesses, including the experts in various fields such as forensic entomology and DNA.

But Covington’s own words, Souza said, were among the most damaging evidence of guilt. Souza reminded the jury of a witness who said Covington didn’t deny killing the victims shortly after the murders, saying he would only get caught if the police did a better job of investigating the crimes than he had done at concealing them.

“We caught him,” Souza said. “We caught him.”

Prosecutors charged Covington while he was in jail for a 2007 armed robbery that took place in a downtown parking garage. He pleaded guilty to that crime and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

He faces life in prison for the homicides and related crimes. Baugh did not set a sentencing date.

 

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

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