COLUMBUS — A Molt man’s claim that he shot a neighbor to death during a struggle for control of the gun is not supported by the evidence, Stillwater County Attorney John Petak told a District Court jury on Monday.
The deliberate homicide trial of Jeffrey Hardman began with prosecutors questioning Hardman’s self-defense claim and saying the death of Michael Blattie was a deliberate act over a $35 debt.
Blattie had borrowed the money from Hardman, who was his neighbor on a remote Molt ranch, Petak said during his opening statement.
Frustrated that Blattie hadn’t paid him back, Hardman called Blattie and left a threatening message, and then a few hours later showed up on his doorstep.
Blattie paid the debt, Petak told the jury. “He paid with his life.
Hardman, 48, is on trial for the Oct. 15, 2009, shooting death of Blattie, the 33-year-old son of a former Stillwater County commissioner. Blattie’s father, Harold Blattie, and one of his brothers, Chris Blattie, were among the first witnesses called Monday by the prosecution team of Petak and Assistant Attorney General Brant Light.
The trial before Judge Blair Jones began with jury selection on Friday and is expected to last into the week. On Monday, more than a dozen witnesses, including Hardman’s daughter-in-law, testified.
Jennifer Couch said she, her husband, two children, Hardman and two other adults shared the rental home owned by the Blatties and located about 100 yards from the house where Michael Blattie lived.
On the day of the shooting, Couch said she came home from work at about 4:30 p.m. Hardman was with her children, and her younger son had a cut lip.
Hardman seemed normal, Couch said, and showed no signs of stress or anger. She also did not notice any cuts or bruises on his mouth or face, she said.
Since his arrest, Hardman has asserted that he shot Blattie in self-defense when Blattie punched him in the mouth and face. Petak told the jury that Hardman also said that Blattie continued to try and swing at him after the gun fired and struck Blattie in the abdomen.
Petak said a forensic pathologist will testify at the trial that Blattie could not have taken a swing after he was mortally injury because the bullet severed his spine.
Other witnesses included several of Blattie’s friends, who described how they arrived at the house in Molt to find their friend dead on the front porch shortly before 5 p.m. Despite their efforts to keep him alive, a paramedic pronounced him dead at the scene.
Harold Blattie told the jury that the day after his son’s death the family met at the Molt house. He found his son’s cell phone and called police after hearing a threatening message left on it.
The message was identified by investigators as coming from Couch’s residence at 1:26 p.m. the day of the shooting.
“Give me my money back,” the man’s voice on the message said.
A recording of the profanity-laced message that prosecutors say was left by Hardman hours before the shooting was played for jurors on Monday.
Chris Blattie and several other witnesses who saw Hardman in the hours after the shooting also told the jury that Hardman had no signs of cuts or bruises on his face.
Hardman was arrested 15 days after the shooting after police found a written confession and hours after he told a Billings pastor about the incident.
Hardman’s court-appointed attorneys reserved their opening statement until the prosecution rests its case.
UPDATED 12:20 p.m. : The jury trial began Monday morning in the case of a Molt man accused of gunning down his neighbor over an unpaid debt of $35.
Jeffrey Hardman is accused of killing Michael Blattie on his front porch last Oct. 15.
During opening statements Stillwater County Attorney John Petak said Hardman’s claims of self defense are not supported by the evidence.
Hardman claims in court documents that Blattie punched him before he pulled his gun in self defense. Blattie died of a single shot to the abdomen.
Prosecutors began their by calling several friends of Blattie’s who testified how they found their friend dead on his porch.
The trial is expected to continue into the week.
MORNING REPORT: A Stillwater County District Court jury heard opening statements in the trial of Jeffrey Hardman this morning in Columbus.
Hardman is charged with deliberate homicide and felony tampering for the shooting death last Oct. 15 of Michael Blattie. The 33-year-old man was found on the front porch of his Molt home dead from a gunshot wound.
Stillwater County Attorney John Petak and Assistant Attorney General Brant Light are prosecuting the case before Judge Blair Jones. The prosecutors allege that Hardman killed Blattie, and then lied to investigators and buried the gun used to shoot Blattie.
Hardman’s public defenders, Todd Chatman and Scott Spencer, have said in court records they intend to argue to the jury that the shooting was justified. Hardman asserts that Blattie hit him before he used a gun to defend himself. There were no witnesses.