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York County jurors to mull murder-for-hire case today

Written by Rick Lee/York Daily Record-Sunday News | May 27, 2015 9:32 AM
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(York) -- Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tim Barker's closing argument in the murder-for-hire trial against Gregory Allen Hess came down to two words - taken out.

When Hess returned to the witness stand on Tuesday for cross-examination, he continued to deny he had any death wish for Christopher Ward, the man his estranged wife moved in with after leaving him in March 2014.

Hess, 47, of North Codorus Township, is on trial for solicitation to commit murder. His trial started May 19 in the York County Judicial Center. Hess agreed with the basic facts of the Pennsylvania State Police investigation as presented by Barker.

He agreed that he hired Calvin Jones Jr. for $1,000 to do a "roof job." That he promised Jones a $1,000 bonus to complete that job by April 18, 2014.

That he bought a disposable cellphone to conceal his identity. And that he obtained Ward's picture and address for Jones.

And Hess said he ultimately learned that Jones was working for the police.

But Hess said Ward's death was never his intent.

"I didn't want any permanent damage," he said. "Just give him a warning for messing with a married woman.

"I had no concern about him getting beaten up. That's what I wanted done."

And Hess had agreed, in his own words, which had been recorded by state troopers, "My boy, my daughter sorta knew I was going to take this guy out."

In his closing argument, Barker said "taken out" only had one meaning - murdered.

Barker tried to bolster his argument using the clandestine recording outside the Route 30 Denny's on April 18, 2014. He said Hess was concerned for his wife's safety but never asked about Ward. That, he said, was because Jones had shown him a picture - a staged photograph of a bloodied Ward, laying on the ground, eyes open.

Hess' wife, Laurie Keasey, and Ward, who both testified at trial, sat together for closing arguments.

Hess' attorney, Farley Holt, attacked both the credibility of Jones, whom he called the prosecution's star witness, and the police investigation. Holt recalled how evasive Jones was on the stand, and apologized for the protracted cross-examination last week. He called Jones "an admitted liar," "a professional snitch" and "a horrible witness."

Holt said Jones fabricated the murder-for-hire story because he is facing a maximum of 100 years in prison for pending criminal charges. He explained Jones was hoping for "consideration" from the prosecution for his cooperation and testimony in the Hess case.

Holt also contended that some of the commonwealth's incriminating text exhibits were never received by Hess' phone and others did not match AT&T phone records.

Barker told the jury that messages also were missing from Hess' phone when it was confiscated.

Holt said when Jones made things up about Hess, Trooper Shawn Wolfe "backs him up."

Holt said Jones did not say that Hess also may want to kill his wife until he testified at the May 9, 2014 preliminary hearing. He said that allegation was supported by the fact that police went to Ward's home on April 17, 2014 to place him into protective custody.

He said police had not gone searching for Keasey, although they found her at Ward's home, because at that time there had been no threat made against her.

"I said it," Holt said, "The trooper is lying."

The jury is to return at 9:30 a.m. tpday for closing instructions before beginning deliberations.

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