by SEAN KIMMONS
A Buda murder suspect representing himself in court was portrayed by prosecutors on Friday as a racist Christian extremist with a history of hatred.
Mark David Simmons, 52, has said he accidentally shot his longtime friend Steven Woelfel in April 2010 while he stayed at Woelfel’s home at 1132 Live Oak Loop. Simmons said previously that he spent about a week to plan his next move before he stashed the body in the garage and set it on fire.
The Rockport resident has pleaded not guilty, claiming that years of U.S. government surveillance altered his state of mind at the time of the killing.
During proceedings on Friday, Texas Ranger Jimmy Schroeder, a lead investigator in the case, testified that after Simmons’ arrest, white supremacist books and navigation devices were found in his belongings, among other items.
Before his capture following a lengthy standoff in Branson, Mo., prosecutors argued that Simmons traveled to the home of Mike Hallimore, the founder of Kingdom Identity Ministries, a far-right Christian ideology group based in Harrison, Ark. The organization takes militant positions on the mixing of races, abortion, homosexuals and other issues.
Simmons defended himself by stating that his visit to Hallimore’s home could be excused because he was trying to annoy the U.S. government aircraft that were pursuing him across several states.
“I’m intentionally doing things to piss them off and to aggravate whoever was surveilling me,” a clean-shaven Simmons, wearing a yellow polo shirt and gray slacks, told the court.
Simmons also added that his former intimate partners were of different races; therefore, being part of Hallimore’s group would be contradictory.
Once in custody, testimony revealed that Simmons was interviewed by an Arkansas officer investigating Hallimore’s group after a pipe bomb was discovered in a church. According to testimony, Simmons allegedly informed the officer that 55-year-old Woelfel, who had a Mexican girlfriend, deserved to die.
In court, Simmons questioned the statement and asked Texas Ranger Schroeder if he had any recollection of it. Schroeder replied that he sent the officer’s report to Hays County Sheriff’s Office to follow up on.
Schoeder testified that one of the books in Simmons’ possession was “Vigilantes of Christendom: The History of the Phineas Priesthood.” The book, he told the court, is based on the Biblical character Phineas, who is said to have killed a mixed-race couple to draw favor from God.
The priesthood has also been associated with violent acts, including bombings at abortion clinics and Jewish schools, Schroeder testified. He also pointed out that “avenger of blood,” a reference to Phineas, was scrawled on charred pieces of paper in what appeared to be Simmons’ handwriting located in the burnt garage, along with an apparent to-do list on how to clean a crime scene and dispose a body.
Simmons then attempted to discredit Schroeder’s investigative tactics, asking if he was a “good ol’ boy” looking for a cheap and easy conviction.
“The investigation was taken in the direction of where the evidence took us,” Schroeder testified.
Later, Dr. Kendall Crowns, deputy medical examiner at Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office, described the fatal shot, testifying that the bullet passed straight down from the top of Woelfel’s head into his spine.
To debunk the prosecution’s theory that the shooting was execution style, Simmons told the court that he was not directly above Woelfel, who he said was knelt down packing a duffel bag when Woelfel pulled out a 9mm pistol from the bag and waved it toward his direction. Simmons then quickly grabbed another pistol nearby and shot Woelfel at an angle from a few feet away, he said.
Crowns said the wound did not appear to be the result of an angle shot but rather from a direct downward position, similar to an execution.
During interviews from behind bars with the Hays Free Press, Simmons has said he did not intend to shoot his friend. He claimed that he was stricken with paranoia due to the supposed government intrusion, which put him on edge.
Simmons is charged with murder, a first-degree felony; arson, a second-degree felony; and tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony. If convicted, Simmons could face more than 120 years in prison.
The trial is scheduled to reconvene Monday.
SEAN KIMMONS reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.Email | Print