TUCSON, Ariz. | A prosecution witness in the first-degree murder trial of a man accused of killing a former Sioux City resident said he had lied repeatedly to police and Pima County Attorney’s Office investigators.
Tyler Brown testified Tuesday and Wednesday in Pima County Superior Court about how he helped Bryan Lamar Lee and Reed Marrone dispose of Jordan Peterson’s body in a desert clearing in 2011.
Peterson, 21, graduated from North Middle School in Sioux City and was living in Tucson when he disappeared in November 2011. His badly decomposed body was found in a shallow grave six weeks later.
Lee, 22, is on trial for first-degree murder, aggravated robbery and kidnapping. His first trial ended in a mistrial in April when Brown said he would change his testimony from pretrial interviews he had given. Lee has pleaded not guilty.
Marrone, 21, pleaded guilty to Peterson’s murder and is serving 25 years to life in prison.
Prosecutors say Lee and Marrone killed Peterson and stole marijuana from him to avoid paying a drug debt Morrone owed him.
On Tuesday, Brown, 20, said the two men called him in November 2011 and asked if he would come to Marrone’s house to help them do something.
Once there, Brown said, the two were acting unusual.
“I felt a weird energy about the room,” he said.
Brown testified the men described how they had attacked Peterson when he entered the apartment, strangled him to death, wrapped the body in plastic and put it into the bed of his own pickup truck so they could dispose of it.
They attempted to dig a grave for Peterson, Brown said, but the hard-packed earth made the task difficult. They instead unrolled his remains from the plastic and covered his body with soil and shrubs. They stuffed the plastic into an animal hole in the nearby desert.
They later ditched Peterson’s pickup at an apartment complex, leaving his keys and wallet inside in hopes someone would steal it, Brown testified.
Brown said he lied about his involvement out of fear and that he was frightened when Marrone and Lee asked him to help bury the body.
He also said his mindset had changed since the killing, that he has stopped using drugs and now is expecting a child with his girlfriend.
“I started to consider things from a parent’s point of view instead of a criminal’s point of view,” he said.
In his cross-examination of Brown, defense attorney Joel Feinman documented more than 20 times that Brown lied previously about his involvement in the disposal of Peterson’s body.
Brown said he lied to police and the county attorney investigators in hopes they would leave him alone if they thought he was cooperating.
He has been offered a deal to testify, which requires him to plead guilty to attempted disposal of a dead body. He could face prison time or a reduced sentence of probation and have the felony reduced to a misdemeanor if he completes his sentence successfully.
He also is required to testify truthfully.
Both sides rested their cases on Wednesday. The case now awaits the jury’s decision.