PETERSBURG — A Pike County Circuit Court jury convicted Jordan Hunt, Hazleton, on two of three felony counts Thursday following about two hours of deliberation.
The 12-person jury found Hunt not guilty of intimidation, but guilty of domestic violence animal cruelty and killing a domestic animal.
The trial ended a day earlier than expected, with the prosecution presenting three witnesses and the defense presenting none. Hunt chose not to testify.
After nearly eight hours of jury selection, defense and prosecution made opening arguments.
Hunt was represented by Dawnya Taylor and the case was prosecuted by deputy prosecuting attorney, Sarah Christianson.
Christianson set the scene of Sept. 26, 2018, for jurors, describing it as a perfect fall day, perfect for two dogs to explore an area in rural Pike County they weren’t familiar with.
Christianson told the jury all Chelsie Koutz, the dog's owner and Hunt's ex-girlfriend, wanted that day was to see her babies again, a pitbull lab mix named Roxy and a Goldendoodle named Willow.
She told the jury Hunt intended to hurt Koutz, who had recently made clear that they were no longer dating and was moving on with her life. “He knows what her entire world is,” Christianson said. “It’s her two dogs.”
She said the 24 hours after they were taken from Koutz had a devastating end with the dogs' death. Both were shot and their bodies were burned.
“It wasn’t enough that they just weren’t there,” she said. “He had to destroy them.”
Prosecution witness Toni Parker, 24, testified that it was her family property where the two dogs were killed.
Parker said she knew Jordan Hunt, because her sister was friends with him.
That’s how she recognized him when he pulled into the family’s driveway around 1:30 a.m. Sept. 26, 2018. The defense later established that Hunt also spent a good deal of time with Parker’s father, Roy Whitehouse.
Parker said she heard Hunt tell her father that he had two dogs that no one wanted and he needed a place to keep them, because he couldn’t keep them at his parent’s house.
Hours later, around 9:30 to 10 a.m. (EST) Parker said she heard a bang on her bedroom window. She said she could see it was Jordan Hunt, but she didn’t want him to see it was her.
“I’ve never been alone with him,” she said when asked why she didn’t want him to see her.
Parker said Hunt banged on her window again, so she called her husband and dad, and sent a text to her brother because she “didn’t want to be there alone with him.”
Soon she realized Hunt's truck was stuck, and informed her dad of that as well. He told her he would take care of it.
She said she opened the back door slightly to see where Hunt was on the property. At that point, he saw her and they said hello to one another.
Parker said Hunt then entered her family’s home and asked if her brother was around.
She said they sat and made small talk as they waited for her dad to arrive. She was scrolling through Facebook when she saw the post from Chelsie Koutz’s mom, Lori Bruce, that had become popular on the site, gaining hundreds of shares and comments. The social media post showed Hunt, his truck and the two dogs. It also offered a reward for anyone able to help find them.
Parker testified she wasn’t sure if she should get involved and originally messaged Bruce only to say Hunt was in the Union area. At that point, she had not actually seen Hunt with either dog.
Some messages later, Parker told Bruce that Jordan was at her address and had the dogs. In cross-examination, Parker acknowledged that the messages came after a reward was mentioned, but Parker insisted it wasn't about the money. She testified to receiving a check but ripping it up.
When Parker's father arrived to help Hunt move his truck, Parker photographed Hunt walking toward the family barn, and sent the photo to Bruce via Facebook Messenger.
Later, when the dogs were been let out of the barn, Parker sent a short video of one of them running with her own dog.
Parker testified she then took her dog outside and saw Hunt walking Roxy and Willow into a field.
Once he was out of sight, she said she heard two gunshots. At this time she was on the phone with her husband during his lunch break, but she hung up the phone to send a message to Bruce, testifying that her first thought was Hunt had shot those dogs.
“You need to call me ASAP,” the message stated.
Parker said she told Bruce over the phone that the dogs had been shot. She was upset and had to repeat it more than once to be understood. Two 911 calls, the first from Koutz and the second from her mother, were entered as evidence. In the second call, Parker could be heard reporting the dogs were shot.
Parker testified that Bruce asked her to go check on the animals. She testified she didn’t want to, but she did. She said she saw Hunt’s head pop up and she saw smoke. Then she started screaming at him.
