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Hereford murder trial begins at county courthouse

Jul 30, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

On the opening day of the trial of a Lander man for rape and murder, prosecutors said they would prove all the charges. The defense attorney tried to poke holes in their case.

By the end of the day Monday, the lawyers had selected a jury, made opening statements, and Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett presented two witnesses.

In his opening statement, Bennett told jurors that John Thomas Hereford at his Lander

residence shot and killed his cousin Travis Armajo in the early hours of Sept. 11, 2012, and then raped Armajo's girlfriend at her home three blocks away.

Hereford violated the woman twice, Bennett alleged, and at one point dragged her back into the house after she escaped. From the events, Hereford faces a charge of second degree murder, two sexual assault charge,s and one of kidnapping.

"These charges are exaggerated," defense attorney Bob Horn said in his opening. "The crime that fits the facts is manslaughter."

The evidence presented would not show malice and purpose, necessary for a second degree murder charge, Horn said. It also would not substantiate more than one sexual assault charge or the count of kidnapping.

The alleged sexual assault victim would say Hereford entered her home at 12:55 a.m., Horn said, after the defendant is alleged to have killed Armajo. However, a cell phone owned by Armajo and the victim placed a call to Hereford's phone at 1:06 a.m.

"If (the alleged sexual assault victim) made (the call) she's not being raped," Horn said. "If Travis Armajo made it, he is alive (at the time)."

Horn also said a witness will say he heard Armajo's laugh in the background of a phone call at 1:38 a.m., and that the coroner ruled the man died between 12 a.m. and 2 a.m., further complicating the time line.

"At 1:38 a.m., Travis Armajo is alive," Horn said.. "If John Hereford was at (the sexual assault victim's) house during this time, who shot Travis Armajo?"

Through its first two witnesses, prosecutors tried to establish many of the facts, two second-hand confessions from Hereford and plug the holes Horn poked in their case.

Prosecutors first called the alleged sexual assault victim.

She said that on the evening of Sept. 10, she, Armajo, Hereford and Hereford's girlfriend were drinking and playing dominoes at Hereford's residence. On several occasions that evening, the defendant brandished and bragged about a new pistol, the alleged victim said.

After a disagreement with Hereford's girlfriend, the alleged victim said she walked home but told Armajo to stay at Hereford's home.

The woman said she was very drunk when she got home and she went to bed. Loud "banging and hollering" woke her up, and she went to the front door. As she did, she saw an illuminated clock on her microwave read 12:55, the woman said.

Bennett tried to impugn the accuracy of that time by asking if she had checked the microwave clock against another time piece that day, and she said no. She did not know if she was the last person to set it, either.

She opened the door to find Hereford, who she told to leave, but when she tried to close the door, he forced his way in and struck her on the head with his pistol, the woman said.

At one point she ran out her back door but tripped on a step, she said.

"Then John Thomas (Hereford) was on top of me with the gun to my head, and he said 'Get back inside,'" the woman said.

Haltingly and through sobs, the woman recounted the alleged rape. After Hereford dragged her back inside, she screamed and begged for him to stop. Hereford threatened her with a gun. She also claimed her attacker confessed to killing Armajo.

"When I asked where Travis was over and over he said 'I shot him, I shot him, I killed him, I did what I had to do,'" she said.

Eventually, she escaped from Hereford, ran outside and contacted law enforcement responding to Armajo's death, the woman said.

On cross examination Horn asked her if the evening before she left Hereford's home had gone smoothly.

There was a disagreement about the dominoes game, but she did not know the details, the woman said.

Horn asked if there was any hatred, ill will or hostility between Armajo and Hereford, and the woman replied there was not.

Such facts will be at issue if the prosecution is to establish the malice necessary for a second degree murder charge.

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