Comments Off on Trial begins for Orem man accused of killing brother-in-law while high on Meth

PROVO — The sound of deep panting sawed through a Provo courtroom Tuesday, the only noise emitted for several seconds from a recording of a 911 call.

Then a man’s voice cut through the static, desperate and gasping for air. “I just killed my brother-in-law,” he sputtered.

Between quick breaths, the man identified himself to the dispatcher as Steve Strate. When a woman’s voice asked Strate why he had killed his brother-in-law, there was only breathing. Seconds later he blurted that he had “just barely shot him” six or seven times.

“He came after me with a chair,” Strate said in the recording as the dispatcher tells him to put his hands on his head and wait for the police.

In his opening arguments at Strate’s murder trial Tuesday, prosecutor Craig Johnson said the call was made only moments after Strate riddled Marvin Sidwell with bullets “in cold blood.” Johnson said Strate had shown up at Sidwell’s home “sick and tired” of his brother-in-law. Strate burst into the home, Johnson related, then charged downstairs and began banging on Sidwell’s door. According to Johnson, Strate physically outmatched Sidwell and managed to open the door, then fell on him and began beating and punching him.

Johnson said that when Strate noticed blood he got up, at which point Sidwell picked up a small drum stool to defend himself. Strate responded by pulling out a hand gun and firing seven shots. Five tore into Sidwell, Johnson told the court.

“At that point he leaves Marvin to bleed out and die,” Johnson added, addressing the jury.

According to Johnson, the shooting came after Strate had tired of Sidwell’s “antics.” Johnson said that Strate and his wife owned Sidwell’s home — which also was occupied by Sidwell’s mother and Strate’s mother-in-law, Laverne — but were considering selling it because Lavern’s health was failing. After Strate talked to a neighbor about the sale, Johnson said Sidwell became angry and wrote an intimidating message in chalk on the neighbor’s driveway.

Johnson described the act as the straw that broke the camel’s back for Strate, who had been forced to deal with Sidwell’s drug use and bad behavior in the past. Strate then went over to Sidwell’s home and killed him, Johnson said.

During his own opening arguments, defense attorney Ron Yengich didn’t disagree with Johnson’s basic version of the event, but said that there was never any straw that broke the camel’s back. Instead, Yengich described the shooting as self-defense. He said that Strate had frequently helped his brother-in-law, even going as far as building Sidwell’s room. Moreover, Yengich said, when Sidwell behaved badly Strate often was the only person who could deal with him.

Yengich told the court that on the day of the shooting Sidwell was high on methamphetamine. The drug left Sidwell paranoid and overly aggressive, Yengich said, and played a vital role in the attack.

Yengich ultimately called Johnson’s interpretation of the events a “theory” that wouldn’t be supported by the facts.

“He wasn’t there to kill him, he was there to help him,” Yengich said of Strate’s visit to Sidwell’s home.

Prosecutors’ first witness Tuesday was Orem dispatcher Shawna Desroches, who took Strate’s 911 call. During Desroches’s testimony, prosecutors played the recording of the call, in which Strate sounded frantic, out of breath and disoriented. Next, prosecutors called Orem police Officer Karalee Johnson, who responded to the scene of the killing. Johnson said that Strate was polite and apologized for making her see the carnage. She also said that a drum stool could be considered a weapon, but that the danger it posed would depend on who was wielding it.

Other witnesses who testified Tuesday included Sidwell’s neighbor Gary Richards, and Sidwell’s mother Laverne.

Strate’s trial is scheduled to continue through next week. He faces a first-degree felony murder charge for Sidwell’s death.

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