Palmer jury deliberates in Houston homicide

Posted: Monday, February 19, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Murder suspect Mario Page would not have settled a drug debt by killing the man who owed him and could have repaid him, his attorney said at the end of Page's trial.

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Scott Sterling said the Palmer jury hearing Page's case would have to think the 22-year-old Anchorage man was either "stupid or crazy" to kill Terrell Houngues.

"You have to believe that he thought the way to get his drugs back or to get his money back is to order the execution of the man that can pay you back," Sterling said in closing arguments Thursday.

Page is charged with murder and kidnapping in the May 8, 2005, shooting death of Terrell Houngues on an all-terrain vehicle trail near Houston in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

The jury began deliberations Thursday and will resume Tuesday.

Defense and prosecution attorneys agree Page did not personally shoot Houngues.

Prosecutor Steve Wallace contends Page ordered the killing for retribution because Houngues stole $10,000 worth of his cocaine.

The actual shooter, according to witness Fredrick "Sherm" Johnson, was Page's girlfriend Kira Gray.

She first shot Houngues, 23, in the leg. When he screamed and cried, Page told Gray, "Babe, shut him up," according to Johnson, and Gray fired multiple shots into Houngues' head.

Another Page associate, Tommie Patterson, 27, then fired at Houngues, who was probably already dead, Johnson told jurors.

"You say, 'Shut him up?' You are not talking about taking an unruly guest to the basement because he's too drunk. You're saying, 'Kill him,"' Wallace told the jury. "That's what 'Shut him up' means."

Page's attorney disputed that explanation.

Gray, 18, had her own motive for shooting Houngues: She believed he abused her sister, with whom he had fathered two children, Sterling said.

"She was stubborn, willful, temperamental, and she went her own way," Sterling said.

Sterling said Johnson, 23, changed his story so much and testified that he could not remember so many key details that it was impossible to believe him. Johnson, he said, had access through his lawyer to police reports and court documents for months before he decided to cooperate with prosecutors. He could have been using details from those documents to embellish his testimony, Sterling said.

Johnson originally was charged with murder and kidnapping, He testified in exchange for no more than five years in prison on a charge of tampering with evidence. Sterling called the plea agreement the "deal of the century."

"Sherm will say whatever the heck he needs to say to keep that deal," Sterling said.

Prosecutors "have made an excellent case against Kira Gray," Sterling said, but "as of now they've only proved that Mario was merely there at the scene. That's it."

All four of the people at the murder scene lived in Anchorage. Wallace, the prosecutor, wondered why they ended up outside Houston if Page planned only to intimidate Houngues.

"If you're just going to give somebody a beating, you don't have to go all the way from Mountain View to Houston," Wallace said.

Patterson, Page's accused accomplice, is scheduled to start trial Tuesday. Gray's trial is set to start March 12. Johnson is scheduled to formally accept his deal with prosecutors on April 20.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com



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