Murder trial goes to jury to deliberate

Demarqus Green killed Demian Sagerser.

On the night of July 7, 2012, Green, 23, pulled a 9 mm Smith and Wesson semiautomatic pistol on Demian Sag- erser, then 40, at Sagerser’s Stariski Creek cabin and shot him in the back and the side of his chest. Green then fled the scene, leaving Sagerser to die.

Both sides in a murder trial that started last week admit Green killed Sagerser. At dispute as the jury continued de- liberations Wednesday is whether Green shot Sagerser in a drug deal gone bad, stealing drugs and cash, or if Green shot Sagerser in self defense when Sagerser pulled a utility knife on him and attacked Green.

The jury started deliberations about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday after Kenai District Attorney Scot Leaders and Green’s at- torney, Adam Franklin, made their closing arguments and Kenai Superior Court Judge Anna Moran delivered instruc- tions at the Homer Courthouse.

Green faces four counts: first-degree murder, second- degree murder, first-degree armed robbery and tampering with physical evidence. If the jury cannot convict Green for first-degree murder, it can decide on lesser counts of sec- ond-degree murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

To find that Green acted in self defense, Moran instruct- ed the jury that it also would have to find that Green didn’t commit a felony by robbing Sagerser or buying more than an ounce of marijuana. Under Alaska law, a defendant can- not claim self-defense if the parties were involved in felony drug dealing or any other felony.

Leaders asserted that the evidence backs up the state’s theory: Green went to Sagerser’s A-frame cabin near Mile 149 Sterling Highway, checked the outside of the cabin be- fore going in, and while there for seven minutes shot and robbed Sagerser, taking more than an ounce of marijuana and an unknown amount of cash. Green took the time to col- lect shell casings, and then left with his girlfriend, Nancie Modeste, who had been waiting in his car. A game cam- era Sagerser set up caught Green coming and going, at one point carrying something in his hands, Leaders said.

“The evidence tells you — no, the evidence screams to you, what Mr. Sagerser cannot tell you — is that on July 7, 2012, Mr. Green shot him in the back,” Leaders said. “Mr. Green is guilty of all counts.”

In his closing arguments, Franklin presented a different theory. Yes, Green lied to Alaska Bureau of Investigation de- tectives when he was arrested in late August 2012, Franklin said. Green was a scared young man from West Memphis, Ark., who had been in Anchorage two years and never been to the Kenai Peninsula before.

“Mr. Green was a stranger in a strange land, a fish out of water,” Franklin said.

When the troopers picked him up, he lied, Franklin admitted.

“What would you expect him to do?” Franklin asked “To me he’s obviously a scared kid just trying to lie to get out of the room.”

Earlier testimony set the backdrop for the killing. On July 7, Green went camping with Modeste, his cousin Jim- my Stevenson, a friend, Guy Johnson, and their families at Centennial Park in Soldotna. In separate cars they went to Wal-Mart in Kenai to buy fishing licenses, food and other gear. They met up with a skinny guy, Sagerser, who offered to sell them pot. Green used Stevenson’s cell phone to enter Sagerser’s phone number.

Green then told his friends he and Modeste wanted to go to Anchor Point to meet Sagerser. Witnesses who were at Sagerser’s house testified hearing Sagerser talking on the cell phone and saying something about “Mile 149,” the road marker near David Avenue where Sagerser lived.

In his summary, Leaders showed a series of images from the game camera. A man in a red jacket walks toward the cabin. He walks around the cabin. Leaders said the de- fense asserted that was because Green had to use the bath- room, but Leaders questioned how Green could do that in 21 seconds, the time between that image and another showing him entering the house.

Green went into the cabin. In testimony, Green claimed Sagerser attacked him with a utility knife. Leaders showed

a photo of Sagerser’s body on the floor against a cupboard, one shoe off and marijuana sprinkled on the floor. Nothing else was disturbed, Leaders said, pointing to photos. A util- ity knife lay on the floor next to Sagerser.

Leaders then described how he believed Green shot Sagerser. As he spoke, Sagerser’s mother, Marjorie Bantz, listened with two friends as Leaders described her son’s death. Bantz held her face in her hands, crying and sobbing, her arms shaking.

