Prosecutors spent Tuesday solidifying a possible motive in the April 2016 execution-style murders of “Big Rick” Helmick and his girlfriend, Natasha Riley, in Hancock County, and establishing a timeline that increasingly suggests the dead man’s son, “Little Rick” Helmick, was the only one with opportunity.
Testimony in the first-degree murder trial resumed this morning with key witnesses scheduled to testify.
The elder Helmick, who was blinded in a crash and had two prosthetic eyeballs, had prescriptions for oxycodone, Valium and the ultra-powerful opiod Opana. The father sold some of the pills, and his son helped, according to District Attorney General Dan Armstrong.
After the dead bodies were discovered in horrific fashion, “Little Rick” urgently left Hancock County in his father’s Dodge Ram pickup. “Little Rick” chauffeured “Big Rick,” and sometimes ran errands for his father, “Big Rick” had a hard-and-fast rule the vehicle was not available for “Little Rick” to run the roads.
“Little Rick” landed at a ramshackle mobile home on Broyles Lane in Morristown, the modest abode of Jesse Ray “J.R. Fox, a self-described one-time painkiller addict who bought pills from the Helmicks, Fox testified Tuesday.
Fox told jurors the murder suspect arrived with an ample supply of Opana, oxycodone and Valium, which he gifted to Fox and a roommate for the privilege of crashing at the mobile home for three nights.
Helmick was carrying a .45-caliber Hi-Point pistol. Fox, a convicted felon, mentioned buying the gun from “Little Rick,” but it wasn’t serious offer, Fox testified, because he was a drug addict, and all the dollars he scraped together went to painkillers. Fox said he was antsy about the firearm because he is a convicted felon.
Hamblen County Deputy Dustin Jordan was part of a search team that scoured the woods behind Fox’s trailer after law enforcement officials took “Little Rick” into custody. Jordan testified he noticed what appeared to be a newly created leaf pile. The .45-caliber Hi-Point was wrapped in fabric beneath the leaf pile, Jordan told jurors.
Fox testified he was also worried about the pickup, which he was certain had been stolen. Helmick and Fox abandoned the pickup at the boat launch in Grainger County, just north of the Olen Marshall Bridge, a spot Fox called the “concrete beach.”
A Hancock County grand jury indicted the younger Helmick for two counts of premeditated murder and two counts of first-degree felony murder. In order for jurors to find Helmick guilty of felony murder, they must conclude that he killed during the commission of a felony, in this case the alleged theft of the pickup and pills.
Father and son were the closest of neighbors. The younger Helmick lived with his wife, Becky Helmick, in a mobile home that was connected to his father and Riley’s mobile home by a 35-foot deck. The elder Helmick and his wife ate their last supper with the younger Helmick and his wife.
After the meal, the father and Riley retired to their mobile home. The son followed with some leftovers. That was the last time Becky Helmick saw her father-in-law and Riley alive, she testified Tuesday. Helmick told the jurors she didn’t hear any gunfire, but the television was blaring.
Becky Helmick would play a central role in the unpleasant events that unfolded the following day.
The older Helmick kept his medication under lock and key at a bank. His mother, Bobbie Helmick – the defendant’s grandmother - controlled access to the pills, and would retrieve them from the bank when he requested, according to Armstrong.
On the day following the victim’s last supper, the younger Helmick allegedly used his dad’s cellphone to call Bobbie Helmick and instruct her to clean out the safety deposit box and bring all the pills to him, according to the prosecutor, who introduced a surveillance video showing Bobbie Helmick retrieving the pills.
The son was waiting inside his father’s trailer when his grandmother arrived with the pills. He allegedly directed her away from the two dead bodies and spirited her to a bedroom, where he allegedly used duct tape to temporarily immobilize her in a chair. Bobbie Helmick didn’t know her son and his girlfriend were dead until she freed herself from restraint.
Around the time Becky Helmick and a juvenile female family member heard Bobbie Helmick’s screams, the younger Helmick sped away in his father’s pickup. At some point, “Little Rick” told his horror-stricken grandmother that he was leaving to find the person responsible for the killings and repay him in kind.
Bobbie Helmick, who is now bedridden and is expected to testify today in videotaped direct examination and cross-examination, related this assertion to Becky Helmick, and that’s what she told a 911 dispatcher.
What appears clear after two days of testimony is that unless “Little Rick” believed his father’s killer to be inside a rickety mobile home on Broyles Lane in Morristown, he did not conduct a comprehensive search.
Teddy Collingsworth, a criminal investigator with the DA’s office, is also expected to testify today.
Greg Eichelman, Third Judicial District public defender, says trial strategy is always subject to change, but he anticipates “Little Rick” will testify.