Closing arguments concluded this morning in the execution-style murder trial of Hancock County resident “Little Rick” Helmick, who is accused of putting .45-caliber bullets into the back of the heads of his father, “Big Rick” Helmick and his father’s long-time live-in girlfriend, Natasha Riley.
District Attorney General Dan Armstrong said he planned to talk about the evidence he believes points to premeditation; how the killings were “part and parcel” of taking the truck – the alleged underlying felony required for felony, first-degree murder – and how the restraint-related kidnapping of “Little Rick’s” grandmother was to facilitate flight from a murder scene.
Jury deliberations were scheduled to begin this afternoon. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, prosecutors and defense attorneys will have the opportunity to negotiate a mutually acceptable resolution.
If there’s no meeting of the minds, a sentencing hearing will ensue, and the jury will decide whether the defendant deserves life imprisonment, which means 51 years, or life without parole. Under the best-case scenario, he would not be eligible for parole until he’s 81.
Before proof in the case ended Wednesday afternoon, “Little Rick” thumbed his nose at conventional wisdom and insisted telling jurors his version of the events, including why he used duct tape to lash his grandmother to a chair.
First and foremost, “Little Rick,” “Big Rick” and Riley were drug addicts and drug dealers, and their avocation was widely known by law enforcement and people in the community.
They lived in side-by-side mobile homes in the Vardy community of Hancock County, and injected oxycodone, Opana and Valium multiple times a day. All the people with whom they regularly associated were drug addicts, according to trial testimony.
“Little Rick” told jurors that he was checking on his father’s welfare when he discovered the lifeless bodies in April 2016. Calling the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, he said, never crossed his mind.
“I wanted to find out who done it myself (and) do what needed to be done,” he testified.
He says his grandmother, Bobbie Helmick, showed up some time later to bring “Big Rick,” who is blind and has two prosthetic eyes, his medicine. Helmick, who is bedridden and testified by videotape, claims “Little Rick” came by her home earlier in the day and asked her to bring his father his pills, which were kept in a bank vault.
The defendant testified that he did not ask for the drugs, and his grandmother arrived unannounced, and went to “Big Rick’s” trailer to give him the pills he required to get him through the weekend. “Little Rick” testified he purposefully shielded her from the dead bodies and scuttled her to a bedroom.
“Little Rick” told jurors that his grandmother is prone to fall, and three days earlier had fallen and couldn’t get up. To prevent another fall, he testified, he bound her hands with duct tape, and then lashed her legs to a chair. The grandmother testified that after she was immobilized, her grandson went for the drugs “like a chicken on a June bug,” a representation he confirmed.
He said he needed time to find the killers, and that he later told his wife to check on his grandmother.
“Little Rick” said his leading suspects were a man and woman who had robbed his father before. The couple and their trailer had vanished. The defendant testified that if the couple had been at home, “they would not be alive now.”
The couple was incarcerated in Kentucky. He next went to another suspect’s house in Kyles Ford, but that man could not be found.
One remarkable feature of the suspect’s life is the frequency he injected drugs. He was already high, but preparing to inject more drugs when his grandmother rolled up. He says that immediately after he found the bodies, he injected more drugs. After being unable find the man in Kyle’s Ford, he parked his car and shot up another time.
“Little Rick” ultimately sought refuge at a trailer on Broyles Lane in Morristown that was home to a Jesse Ray “J.R.” Fox and Shane Todd, both intravenous drug users. When the defendant arrived, they injected drugs together. Todd testified Wednesday the defendant admitted to shooting two people, an assertion “Little Rick” denies.
At some point, after ditching his father’s pickup in Grainger County, he used Todd’s telephone to call his mother. That was his undoing. His mother, who apparently feared for her safety and later sought refuge at a safe house in another county, contacted Teddy Collingsworth, a criminal investigator with the DA’s office and a TBI agent.
Collingsworth contacted Todd and arranged two meetings. Todd first advanced an unsupportable lie – that he had loaned his phone to a stranger at the Cherokee Park boat dock, and that man just happened to call the mother of a double-murder who happened to be one of his pill suppliers.
Todd later came clean and told law enforcement where the fugitive was hiding. Authorities found the suspected murder weapon in the woods behind the Broyles Lane trailer.
“Little Rick” says he took the .45-caliber Hi-Point pistol from his father’s mobile home with the expectation he would be killing the person or persons responsible for the double homicide.
A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation forensic scientist testified Wednesday that the gun found in Morristown was the same firearm used to kill “Big Rick” and Riley. He said that even though his father was blind, he kept firearms at different locations for protection, and would routinely fire into the darkness when he heard someone outside.
In order for “Little Rick’s” theory of the case to be true, an unknown gunman would have had to enter his father’s trailer, remove the .45-caliber firearm from its hiding place in the sofa, shoot the couple and then return the firearm to its customary resting place.
“Big Rick” had oxycodone, oxymorphone and Valium in his system. Riley had needle tracks, which indicate past intravenous drug use, and bruises, an indicator of recent drug use, a pathologist testified Wednesday. Theirs was a May-and-December relationship with painkillers at the center.
Riley was dating one of “Big Rick’s” customers. Drug-related romance blossomed when they met. “Big Rick” was 57. Riley was 37.
The autopsy testimony included photos of the dead bodies. As the pathologist interpreted the images, the defendant lowered his head and covered his eyes. While his grandmother was testifying by tape, he averted his eyes and did not watch the video.