Crime I WCTV Eyewitness News: Tallahassee, Thomasville, Valdosta

[UPDATE] Tallahassee Man on Trial for Camper Break In and Murder

REPORT BY AMY LONG:

50 year old Barton Johnson is accused of breaking into Mitch Zettle's camper and murdering him back in 2009.

LCSO Officer: "You've got one chance to tell your side of the story to us. When you leave, I will write it down just like you told me, and then it's going to be up to someone else to decide whether they believe your story or not."

LCSO's Major Carl Bennett was called to the witness stand on Thursday to testify on whether Barton Johnson was given his Miranda Rights and give a reason why paper work wasn't signed. Major Bennett contested on his 32 plus years experience Johnson was treated fairly and read his rights, but the document wasn't signed b because Johnson was in handcuffs. The officer reading the rights decided to bring 3 other officers to witness the rights instead of freeing one of Johnson's hands.

Johnson's defense attorney's also objected to the presentation of the confession tape. "You have basically some actions after the fact that don't put him even at the scene of the crime period."

The actions after the fact included two trips to Walmart with the victim, Mitch Zettle's credit card, a t.v. air compressor and a food stamps card.. The judge decided that was enough to move forward.

LCSO: "Is that the same person you saw on the id card?"
Johnson: "Yeah, but his head was fluffier"
Johnson identified Zettle, voluntarily gave a DNA sample and showed off his black K-Swiss Shoes, same prints found on the scene.

During the tape Johnson altered his story and said he could not remember many details of his whereabouts or his methods of transportation. He did recall many conversations with great detail.

Three hours of story changing, and false accomplices lead Johnson down a lonely road.. finally confessing he knew Zettle lived in the camper, they had gotten in a fight and he put him in a head lock and brutally choked him.

Johnson said he broke into Zettle's trailer to smoke dope. When Zettle asked who was there Johnson said he told him he was only there to smoke dope and then Zettle came after him.

Johnson described a back and forth fight explaining how the two fell out of the window and were still punching each other before Johnson put Zettle into a headlock and killed him.

Johnson's attorney's maintain the suspect did not know his rights at the time of the taped confession.
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*** Update 9.16.2010 at 6:55 PM ***
The court has called a recess for the night and will reconvene beginning at 9:00 a.m. Friday morning, September 17, 2010.

*** Update 9.16.2010 at 5:40 PM ***
Court is back in session.

*** Update 9.16.2010 at 4:58 PM ***
Jurors are taking a ten minute break and the judge says they will watch the last 35 minutes of the confession tape after the brief recess. Testimony is expected to continue after jurors are done watching the tape.

[UPDATE] 9.16.2010 at 3:16pm

The jury heard testimony from Major Carl Bennett regarding Miranda Rights on September 16. The state looked to Bennett's 32 years of experience as an expert. The State also said he was there when rights were read to Johnson.

The defense wants to know why the rights weren't signed, and also claims Johnson did not understand his Miranda Rights when he made his confession.

The jury was sent away while state and defense discussed whether the verbal confession was enough.

The defense argued that there was nothing that put Johnson at scene at time of murder, that the there was only evidence after Zettle was already dead.

The judge said that the verbal confession was enough, and that the jury will hear confession tape.

The court is preparing to listen to a 3 hour edited version of Johnson’s confession. With the tape started, the jury has been given the transcript both sides agreed on.

The tape being viewed in court shows Johnson signing a picture of the victim, saying the victim was the man in the ID he used.

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[UPDATE] 9.15.2010 at 7:30pm

A Tallahassee man is strangled in his own home and now a late night intruder is on trial for his murder.

Barton Johnson is accused of breaking into Mitch Zettle's camper, killing him, stealing his Jeep and proceeding to use his food stamp card to buy more than 100 dollars worth of steak, shrimp and other groceries.

Yet his attorneys contend that late night confrontation is not what it appears.

