By Argen Duncan: Freedom New Mexico
Opening arguments began Thursday in the slaying trial of Roosevelt County farmer William “Billy Joe” Watson.
Watson is accused of hiring Aryan Brotherhood member Donald Taylor, a Rogers native, to kill Causey rancher Jimmy Bo Chunn, 71, in July 2005 in exchange for providing anhydrous ammonia for methamphetamine manufacture.
Taylor has pleaded guilty to killing Chunn.
Watson faces possible execution because his is a murder-for-hire case. Although Gov. Bill Richardson signed a repeal of the death penalty last March, a grandfather clause allows the state to still seek capital punishment for crimes committed before July 1, 2009.
Deputy District Attorney Janice Schryer said while in jail, Taylor explained his arrangement with Watson to Donald Wilson, an FBI informant and an Aryan Brotherhood member. Schryer also said Watson cooperated with an undercover agent and another informant to collect anhydrous ammonia and guns Taylor stole.
Defense attorney Gary Mitchell countered that Taylor killed Chunn for his own reasons, and lied about Watson hiring him. He added that Watson cooperated with the undercover agents to protect himself and his family and friends from the Aryan Brotherhood, a criminal organization known for violence.
Schryer said Watson knew Taylor’s background in the Aryan Brotherhood, but still lent him money and hired him to work on his farm.
“And most of all, he was his buddy,” she said.
After Taylor killed Chunn, Schryer said, he was jailed for an unrelated parole violation. While in jail, he met Wilson and arranged for a meeting between Watson and members of the Aryan Brotherhood.
Later, Schryer said, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Pete McCarthy and informant and brotherhood member John Fairres, both posing as brotherhood members, met with Watson and gave him a note from Taylor. Watson allowed them to retrieve “tools,” the Aryan Brotherhood word for “guns,” from an abandoned house he farmed near, she said.
“He’s perfectly happy, except now he knows Donald Taylor’s talking to somebody,” Schryer said.
Late in 2005, Taylor asked Wilson to get a message to Watson about the anhydrous ammonia, an agricultural fertilizer. The same ATF agent and informant pair delivered the message, the prosecution said.
She said Watson purchased the fertilizer in Muleshoe and led the undercover agents to it. During the trip, Schryer said, Watson offered the agents beer and asked how well working with the brotherhood paid.
When Watson was asked why he wanted Chunn killed, Schryer said, Watson told them Chunn was aggravating him.
Mitchell, however, said Watson passed a polygraph test saying he didn’t encourage Chunn’s death. He said Chunn was Watson’s best friend.
“When Bo needed something, he called Bill,” Mitchell said.
Also, Mitchell said Taylor claimed he killed Chunn for things the rancher said about his relatives and to fulfill membership requirements of the Aryan Brotherhood.
When Taylor and Wilson met, Mitchell said, Taylor was told that since Chunn’s murder hadn’t been approved by the Aryan Brotherhood, Taylor could face consequences including beating or death. Wilson, Mitchell said, told Taylor they needed a better reason for Chunn’s death.
Mitchell said Watson bought the anhydrous ammonia to protect his family and friends from the Aryan Brotherhood.
Mitchell said Watson’s offer of beer was an attempt to keep the agents from finding a shotgun hidden in his truck, and he made derogatory statements about Chunn because he feared the supposed brotherhood members.
“It pained him greatly to say these things about Bo, because that’s not how he felt about Bo,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also said Watson told friends about men he thought were Aryan Brotherhood members pushing him to work with them, and the FBI refused to help when notified of the situation.
The trial is expected to last for about two weeks.