Greenlee convicted of 2nd-degree murder

The January trial and conviction of a Cortez man for second-degree murder cast a spotlight on the shadowy world of methamphetamine use in Montezuma County.

Farrell Greenlee, now 35, killed 23 year-old Marcie Stewart with a shotgun blast to the face on Dec. 12, 2003. Both were reportedly high on meth at the time. Although Greenlee maintained the shooting was an accident, he was swiftly convicted by a jury on Jan. 28, 2005, in district court.

Of nearly two dozen witnesses called by the prosecution, five admitted being former “tweakers,” users of the drug, which is popular in the Four Corners area. They painted a picture of an underground culture of people in their teens, 20s or 30s, most with little money, who struggle to hold jobs, maintain relationships and raise kids while on a ceaseless quest to get high.

Greenlee was depicted as a sometimes intimidating man who liked to go everywhere in a black hat and black trench coat, carrying a short-barreled shotgun in the pocket.

After Stewart’s death, rumors swirled around the county about one or two murdered bodies being dumped somewhere in the area. Stewart’s mother, Opal, also of Cortez, filed a missing persons report on her daughter Jan. 6, 2004. And police began hearing second and third hand accounts of the killing from various informants.

But the body was not found until Feb. 29, 2004, when Gale Greenlee, the defendant’s father, discovered it stuffed into a small refrigerator in a remote area of his 3,000acre ranch off County Road H. The battered, dirty refrigerator sat in the courtroom through much of the trial, a grim reminder.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Hughes contended that Stewart “was slaughtered by the defendant” and that Greenlee had talked in October 2003 of someday killing a woman and hiding her body.

Defense attorneys David Greenberg and Will Herringer argued that the death was accidental and the subsequent cover-up was done by “three people deeply enmeshed in the drug culture who didn’t trust the police.”

Having a blast

Much of the prosecution’s case rested on the testimony of former users, some of whom were given plea bargains in exchange for their help. Doug Murdock, who was Stewart’s boyfriend, and Mari Wareham, Greenlee’s girlfriend, were both present when the shooting took place and were originally charged with first-degree murder, as was Greenlee.

Under his plea bargain, Murdock was allowed to plead guilty instead to being an accessory to reckless manslaughter, a Class 5 felony. He also was allowed to plead to possession of less than 1 gram of methamphetamine and to have other charges dropped relating to a Dec. 17, 2003, drug raid on his house.

He has yet to be sentenced, but can receive up to three years in prison for the offenses.

Murdock, 31, who described himself as an unemployed tire repairman, testified that he had had an intimate relationship with Stewart on and off for 12 years, and had resumed seeing her not long before her death.

He started shooting meth in the early ’90s, he said, and became addicted “probably the first time I done it.” He claimed to have stopped after Stewart’s death.

In December 2003, he and Stewart were living in his rented home on Highway 160 east of Cortez, doing meth together and having frequent visitors who also came to use meth. On the morning of Dec. 12, Greenlee showed up unannounced, along with Wareham, whom Murdock had not met before.

Murdock said Greenlee was wearing his trademark black trench coat and carrying a shotgun as usual. “We rounded up the meth that he had and I had and we all did a blast together,” Murdock testified, saying the four injected the drug.

Then Murdock went out to his truck to get his cigarettes. “I was high,” he testified. “It makes you feel, you know, like your mind is thinking faster than normal.”

While outside, he heard the boom of a shotgun.

Greenlee came out and calmly told him there had been an accident, Murdock recounted. He went inside, passing Wareham, and saw Stewart lying on the bed, shot in the face.

“I asked Farrell what the F was wrong with him, and he replied to me that it had been an accident but ‘that’s what you do with a loaded gun’,” Murdock testified.

Greenlee, he said, demanded his keys and cell phone – standing with shotgun in hand, finger on the trigger and the barrel pointed toward Murdock from 3 feet away. “He said I needed to be quiet and not talk to anybody about it or he’d send me clean out the other side like he did Marcie,” Murdock stated.

Greenlee put Stewart’s body in the trunk of his car and the two men loaded the bloody mattress into Murdock’s pickup.

Murdock said he wanted to run, but was afraid for himself, his ex-wife, and his son, then 5. “He said if I talked to anybody that my son’s blood would be on me.”

Greenlee and Murdock drove down the canal road to Greenlee’s father’s land near the base of Mesa Verde, where they dumped the mattress. Murdock didn’t see what happened to the body. Scared to go home, he went to his mother’s place outside Cortez and crashed, sleeping for two days. He returned home on Dec. 17 and later that day was arrested, along with several other people, in a drug raid in which police found meth and remnants of a lab in his garage. When later interviewed by investigators about Stewart’s disappearance, he at first claimed to know nothing about it because he was still afraid of Greenlee, he said.

Inconsistent statements

Murdock also testified that while in the county jail on Jan. 13, 2005, for a probation violation, Greenlee came through the central area, spied Murdock through the window in his cell, and mouthed that he wouldn’t make it to testify. Murdock said he can lipread because he has hearing problems.

His account was later partially confirmed by Deputy Joseph Yen, a detentions officer, who testified that while on duty he had spotted Greenlee standing a foot from Murdock’s cell “glaring” in at him.

