Arrests made in murder of Monett man

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Barry County Prosecu-tor Johnnie Cox has filed felony charges against southwest Missouri men in connection with the murder of a Monett resident.

Michael Huggins, 26, of Springfield, was arrested Tuesday on second degree murder charges, and Gary Lynn Dillard, 31, of Monett, was charged with hindering prosecution for allegedly warning Huggins of his pending arrest. Both men are being held in Barry County Jail.

Huggins is accused of beating 21-year-old Joshua Utter to death sometime on the night of Sept. 24 or the early morning hours of Sept. 25. Utter's badly beaten body was discovered by Missouri Department of Conservation employee Jerry Craig at Stubblefield Access on Flat Creek near Jenkins on the morning of Sept. 25. Law enforcement officials now believe Utter was killed where his body was found.

An autopsy performed by the Greene County Medical Examiner revealed that Utter's death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head, which led to a fatal brain stem injury. The medical examiner reported Utter's injuries were consistent with being kicked in the head.

According to a four-page affidavit of probable cause submitted by Detec-tive Robert Evenson with the Barry County Sheriff's Department, Huggins was the last person seen with Utter. One witness told officers that Utter left the home where he had been staying in Monett with Huggins late on the evening of Sept. 24. She said it was the last time she saw Utter alive.

The same witness also told officers that Huggins returned to her home during the day on Sept. 25 with his foot and ankle wrapped in an ace bandage and that he refused to tell her how he injured his foot.

Evenson's affidavit also states that when Huggins was interviewed and asked when he learned about Utter's death, Huggins told officers he found out between 9 and 10 a.m. on Sept. 26. Evenson told Huggins there was no way he could have heard about Utter's death at that time because the body was not identified by law enforcement officials until 2:30 p.m. on that day.

Other witnesses reported that Huggins was "messed up on Xanax, meth and marijuana" on the night of Sept. 24 and that he told various individuals that he had "beaten a guy badly" and that is how he'd hurt his foot.

According to the affidavit, another witness alleges that Dillard brought Huggins clean clothing on that night and took away the "dirty/bloody" clothing Huggins had been wearing. Additional witnesses told officers they also noticed that Huggins changed into different clothes on the night of Sept. 24.

The affidavit of probable cause also offers the statement of a witness who claims Huggins said he "was going to get Utter" for allegedly "messing around sexually" with the daughter of one of Huggins' friends.

During an interview with Evenson, Huggins told the detective that he was at Dillard's home in Monett from 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 24 until 9 or 10 a.m. on Sept. 25.

The arrests of Huggins and Dillard follow a three-week murder investigation conducted by the Barry County Sheriff's Depart-ment, the Monett Police Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

According to Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly, additional arrests are a possibility in this case.

"I wish to commend all of the investigators who put in many long hours during this investigation," said Sheriff Epperly. "Without their hard work and diligence this case may not have ever been solved.

"With the strong Monett connection in this investigation, investigators worked out of the Monett Police Department," Epperly added. "I want to thank Monett Police Chief Tim Schweder for providing space for all the investigators and Lt. Greg Brandsma for acting as the case agent and organizer. The working relationship between the three agencies involved was harmonious and proved to be very effective."

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