GREENSBURG - Despite all the talk, concern and extra security inspired by an outlaw motorcycle gang, the first day of testimony in David Salyers' murder trial went off Tuesday without any fireworks inside or outside the Green County Judicial Center.
Prosecutor Shawna Virgin Kincer told jurors during her opening statement that she will prove the Iron Horsemen Motorcycle Club played a key role in the September 2012 murder of Gleason Pyles and that Salyers, who holds the prestigious rank of "nomad" within the gang, conspired to have Pyles shot to death if he didn't pull the trigger.
Kincer, an assistant attorney general brought in as special prosecutor in the case, likened the complicated investigation that pieced together the involvement of the motorcycle gang in Pyles' death to opening a jigsaw puzzle hoping to "make a complete picture out of all those tiny little pieces."
"But in the end, you'll see the big picture," she told the jury. "In the end, you will see that David Salyers is guilty of complicity to murder Gleason Pyles."
Salyers' attorney Jude Hagan gave jurors a different perspective to consider during his opening statement. Yes, Salyers is a member of the Iron Horsemen, and yes, he was at Tarter Gate Co. when Pyles was gunned down, Hagan said, but scoffed at the idea that Salyers orchestrated the murder as payback for a debt Pyles owed over a motorcycle and the disrespectful way he quit the biker gang.
"The commonwealth doesn't know what its puzzle looks like," Hagan told jurors, and later, "The commonwealth will tell you this was some kind of gang hit. It was no gang, just hotheads."
The "real killer," Bobby Rigdon, just lost his cool when he and Salyers went to talk to Pyles about buying back the motorcycle while he was working alone at Tarter Gate.
When Rigdon, also a Horsemen, injected himself into the conversation, Pyles responded, "What are you now, his bitch?" Hagan told jurors. "Rigdon shot him just like that, over that little insult."
"David Salyers had no idea Bobby Rigdon was going to kill Gleason that night," Hagan said.
Rigdon, who is charged with Pyles' murder, is scheduled for trial in September and was not in the courtroom.
Casey Circuit Judge Judy Vance abruptly moved the trial from Casey County to Green County last week amid concern that Salyers' brother and son, both members of the Iron Horsemen, may have intimidated the Casey jury pool. Vance is still presiding over the case.
Like Casey County last week, the Green County Judicial Center was under heavy security. Multiple officers patrolled outside the courthouse, more manned the main entrance to the building and the third-floor entrance to the courtroom. At least seven positioned themselves inside the courtroom, some sitting among the audience.
Aside from the opening statements, the Iron Horsemen were hardly mentioned during the first day's testimony. Only one witness, Pyles' widow Tina Pyles, touched briefly on the subject. She said she was aware her husband belonged to the gang but he rarely talked about it.
She said she overheard her husband in a heated phone conversation with Salyers over the motorcycle debt. "He said he would pay his debt," Tina Pyles said.
Tina Pyles provided the day's only emotion, stifling tears as pictures of her family were introduced into evidence and later looking away when photographs of the crime scene at Tarter Gate Co. and autopsy pictures were shown to the jury.
Kincer called Sam Trulock, the night watchman at Tarter, who testified he was at another part of the property when he heard three or four gunshots. As he responded. Trulock said he saw a cloud of dust in the parking lot but not the vehicle that made it and then discovered Pyle's body in the road.
"He's gone," Trulock told a 911 dispatcher in a tape played for jurors. "He's got brain matter running out the right side of his head."
Medical examiner Dr. Victoria Graham, who performed the autopsy, said Pyles was shot three times. One bullet grazed the top of his head. A second shot struck him in the back of his left shoulder and passed through, doing little damage. The third shot was fatal, entering the back of Pyles' head and fracturing into two pieces that exited near his eye and nose, fracturing his skull multiple times, Graham testified.
Jaquelyn Hardwick, an employee of Crocket's Trail convenience store in Casey County where Salyers and Rigdon stopped about 45 minutes before Pyles' murder was reported, testified Rigdon had a handgun strapped on his hip while at the store. Jurors were shown a video of the men at the store, but the gun was not clearly visible.
"You could tell that was what's there," she testified.
Under questioning from Kincer, Hardwick admitted that she initially did not tell police all she knew because she was afraid of the men, whom she identified as "bikers."
"I was scared. I got two little babies to protect. You don't talk about things like that," she said. "But then I got to thinking if someone did my family that way I would want them to speak up."
Hagan spent little time cross-examining any of the witnesses, as most of the testimony seemed more damning of Rigdon than his client. He tried to draw the jury's attention to Rigdon whenever he had the opportunity.
When Kentucky State Police Trooper Jamie Richards testified about the evidence he collected at the murder scene, Hagan used his cross examination to ask Richards whether he had ever investigated Rigdon for anything else. Richards said Rigdon was the subject of a missing person investigation after his first wife, Kara Rigdon, disappeared about four years ago. Kara Rigdon has not yet been found. Bobby Rigdon has not been charged in that case.
While Kincer painted Salyers as a legendary biker who commanded respect from other Horsemen and could get others to do his bidding, Hagan said it was Rigdon who was in charge on the night Pyles was shot to death. Hagan admitted his client lied to police and told his family members to lie to investigators, but that was not to cover his own tracks but to protect himself and his family from Rigdon.
"He had no idea Bobby Rigdon was such a psychopath," Hagan said. "He was fearful of what Rigdon might do, to himself and to his family."
Kincer declined to say who she will call to testify today, but perhaps the two biggest prosecution witnesses have yet to be heard.
KSP Detective Ricky Brooks, the lead investigator in the case, is likely to be on the stand soon for lengthy testimony about how police pieced together the narrative of how Pyles' murder was motivated by Salyers' involvement in the Iron Horsemen.
The prosecution also will call Doug Robinson, a senior agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as an expert witness on the culture of the Iron Horseman. Robinson went undercover as a biker to infiltrate the gang in the 1990s.
Vance said she expects the trial to continue through next Wednesday.
Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are solely those of the writer, and may not reflect the beliefs of anyone at the Biker News Network/Outlaw Biker World.
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