On cross-examination, Herringer brought out a number of inconsistencies between Murdock’s prior statements to police and his testimony in court. For instance, during one interview with detectives, Murdock said Greenlee’s shotgun was in the bedroom after Stewart was shot, rather than in Greenlee’s hand.

Herringer noted that several witnesses had described Murdock as possessing firearms although he claimed he did not. As a convicted felon (for theft in Texas), he is not supposed to have firearms.

Herringer also called as the only defense witness a woman from the probation department, who testified that on Jan. 13 of this year Murdock tested positive for THC and methamphetamine – indicating he had not quit meth as he said.

Herringer said police had pressured Murdock into fingering Greenlee for murder. “You knew what they wanted to hear,” he said.

“Yes, I did,” Murdock replied, but he did not back off his contention that the killing seemed deliberate.

‘Loves him deeply’

Wareham, the only other person in Murdock’s home that night, gave a different version of the shooting, maintaining that it was accidental. Wareham was allowed to plead to being an accessory to criminally negligent homicide in exchange for her testimony. The 35yearold testified that she had known Greenlee five years, that they were “friends and lovers” and that she still “loves him deeply.”

She said she and Greenlee were frequent meth users at the time of the killing, though she has quit since, and that she did the drug “pretty much as often as I could.”

On Dec. 12, 2003, she and Greenlee went to Murdock’s looking for meth, she testified. They were all in the bedroom, the men standing, Stewart lounging on the bed and Wareham sitting at the end of it. Wareham said Stewart and Greenlee seemed to be talking about something of his that Stewart hadn’t given back, but the talk seemed friendly.

When Murdock went out to get his cigarettes, Stewart asked to see Greenlee’s shotgun, Wareham testified. He refused and “they just started acting like two little kids,” Wareham said. In her version, they playfully fought over the gun, with Stewart reaching upward for it. She heard Stewart say something like, “Not in my face.”

Wareham leaned to the floor to get cigarettes from her purse, and “that’s when the gun went off,” she testified. She felt something hit her face and arm – something that turned out to be Stewart’s blood. She turned and saw Stewart had been shot.

“My first thought was that it was some sick joke,” she said, “that it was all a fake.” But she saw Stewart’s face was gone.

She said Murdock, rather than being scared into silence, had been carrying a small handgun of his own and was the one who didn’t want to tell police. But she also brought up something that had been rumored as a possible motive for Stewart’s killing. Wareham testified that, after the shotgun blast, Greenlee talked on the phone with an unidentified person who told him Stewart had been a drug informant working for the police.

He was surprised, Wareham said, and did not know that before the killing. The prosecution also called Calinda Forrestal, 21, a former meth user, who testified that in October 2003 she was at a party with other “tweakers” when she heard Greenlee speaking of how he could kill a woman and hide her body where no one could find it. She said she’d received nothing in exchange for her testimony.

The defense’s Herringer argued that the talk was “tweaker drama,” a term for wild, exaggerated and sometimes paranoid tales told by meth users. As she walked out through the courtroom, Forrestal bent to give a lengthy hug to Stewart’s mother, prompting the defense to move for a mistrial, saying the action would prejudice the jury. Judge Jeffrey Wilson denied the motion.

Byron Fish, another former meth user, testified that in mid-December 2003, Greenlee asked if he could borrow a backhoe from him. He also said Murdock showed him the blood in his closet and told him about the killing, first saying it had been accidental, later that somebody had “put his gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.”

Fish said he replied, “That ain’t no fing accident, that’s murder, man.”

However, Dr. Michael Benziger, a pathologist from Montrose who performed the autopsy on Stewart’s body, testified that she was shot from 2 to 8 feet away. He also said she had no wounds or residue on her hands, indicating they hadn’t been holding the gun or been in its path.

The actual murder weapon was never determined, as shotgun pellets can’t be traced through ballistics tests.

A horse named Thistles

In one of the strangest parts of the saga, Gale Greenlee described how the body came to be found.

Hearing rumors of Stewart’s death, investigators searched the Greenlee property for a week or 10 days in February 2004 but found nothing. They had given up when, on Feb. 29, Gale Greenlee received a letter from his son, then in jail. The letter included a curious statement about being sure to take care of their cat, “Thistles.”

“We never had a cat named Thistles, but we had a horse named Thistles,” Gale Greenlee said. “I was thinking, Farrell’s trying to tell me something.” The horse had died and been buried on the property a few years earlier, so Gale Greenlee walked to the area and found the refrigerator with the body inside. He called police immediately. He testified he loves his son dearly but that Farrell would have known he would call the law upon finding the body. In closing arguments, however, Hughes charged, “He thought his father would carry out his plan and get rid of the body, and his father had enough integrity not to do it.” Hughes scoffed at the idea the shooting was accidental, that “the gun just magically went off.”

“You don’t put a loaded shotgun in someone’s face and have your finger on the trigger,” Hughes said. He recalled Wareham’s testimony: “You don’t snitch and you do not rip people off.”

But in his closing arguments, Herringer reiterated there was no evidence Greenlee knew Stewart was an informant. He said the police had just decided this was a murder and set out to prove it, regardless of the evidence. The jury disagreed, returning its verdict in only 2 1/2 hours. In addition to second degree murder, they found Greenlee guilty of tampering with evidence. He is to be sentenced March 11.

Hughes told the Free Press the jury had shown “great courage and wisdom in rendering their verdict. I think it’s a real victory for the community.”

From February 2005.