Guilty verdict in battle ax attack
A 22-year-old Juggalo gang member was convicted Wednesday of first-degree felony attempted murder for attacking a Kearns teenager with a medieval battle ax in July.
A 3rd District Court jury delivered the verdict to Scott Tyler Stapley around 7 p.m. after deliberating four hours and listening to several witnesses and closing arguments in the two-day trial.
Stapley faces five years to life in prison when he is sentenced March 20 before Judge Judith Atherton.
The case against Stapley boiled down to whether he intended to kill 17-year-old Justin Ennis in July when he assaulted the boy with a four-bladed warrior axe with a spiky ball attached, causing severe injuries to the teenager's neck and shoulder -- or if the incident met the criteria of an aggravated assault charge.
Defense attorneys claimed throughout the trial that Ennis was targeted outside his home in the early morning hours of July 29 because he supposedly passed a sexually transmitted disease to a girl one of his assailants later slept with.
Attorney Scott Wilson claimed Stapley's friend, Cody Jesse Augustine, 21, was angry he contracted an STD from a girlfriend and believed Ennis, now 18, was the source of the disease. Whether Ennis passed along an STD is unclear, both prosecutors and defense attorneys said Wednesday.
Augustine's assumption he'd picked up an STD from Ennis, however, enabled him to persuade Stapley to assault Ennis after the two had split a liter of hard alcohol earlier in the evening, Wilson said. Although Stapley had tried to talk his friend out of going to Ennis' home, he changed his mind after Augustine complained of pain from the STD while urinating. Stapley went along as a lookout and backup man, Wilson said.
"He went there to protect. When you place yourself in a bad situation, bad things happen," Wilson said, before asking jurors to convict Stapley of a lesser assault charge.
But prosecutor Stephen Nelson said the attack on Ennis was an attempt to "chop somebody's head off." He compared the incident to a "Hollywood slasher flick."
"The only thing that separates this attack from one of these movies is that it actually happened," Nelson said.
"Just because the defendant is not an efficient killer, doesn't mean he didn't intend to kill him."
He cited Ennis' injuries from the battle ax, which included a 8-inch cut to his neck, a 10 1/2 -inch cut in his left pectoral muscle and smaller cuts on his shoulder and hands among other injuries, according to charging documents.
Ennis testified on Tuesday that he received a series of text messages from his attackers, who posed as a girl named "Stacy" to lure him outside around 4:30 a.m. Ennis said he believed he was meeting Stacy for "a booty call."
Ennis said Stapley slashed his neck and shoulder with a four-bladed warrior ax, and Augustine stabbed him with a knife several times. The men fled, and Ennis went into his parents' house, where he told them he needed help and laid in a bathtub bleeding until paramedics arrived, he said.
Stapley took the stand to defend himself on Wednesday, saying he regrets his decision to hit Ennis with the battle ax. He said his action was self-defense, and that Ennis ran toward him outside while trying to escape from Augustine.
He said he bought the ax for about $25 from Pipe Dream Gifts, a store in Salt Lake City. He said he chose the battle ax over a table leg that was in a box of weapons in his car because he feared other people might have been with Ennis outside the house.
The attack was meant to hurt Ennis, but not kill him, Stapley said.
"[Augustine] felt that it was solely that guy's fault that he was pissing blood," Stapley said.
"I told him he wasn't going alone. I didn't want to read my friend's obituary in the paper," he said of going to Ennis' house.
Police have said Stapley and Augustine are members of the Juggalos, a purported gang that follows the Insane Clown Posse rap group. A "hatchet man" necklace belonging to Stapley that was found at the crime scene and an emblem on his vehicle are linked to the Juggalos, police said.
The battle ax incident has drawn attention to a Juggalos presence in the Salt Lake Valley.
A group of about 15 teenagers who called themselves the Salt Lake City Juggalos organized a protest outside The Depot at the Gateway Mall on Wednesday afternoon, saying their group is misrepresented by the violent actions of people such as Stapley.
The group called Stapley a "Juffalo", or a person who is not a true Juggalo because violence is not a part of the teachings of the Insane Clown Posse. The group said it is organizing rallies because members have been kicked out of the mall's food court for wearing clown face paint and it is unfairly labeled as a gang.
Augustine will next appear in court Jan. 23 and scheduled for a trial in March.