Teens accused of first-degree murder appear in court, death penalty off the table
IDAHO FALLS — Two teenagers accused of plotting the death of a man and killing him in his home appeared in court for the first time Tuesday afternoon.
Westley Hightower and Daniel Wood, both 18, are charged with first-degree murder after deputies say they shot and killed 68-year-old Larry H. Powell while he sat in his Ammon home Monday afternoon. The two appeared for the first time via video from the Bonneville County Jail as Magistrate Judge Steven Gardner read them the charge.
Court documents detail how Wood and Hightower told detectives they had spoken about killing Powell over the last several days. The teens met each other on Friday and a failed attempt to poison Powell over the weekend built up to Monday’s alleged homicide. After Powell was shot, Hightower then went to a neighbor’s home and called 911. Details of the call have not been made public.
Wood told detectives the pair had a plan to dispose of Powell’s body, then sabotage his wife’s car to make it look like an accident, according to court documents. Wood claimed that Hightower said he “hated” Powell. Hightower is accused of offering Wood, who is homeless, money and a place to live if he helped kill Powell and his wife.
Investigators did find the gun reportedly used in the crime in the house where Hightower told authorities he hid it.
Wood and Hightower had little to say in court other than confirming that they understood the judge.
Hightower is the man deputies say pulled the trigger. He was 17 at the time of the shooting, but he turned 18 Tuesday. Public Defender John Thomas pointed out in the hearing that because Hightower was only 17 at the time of the alleged crime, he could not be given the death penalty per several court rulings.
“The state totally concurs in that,” Bonneville County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Alayne Bean said. “We will not be pursuing the death penalty pursuant to that case law.”
Because an initial criminal complaint listed death as a possible penalty, prosecutors will be filing new paperwork that outlines the maximum of a life sentence. Gardner already set bail at $1 million for Hightower.
Wood was an adult at the time of the alleged killing of Powel, meaning he is eligible to be sentenced to death. Garnder set Wood’s bail at $750,000.
Hightower and Wood are scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 13 for a preliminary hearing. At that hearing, a judge will determine if there is enough probable cause that Hightower and Wood committed the alleged crimes and send the case to the District Court.
If the pair are convicted of first-degree murder, there is a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence.