by SEAN KIMMONS
A Hays County jury on Monday watched the confession of a Buda murder suspect who has claimed that he accidentally shot his longtime friend in the head during a time of heightened paranoia.
In a videotaped interview with Hays County Sheriff’s Office detectives, Mark Simmons said he shot Steven Woelfel while he stayed at Woelfel’s home in the 1100 block of Live Oak Loop in April 2010.
Simmons, 52, spent about a week at the home planning his next move before he stashed the body in the garage and set it on fire. The Rockport resident, who is representing himself, has pleaded not guilty, claiming that years of U.S. government surveillance altered his state of mind at the time of the killing.
On Monday, presiding Judge Bill Henry hinted to jurors that the slow-paced trial could run into next week.
Simmons has often protested throughout the proceedings, declaring he hasn’t received a fair trial. The defendant’s numerous objections, many of them trivial and overruled, have sometimes sparked frustration from prosecutors. At one point, Henry warned prosecutor Cathy Compton to be silent during one of Simmons’ objections or she would be held in contempt.
Simmons has also been adamant that prosecutors haven’t released copies of evidence to him, in particular video footage he captured of low-flying aircraft that he alleges were spying on him. In the video shown in court, jurors heard Simmons preach to detectives of his strong beliefs in the 9/11 conspiracy, offering that the U.S. government staged the attacks to justify going to war in the Middle East.
After detectives entertained his ideas, Simmons spoke of the fateful day. The video showed Simmons play out the incident, saying that Woelfel, 55, was kneeling down packing a duffel bag for an upcoming camping trip when he suddenly pulled out a 9mm handgun to show off, waving it toward him.
“He comes out of the duffle with a pistol and says, ‘what you think about that, chief?’” Simmons said.
Simmons slapped the pistol away, he said, and grabbed a nearby Browning .22 caliber pistol. As he pointed the pistol at Woelfel’s head, Simmons began to reply, “How do you like it?” But a bullet is fired before his words come out, he said.
“It was an accidental discharge,” Simmons said in the video. He argued that the pistol, owned by Woelfel, had no safety.
When one of the detectives asked if he felt remorse, Simmons denied it.
“I didn’t feel very much,” Simmons said. “Does that make me cold-blooded? I don’t know.”
He then told detectives that he cleaned the crime scene, rolled the body in a tarp and wheeled it out in a garbage bin to the garage, along with any other evidence that could identify him.
In the audience, family members of Woelfel cried as the video played on.
On April 17, 2010, Simmons said that he lit candles and cut the gas lines to the stove. He then lit a fire in the detached garage and drove away in his mother’s car.
As firefighters rolled onto the scene, a blast erupted from the house when the burning candles ignited the leaked natural gas. No one was injured, and Simmons has denied that he intended to hurt anyone.
He just wanted to destroy the crime scene, he said.
“I was hoping that it would blow up and I could get away,” he said in the video.
Murder suspect Mark David Simmons is arrested in June 2010 after a standoff with law enforcement.
Last week, 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 is openly against the mixing of races, Jewish people, abortion, homosexuals and other groups.
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.
Schroeder 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.
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.