Jury selection for the trial of Kyle Severson, accused in the shooting death of Tyler Hayden on July 2, 2019 in the parking lot of the Loaf ’N Jug, concluded Monday evening, and attorneys for the prosecution and defense gave their opening statements to the judge and the newly empaneled jury.
Janet Christofferson urged the jury not to follow the defense down any “rabbit holes” and to see through the “smoke and mirrors” that she said they will offer.
On the night in question, chance brought Tyler Hayden and his friend Dalton Watson to the Loaf ’N Jug where Hayden died, Christofferson said, in search of a particular brand of cigarette.
They just happened to pull in next to an SUV belonging to Kyle Severson and his girlfriend at the time, Karina Orozco-Angel. Severson sat in the back of the SUV with his daughter, while his girlfriend and Karina’s sister, Jessica, went into the store to buy groceries.
Video footage, Christofferson said, will show jurors that Dalton used the restroom, while Tyler waited in line behind the women, as far away and as disinterested as possible.
After all the parties left the store, video footage from Gem City Motors, across from the Loaf ’N Jug, shows Kyle pointing and Carina stopping for unexplained reasons, Christofferson said, while Hayden, meanwhile, exits the vehicle he is in and walks over to the SUV.
“As Tyler is approaching, he says in a friendly manner, ‘Hey buddy, how ya doing?’” Christofferson said.
But Severson shoots him in the chest.
“He didn’t roll up his window,” Christofferson said. “He didn’t make sure his auto doorlocks engaged. He didn’t tell Karina to drive off. He just thrust his arm and head out of the window and murdered Tyler.”
As Hayden fell to the ground, his spinal cord severed by a bullet and his lungs filling up with blood, Orozco-Angel drives the SUV with Severson and his daughter and sister away.
“They don’t stop to render aid,” Christofferson said. “They don’t call an ambulance. They don’t call 911.”
Those are among the simple “stubborn” facts in the case that make it open and shut, the prosecutor suggested.
“They cannot be rationalized nor can they be explained away,” she said.
There’s no need for fancy investigations or complex, intricate plots, such as the defendant and his attorney might weave now, a year later, Christofferson said. And, in any case, in none of those versions of reality do any of the tales dispute that Severson shot Hayden.
“Anything else is not relative to those five seconds where Kyle shoots Tyler,” she said. “I ask you not to follow rabbit trails or be distracted by smoke and mirrors.”
But Severson’s attorney Kevin Chapman said there is indeed more to the story than the prosecution is letting on.
Severson and Hadyen had prior altercations, some of which have been caught on video surveillance, and these altercations were of a violent nature.
Hayden was stalking Severson, Chapman said, and that prompted Severson to start carrying a firearm for his own protection and that of his girlfriend and their daughter.
A clinical psychologist has since examined Severson, and diagnosed him with PTSD, which the defense attorney said also played a role in Severson’s split-second decision to shoot Hayden when he approached the SUV.
Chapman said video surveillance at the Loaf ’N Jug will also clearly show a bulge in Hayden’s pocket, which the attorney suggested was a 22-caliber pistol.
“When he walks in, you can see he protects his right side the whole time,” Chapman said. “You will be able to see that.”
The video will also show that Orozco-Angel is obviously afraid of Hayden — even if it did not happen to capture Hayden calling her a bitch under his breath.
Another thing that the jurors can see, Chapman said, is that Hayden’s right hand is still protecting that same pocket with the bulge in it when he exits his vehicle to approach the vehicle Severson was in.
“You will see his right hand still near that pocket, the same one with the large bulge in the store,” Chapman said.
There was also, Chapman added, no reason for Hayden to exit his vehicle and approach Severson.
“Kyle was afraid of Hayden because of past history,” Chapman said. “He reacted by shooting Hayden, and then he immediately went to law enforcement. He cooperated fully and gave a full interview and explained in detail his fear.”
In that interview, Severson did not say he knew for sure that Hayden didn’t have a weapon.
“He said he was in fear of Hayden,” Chapman said. “There was no reason for Hayden to approach his vehicle. Kyle reasonably believed the only reason he approached the vehicle was to inflict violence, like he had on previous occasions.”
Chapman told jurors that the friendly “Hey buddy how is it going?” was anything but friendly, and the fact that Dalton also had a weapon at the scene scene shows that.
In fact, Chapman said the evidence will show that the “chance” encounter at the Loaf ’N Jug was not a coincidence at all.
Prior to the “chance encounter,” Chapman said $300 had been stolen from the Severson household and given to Dalton that very night.
That drew an objection from the prosecution, that was over-ruled by the Judge Olivia Rieger.
“Contrary to what the state is trying to tell you, this was not a simple, chance encounter,” Chapman said. “Watson and Hayden had a purpose to go to the Loaf ’N Jug. They recognized the vehicle.”
With opening statements from each attorney completed, court was adjourned, and will continue Tuesday morning via ZOOM. The Williston and Sidney Herald will have continuing coverage of the trial.