After only five hours of deliberation Thursday, a jury declared John Patrick Bruner guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of William Heyniger, 52.
The 12-member 3rd District Court jury also found Bruner, 22, guilty of aggravated burglary and burglary in the 1987 case in which two Emigration Canyon homes were ransacked and Heyniger, a family guest at one of the homes, was shot four times and killed.Bruner, who looked straight ahead and showed no emotion when the verdict was read Thursday evening, was ordered to appear before Judge David S. Young Tuesday to receive a possible death penalty for the murder.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Robert Stott told jurors that the two neighboring homes were burglarized in the same fashion and both were the work of Bruner.
"His signature, just as if he wrote his name, was left at both the homes," he said.
During earlier testimony, Bruner admitted he had burglarized the two homes. He denied killing Heyniger, however.
But Stott said the evidence against Bruner was overwhelming.
"To believe his story you would have to believe some incredible, incredible coincidences," Stott said, adding that Bruner was essentially saying, "somebody else came after me, burgled the house and killed Mr. Heyniger.
"He wants you to believe another burglar had the same signature as him."
Stott also reminded the jurors of previous testimony from the defendant's ex-girlfriend, Sherry Mattingly, who said Bruner told her he had shot Heyniger as the man begged for mercy because he mistook the victim for the homeowner, who he believed stole the house from his father.
"When he picked up that gun, he intentionally planned to finish the burglary," Stott said. "He put that gun to his face and executed Bill Heyniger."
Defense attorney Lynn Brown told jurors that the evidence was all circumstantial.
"There's no direct evidence in this trial to explain what happened on Sept. 11 in the house where Mr. Heyniger was tragically shot," he said.
Brown said the prosecution had downplayed Mattingly's testimony because it was unreliable and questioned why she had withheld knowledge of Bruner's supposed confession for nine months while she continued to have a relationship with him.
"What type of person would have this information that a murder had been committed and not contact the police?" he said.
"There's no question about the burglaries. The only question is the question of the homicide and that boils down to Sherry Mattingly versus John Bruner," he continued. "She's not on trial, but her testimony certainly is."
In previous testimony, Bruner denied confessing the murder to Mattingly and said they had just gone through an emotional breakup when she went to the police with the story. He admitted entering the Smith home that morning with the intention of committing a burglary, but said he left before taking anything because he heard voices and was frightened. He said he then went next door and took a VCR, a camera and other items.