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Testimony begins in Robuck murder trial

Attorneys gave opening statements Tuesday afternoon in the first-degree murder trial of 20-year-old Justin Alan Robuck, the second suspect to stand trial for the stabbing death of Newton resident Jerry Alden Pittman II. “We intend to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Robuck, while aiding Mr. (Tyler Ray) Oberhart or working with him, killed Jerry Pittman,” Jasper County Assistant Attorney Michael Jacobsen told jurors at the Dallas County Courthouse in Adel, where the trial was moved due to pre-trial publicity in Jasper County. The state plans to call more than 20 witnesses during the remainder of this week and next to testify about events surrounding the early morning hours of Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007. On that day, Jacobsen told the jury, at approximately 11:30 a.m., Jerry A. Pittman Sr. found his 19-year-old son dead in a neighbor’s back yard. The teenager had been stabbed 29 times — including several times in the chest, lower back, hip, leg and buttocks areas — during an altercation investigators learned had been ignited following a drug exchange. Authorities never recovered any murder weapons but developed several suspects within a day. Robuck and Oberhart, then 19 and 17 years old, respectively, both were arrested Sunday, Oct. 7, 2007, on charges of first-degree murder.

According to Jacobsen, the state’s witnesses will show over the course of the next two weeks that before midnight on Friday, Oct. 5, 2007, Oberhart was arrested in Newton for drunken driving, and a bag of marijuana was confiscated from him. Oberhart was released to his mother a few hours later, and he went to his residence at 1425 N. 11th Ave. E., where he lived with his girlfriend, Mishana Laura Cornejo. Pittman called the residence while Oberhart and Cornejo were there with Ray Robert Travis and Cornejo’s best friend, Courtney Patricia Hummel. Pittman and Oberhart discussed a drug trade, Jacobsen said, and Cornejo drove Oberhart to Pittman’s home at 714 W. Third St. S. in Newton to make the exchange. However, after returning to Cornejo’s, the four determined Oberhart had been cheated. “They all decide it’s not marijuana,” Jacobsen said. “It looks like it came from a lawnmower. Mr. Oberhart is angry.” Jacobsen said Oberhart eventually contacted Robuck by cell phone, and the five of them — Robuck, Oberhart, Travis, Cornejo and Hummel — went to Pittman’s home around 3:45 a.m. so the young men could confront Pittman. “Justin Robuck has his butterfly knife, Tyler Oberhart is handed a switchblade and Ray Travis fashions a weapon out of a hemp necklace. They walk onto Jerry Pittman’s property,” Jacobsen said. “Mr. Oberhart starts kicking and pounding on the door. The evidence will show that Mr. Robuck’s palm print is on that door.” Jacobsen said Robuck, Oberhart and Travis then spoke in the back yard with Pittman, who himself was carrying a knife and at one point thrusted it toward Oberhart. Pittman then went into a garage and came out swinging a piece of PVC pipe, striking Oberhart in the face. “He’s chased down by Mr. Oberhart and Mr. Robuck,” Jacobsen said. “The evidence will show that Mr. Oberhart and Mr. Robuck stabbed Mr. Pittman 29 times.” The three boys then left Pittman’s residence — first Robuck, then Travis and eventually Oberhart — and returned to the car where Hummel and Cornejo were waiting in an alley behind the house. Robuck, Jacobsen said, had sustained a serious knife wound to his right hand during the fight and left blood evidence throughout the area. “Testimony will show that his DNA was in the alley. His DNA was also on the side of the garage,” Jacobsen said. The prosecution highlighted upcoming testimony by Cornejo and Hummel, both of whom have pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact of a felony, an aggravated misdemeanor, for their involvement in the incident. “They’ll tell you that Mr. Robuck said, ‘I must have stabbed him (Pittman) 30 times. I think he’s dead,’” Jacobsen told jurors.

Robuck’s attorney, John P. Roehrick of Roehrick Law Firm in Des Moines, also presented an opening statement to jurors Tuesday, noting Robuck actually contacted authorities himself on the day of his arrest. “You’ll see that on Sunday (Oct. 7, 2007), Justin was on a mission to turn himself in,” Roehrick said. “Justin was the first one to turn himself in. Justin denies his involvement but never ever changes the facts.” Roehrick also stated the three boys took weapons to the Pittman residence to confront the deceased because Pittman had a reputation for ripping off people in drug exchanges and carrying a knife of his own. Roehrick described the incident as a quick event with bad decisions and a tragic result but said Robuck acted in defense of Oberhart. Tuesday’s testimony included statements from Adam DeCamp, special agent with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation; Lt. Jeff Hoebelheinrich of the Newton Police Department; and Sarah A. Smith of Newton, who is the next-door neighbor to the north of the former Pittman residence. According to DeCamp’s testimony, Robuck eventually admitted during interviews with law enforcement to stabbing Pittman twice. Oberhart also told authorities during a taped interview, which was shown during his trial two months ago, that he stabbed Pittman twice in the leg. Smith testified to being awakened upon hearing a confrontation outside her home the night Pittman was killed, saying she observed three individuals at the Pittman’s north door and then talking with Pittman in his back yard. She contacted police, who were called to the scene by the Jasper County dispatcher at 3:51 a.m. and arrived four minutes later. By that time, the area was quiet and no one was found in Pittman’s back yard. Smith did not speak with police until the next day when the teen’s body was found. “I heard (Jerry Pittman Sr.) yelling, and I thought there was something wrong with him,” Smith said. She walked to the south end of the Pittman’s back yard, where Pittman’s body was lying in the other next-door neighbor’s yard and was hidden from view behind a garden of tall tomato plants. “I saw Jerry II there on the ground. He had all kinds of holes all over his back,” Smith said. Testimony from state’s witnesses will continue today during Robuck’s trial at the Dallas County Courthouse. If found guilty of first-degree murder, Robuck faces a sentence of mandatory life imprisonment. Oberhart was found guilty of first-degree murder on Aug. 7 and is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 6.

Mandi Lamb can be contacted at 792-3121 ext. 424 or via e-mail at mlamb@newtondailynews.com.

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