Jury Begins Deliberations in Schnitker Murder Trial
A jury of 12 people will decide whether 30-year-old John Michael Schnitker is guilty of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of 59-year-old Clinton Gartman.
Schnitker admits that he stabbed Gartman six times on the night of Sept. 26, 2015. But the case hinges on whether Schnitker killed Gartman in the course of committing or attempting to commit a burglary that night.
Schnitker testified Wednesday that he went into Gartman’s pickup truck that night to get methamphetamine, cigarettes or money.
Defense attorney Vaughn Neubauer argued Thursday there was no burglary because Schnitker and Gartman were friends and went into each other’s vehicles and dwellings with implicit permission countless times over the course of their relationship to take cigarettes, small amounts of money, or items of nominal value that the two treated as community property.
But prosecutors say Schnitker admitted he entered Gartman’s truck that night -- knowing he did not have permission -- with the intent of committing burglary.
“I was going to go get the eight-ball he had sitting in his… truck because his old lady told me he wasn’t there,” Schnitker said in a recorded Oct. 25 phone call from the Albany County Detention Center. “And then look who it is…”
“[Gartman] caught me,” Schnitker said in the recording.
Prosecutors also say the two were not friends the night of Sept. 26.
“Yeah, he’s the guy stealing all my [property],” Schnitker said in an Oct. 8 jail visitation.
Schnitker reportedly said in a police interview that he last saw Gartman months before the stabbing and had nothing to say to him at the time.
“I won’t go near him. I won’t talk to him,” Schnitker reportedly said earlier in a police interview.
Schnitker says he fled the scene of the stabbing and did not know Gartman was dead until a police interview the next morning.
“Bound to happen the way he was… going,” Schnitker reportedly said upon hearing of Gartman's death.
In his closing argument, Prosecutor Rob Sanford told the jury that Schnitker’s priorities immediately after stabbing Gartman are very telling.
“He couldn’t take the time to call nine-one-one,” said Sanford. “But he did take the time to stash that murder weapon.”
“It’s a crafty alibi, isn’t it, to say that they were friends?” said Sanford. “It’s pretty convenient because Gartman is not here to say there’s no way they were friends.”
Sanford also said Schnitker contradicted himself in his testimony.
Throughout Schnitker’s testimony Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, he was able to recall certain details, such as where he left the knife he used to stab Gartman – but not others, such as why he made disparaging remarks about Gartman if the two were friends.
Sanford called it “selective amnesia.”
Neubauer described the friendship as “a love-hate relationship,” and argued that Gartman’s reaction to finding Schnitker in the pickup was a result of the amount of methamphetamine in his system at the time – 280 nanograms per milliliter, according to expert testimony.
“Clint Gartman reacted the way he did because he was a volatile man who changed his opinions on a nickel,” said Neubauer.
“It’s just doesn’t add up,” said Sanford. “It’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall.”
Sanford clarified in his closing argument that the state does not need to prove premeditation or intent by Schnitker to kill Gartman for a conviction under Wyoming's felony murder rule.
“The state is not arguing that the defendant intended to kill Clint Gartman,” said Sanford. “What we are arguing is that he intended to steal something from that truck and, in the course of that burglary, he killed Clint Gartman.”
“His claim that Clint Gartman gave him permission flies in the face of everything you’ve seen,” said Sanford. “It’s all too convenient.”