She said she ran back to the house to change her shoes, since she was in flip flops and holding one of her dogs.
She said she didn’t see anyone else around, including her father.
Once she changed shoes and got back to the fire, she said she attempted to remove brush to keep the dogs from burning.
Christianson asked her if she could identify the dogs.
“The pit mix yes,” she said. “The Goldendoodle, its back half was so burned.”
In cross-examination, Taylor asked for layouts of the property, house, and Parker’s bedroom.
The details Parker provided were disputed throughout the testimony and in closing arguments from the defense.
“I guess I just misunderstood your testimony earlier,” Taylor said. “In a variety of ways apparently.”
During cross-examination, Parker said she never saw Hunt with a gun, nor did she see her father with one. She also acknowledged that hearing gunshots in the rural area where she lives is not out of the ordinary.
Taylor questioned Parker about choosing to run straight into a situation with a man she was allegedly terrified of, according to the message she sent Lori.
“You change your shoes and run back out there,” Taylor said.
“Yes,” Parker said.
Evansville Police Detective Nick Henderson testified to taking photos of the burned animals Sept. 26.
He said the animals were badly burned and had injuries consistent with a wound caused by some sort of projectile.
Koutz testified to the relationship she had with Hunt, as well as the details of the day as she remembered them.
The two dated from approximately October 2017 to May 2018, then broke up without contact for a couple of months before starting to talk again in late July/early August.
The two were working on their on-again-off-again relationship, but Koutz said after finding out Hunt was still abusing drugs, she told him it was over. “I just made it clear we weren’t in a relationship,” she said. “He wasn’t my boyfriend.”
That statement to him on Facebook messenger occurred Sept. 14 and the two had not talked from that point to when the dogs were taken on Sept. 25. He did not come to her work or try to contact her, which was established as the pattern from previous breakups.
The day the dogs were taken, Koutz celebrated her accepted offer on a home and stopped by her apartment before heading to dinner, but learned the dogs were missing.
“They always greet me at the front door,” she said.
She said she thought Hunt took them and she used Facebook to ask him to bring them back. He did not respond to her, and when she went to his parents' home he was not there.
She said that when Parker reported the dogs were on her property, Koutz and her mom started that way. They also called 911 to request an officer meet them there.
“When you got in the car, did you think you’d be getting your dogs back?” Christian asked.
“Yes,” Koutz said, starting to cry.
Once she arrived at the property, after learning on the way what had happened to the dogs, she said her first reaction was to run to them despite being advised against it by law enforcement.
“I just wanted to hold them,” she said.
Koutz said she wasn’t able to do that because their bodies were still too hot. She said the dogs were irreplaceable. “He knew how much I loved them,” she said.
Asked if she thought Hunt was capable of harming her after she saw the state of the dogs, Koutz said yes.
In closing arguments, Christian said “He knew exactly how to hurt her," and killed the animals to terrorize Koutz.
“As you can hear in the 911 call, he got his way that day,” she said. “Don’t let him get his way today.”
The defense argued crucial points were missing from the prosecution's case.
Shell casings. A gun. Testimony from local law enforcement.
“The title of this trial should be 'Facebook says he’s guilty,'” Taylor said, “because that’s what we’ve got, right?”
Taylor said no one saw Hunt with a gun and Parker is the only person to testify she saw him with the dogs.
Taylor argued that Parker was careful in her testimony to never say her dad wasn’t on the property, but only that she didn’t see him after the truck was dug out.
Taylor said Parker’s actions, walking into a field where an armed person waited and then yelling at them without calling 911, made more sense if was someone she knew — not Hunt, who she testified that she feared.
“Toni’s testimony is all over the place,” she said.
Taylor said the state would like the last witness, a tearful victim, to be what sticks with the jury.
"But this is not about emotion," she said. "This is about if the state proved Jordan Hunt committed the three crimes he's charged with."
Ultimately, the jury did not convict Hunt of all three crimes, leaving the Level 5 Felony intimidation charge to be acquitted by Pike County Judge Jeffrey Biesterveld.
Biesterveld ordered a pre-sentence investigation and scheduled a sentencing hearing at 9 a.m. EST June 10 in Pike County Circuit Court.