50 year old Barton Johnson walked into court in a shirt, tie and wire rim glasses. He listened intently as Mitch Zettle's friends described finding his body wrapped in a quilt, just feet from the camper he called home.

"It looked strange to us and so I had Daniel pull up a little bit more and we seen Mitch's feet sticking out the end of a blanket with a ten speed and a lawnmower on top of it," Fred Riggs testified.

Zettle's best friend, Kenneth Reed, says he had stopped by that morning to pick Zettle up for work, and stopped by several more times during the day, thinking the items in the driveway were dropped off for a church yard sale.

"Steven Zettle's body had been discarded like trash," prosecutor Jack Campbell said in his opening statement to the jury.

Zettle lived in that camper behind the Calvary Tabernacle Church off and on for years, his pastor testified, in exchange for doing odd jobs at the church.

Prosecutors contend back in March 2009, Johnson broke in in the middle of the night, put Zettle in a fatal choke-hold and proceeded to steal his car and his food stamp card.

Yet defense attorneys tried to paint a much different picture, saying Johnson thought the camper was abandoned and was about to light up his crack pipe when a man emerged in the darkness.

"And he tries to stop and say what's going on? Whoa, I just want to light up. I'm just here to light up. I want to smoke. He tries to have a conversation with this man who refuses to listen and proceeds to attack the defendant," defense attorney Clyde Taylor told the jury in his opening statement.

A video tape of the crime scene played on a big screen in court for nearly 30 minutes. It showed the quilt, bicycle and lawn mower in the driveway and also gave a glimpse inside the camper where clothes and other belongings were strewn on the floor.

Thursday, prosecutors are expected to play another lengthy videotape of the statement Johnson made to deputies after the crime.

Jurors are expected to return at 12:30pm Thursday, when the medical examiner is expected to take the stand.

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UPDATED 9.15.2010 at 10:39am
The pastor of Calvary Tabernacle Church testified that
Steven Mitch Zettle had lived in a camper behind the church off and on
for about three years. The pastor says there are no trespassing signs
to try to keep people off the property. He says there was a chair and
bbq grill outside the camper and in his opinion it was obvious that
someone lived there. He admitted on cross examination that it may not
be so obvious at night.

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UPDATED 9.15.2010 at 10:16am

The defense attorney told the jury that Barton Johnson went to what he thought was an abandoned trailer to smoke crack that night. Defense attorney Clyde Taylor says Johnson was about to light up when a man came out of the darkness and attacked him. He claims Johnson had no idea anyone was there and certainly didn't go
there intending to hurt anyone or steal anything.
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UPDATED 9.15.2010 at 10:02am

Attorneys have started opening statements in the murder trial of Barton
Johnson. Prosecutor Jack Campbell told the jury, "Steven Zettle didn't
have much. He was down on his luck, but that night everything he did
have was taken from him."

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UPDATED 9.15.2010 at 9:38am

A man accused in a deadly break in is now on trial for murder.
Barton Johnson is accused of the March 2009 murder of Mitch Zettle,
whose body was found behind a church on Highway 20. Deputies say
Johnson broke into Zettle's home, killed him, stole his Jeep and
proceeded to use his credit card at a nearby Wal-mart. Attorneys are
expected to begin opening statements shortly in courtroom 3A. The trial
is expected to last through September 17.

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A Tallahassee man has just been indicted for killing a man behind a west side church.

49 year old Barton Johnson was indicted Wednesday for the March 2009 murder of Mitch Zettle.

Zettle's body was found wrapped in a blanket outside a camper behind the Calvary Tabernacle Church on Highway 20.

Deputies say Johnson stole Zettle's SUV and his debit card, but that's what blew his cover. Deputies say Johnson used Zettle's card to buy some things at Wal Mart and was caught on surveillance tape doing it.

A Leon County grand jury met behind closed doors to consider evidence in the case Wednesday morning and emerged with a multi-count indictment against Barton Johnson.


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