While Sagerser weighed and cut marijuana on a scale on the counter, Green shot him in the back, Leaders said. Sagerser spun and Green shot him in the left side. One bullet hit a rib. Another went through Sagerser and into a box of drywall screws. Sagerser fell to the floor.

Tangman had testified that when he had been with Sagerser earlier in the evening of July 7 he saw four to six pint-size Mason jars of marijuana on a shelf, but when he discovered Sagerser’s body about 8:20 p.m., the jars were gone. Sagerser also had a lot of cash in the cabin, includ- ing some he was holding for Tangman to pay him back for drywall work. That was gone, too, as was Sagerser’s wallet. Marijuana in a drying rack upstairs wasn’t missing.

Leaders also asserted other damning details. Green had backed his car into a space at Sagerser’s cabin, evidence he wanted to make a quick getaway, Leaders said. Also damn- ing to Franklin’s theory that Sagerser attacked Green was a photo Leaders showed of Sagerser’s kitchen with a collec- tion of large knives. If Sagerser first attacked Green, why did he use a small utility knife and not a big chef’s knife? Leaders asked.

Franklin called the state’s theory baseless and the trooper investigation shoddy.

“It falls apart into assumption and bias,” Franklin said in his summary.

Franklin agreed with Leaders that the evidence should do the talking, he said.

“What they have is the theory that does the talking and backfill it with whatever evidence they have that can cor- roborate it,” Franklin said.

Take the evidence items weren’t tossed around because of a struggle, as Leader said. That doesn’t prove anything, Franklin said.

“Does every struggle lead to disarray?” he asked.

Besides, there was evidence of a struggle: the marijuana on the floor and a spilled Mike’s Hard Lemonade bottle with drink residue on a chess board.

If there had been a strong-arm robbery, there should be evidence of something stolen. All the state has is Tangman’s testimony. Tangman had five hours between when he found Sagerser’s body and when he reported the death to troop- ers to clean up the cabin. He takes down the game camera. Knowing he has an arrest warrant, he has to figure out what to do.

“They’re all about Cimmarron Tangman. The only thing he can think about is himself,” Franklin said.

The state didn’t call witnesses to account for what Tangman did in those five hours, Franklin said.

“I would submit to you there’s a reason for that. That’s the state shirking its burden. They’re afraid of what they were going to say,” Franklin said.

There was other shoddy investigation. If Sagerser was cutting marijuana with the utility knife, as the state said, then why didn’t the state test the blade for marijuana resi- due? Why did the state put marijuana collected on the floor in a bag with other marijuana found in Sagerser’s cabin?

Franklin argued that Green bought a half ounce of mari- juana. He said testimony from Modeste and others who saw Green with marijuana after his visit to Sagerser’s cabin said Green had a softball-size amount. Holding up a pint Mason jar and a softball, Franklin said they were about the same size.

But Green testified he bought a half ounce. Sagerser had weighed out about an ounce on the scale, Green said, but Green didn’t like the price and took part of some marijuana on the scale. So where did the rest of the pot go? Franklin pointed to the spilled marijuana on the floor.

“There’s the other half of the ounce,” he said.

Franklin spoke of other questionable evidence: stains on the floor the state said was blood but didn’t test, an un- signed crime scene sketch.

“Don’t lose the trees for the forest,” Franklin said. To prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, “the state’s case should be strong, it should have integrity, it should have precision.”

In his rebuttal, Leaders said the jury instructions don’t say the state has to have a perfect case.

“What is required is that state prove beyond a rea- sonable doubt,” he said. “The state submits, the evidence strongly tells you the defendant intended the act.”

As to self defense, while to prove murder and other crimes, the state has to prove all the elements as the jury is instructed, to disprove self defense, Leaders said the state only has to prove one element, such as the defendant did not believe the extent of force used was needed to prevent harm to himself or he had a duty to retreat. Another element is that if the state can show Green engaged in a felony drug transaction or purported drug transaction, self defense isn’t allowed. Leaders said it’s interesting that when arrested, Green said he went to buy an ounce of marijuana but three years later said he bought a half ounce.

“It’s a pretty strong motive to change your story three years later,” Leaders said.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.arm-