A woman accused of aiding her boyfriend in an ambush-style attack that left one person dead in Blodgett in May should remain in jail without bail, a judge decided Thursday.
Julie Ann Thurman is charged with murder for the May 21 death of Wesley Joe Newell. She has been held in jail without bail since prosecutors filed the charge on June 1. Thurman’s defense attorney, Mike Flinn, had asked that his client be given bail.
Flinn argued that Thurman did not fire the weapon that killed Newell and that there was no evidence that she intended for someone to be murdered when she dropped off Jim Dandee Morris at the residence where the shooting happened.
Benton County Circuit Court Judge Locke Williams declined the defense's request, stating there was strong evidence to support the charge of murder in the case.
Prosecutors have said that Morris shot at Newell and three other people at a home belonging to Thurman’s estranged husband. Cassandra Wilhelm was seriously injured in the shooting. Thurman’s husband, Bragi Thurman, and his son, Troy Thurman, were also present during the shooting. According to prosecutors, the four people were at the house at 35111 Tum Tum Road to jump start Bragi Thurman’s John Deere tractor after Julie Thurman took the key to the tractor. The shooting took place about 9 p.m.
Deputy District Attorney Amie Matusko asserted Julie Thurman had the gun, motive and triggerman for the shooting. The prosecutor argued the gun used in the shooting, an Uzi 9 mm, belonged to Bragi Thurman and had been taken from his gun safe by Julie Thurman.
As for motive, Matusko argued that Julie Thurman feared losing access to the house where she had lived with Bragi Thurman before their separation. (At the time of the shooting, Julie Thurman was living with Morris in a trailer in Newport, authorities say.) Julie Thurman had had free rein of the house for four months after Bragi Thurman was charged with domestic violence menacing in Lincoln County after an incident involving his wife.
Bragi Thurman had been court ordered to have no contact with Julie Thurman and to not go to the Tum Tum house. In February, Bragi Thurman pleaded guilty to the charge, admitting that he grabbed onto Julie Thurman's car when she tried to drive away during an argument and pulled on her arm. On May 17, four days before the shooting, a judge filed an order allowing Bragi Thurman to return to the house.
Matusko said that on the day of the shooting, Julie Thurman met with a victim advocate at the Lincoln County District Attorney’s office and expressed her frustration about the court order regarding the house. When the victim advocate warned Julie Thurman she could be arrested if she returned to the property, Julie Thurman told her she would have to take care of it herself, Matusko said.
Benton County Sheriff’s Office Detective Chris Duffitt testified that Julie Thurman went to the Tum Tum house in the afternoon of May 21 and is seen talking to Newell on a trail camera. According to video of the interaction, Julie Thurman accused Newell of helping Bragi Thurman and said she wanted to get her belongings from the property. During that time, Morris was at the trailer in Newport doing target practice on the property, according to witness statements.
Morris and Julie Thurman are then seen on a surveillance camera at a nearby property in a blue pickup on Tum Tum Road shortly before 9 p.m., Duffitt said. Matusko states that Julie Thurman would later tell detectives that she and Morris agreed that Morris was going to sneak up on the people on the property and that Julie Thurman should watch for them to scatter.
The prosecutor asserted that when Julie Thurman saw Bragi and Troy Thurman running down the driveway toward Tum Tum Road, she knew the murder wasn’t successful and was going to finish the job. Bragi and Troy Thurman have told detectives that they saw Julie Thurman in a pickup on the road and that she backed up at a high rate of speed in their direction, nearly striking them.
Additionally, Matusko said Julie Thurman told detectives she went up the driveway and saw that Wilhelm was injured and asking for help. However, Julie Thurman didn’t stay, the prosecutor said. Matusko said if Thurman wasn’t involved in the shooting and didn’t fear getting in trouble, she would have stayed and helped Wilhelm.
Duffitt said that deputies stopped a pickup in the area of the shooting shortly after responding to the incident. Julie Thurman was driving the truck and Jim Morris was a passenger, he said. The deputies did not yet know Julie Thurman was connected to the incident and let the pickup proceed. Shortly thereafter, deputies stopped the truck on Summit Highway and detained the two suspects, Duffitt said.
At the time of the stop, deputies found an Uzi rifle on the floorboard of the passenger seat, he said. The ammunition in the gun was the same brand as the ammo found at the scene of the shooting and also matched ammunition found in the trailer where Morris and Julie Thurman were living, Duffitt said. A 32-round magazine was in the firearm with 10 rounds remaining, Duffitt said. One spent round was found in the truck, he said. An additional unused 25-round magazine was also found in the pickup, Duffitt said.
During questioning by detectives, Julie Thurman said she saw Morris take the Uzi from the scene of the shooting "as a souvenir," Duffitt said.
Julie Thurman has not admitted to seeing Morris with the gun when she drove to the Tum Tum house, Duffitt testified during the hearing. However, he argued that the large gun would have been difficult to hide from Julie Thurman in the truck.
"There is no evidence Julie Thurman pulled the trigger, but there is evidence to suggest she is the one who made this happen," Duffitt said.
Prior to the judge making his ruling, Newell's wife, Michell Newell, told the judge that Julie Thurman should remain in jail. Newell said she was in fear for the safety of Bragi and Troy Thurman.
"Honestly, I'm scared," Newell said.
In a statement from Wilhelm read by Matusko, she begged for the judge not to set bail for Julie Thurman. She said she had comfort knowing Julie Thurman was behind bars and feared the defendant would try to hurt her again if she was released.
"In my physical condition right now, I couldn't run from her," Wilhelm wrote.