Original article no longer available
The Saginaw News (MI)
July 27, 1999
Author: DAVID OSBORN; THE SAGINAW NEWS
An Owosso teen says he choked a transport officer and used the 71-year-old man’s credit card because he didn’t think anyone would catch him. “It didn’t cross my mind,” John R. Espie, 17, testified Monday, the fifth day of his trial on charges of first-degree murder and carjacking. “I really didn’t care because I didn’t feel I did anything wrong,” he added.
In his testimony, Espie described choking Nathan Nover of Owosso after the older man fondled his genitals while driving him to a juvenile center. Attorneys today were to summarize testimony and jurors were to begin deciding Espie’s fate, said Shiawassee County Circuit Judge Gerald D. Lostracco. The murder charge would carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. Police arrested Espie in a Terre Haute, Ind., hotel Nov. 26, the day after Nover’s disappearance sparked a statewide search by hundreds of police and volunteers. Authorities claim Espie killed Nover, whose body was found covered by leaves Dec. 4 near Coldwater, about 10 miles north of the Indiana border.
On Nov. 25, Nover was driving Espie from a psychological exam in East Lansing to a Bay County juvenile center, where he was lodged on charges of auto theft and violating probation. Espie testified that Nover “was very irritated” and began referring to him as “a gay little criminal.” Espie said he was in the back seat with his wrists handcuffed behind him. Nover pulled to the side of the road, reached into the back seat and touched him, Espie said. “I felt trapped,” Espie said. “I thought, Great. I’m trapped in this car with this guy who’s doing stuff to me he shouldn’t be doing.'”
He said a 14-year-old boy molested him when he was 8 or 9, adding that the incident led to recurring nightmares and heightened his reaction to Nover. Espie said he slid his cuffed hands painfully underneath him and pulled them under one leg at a time. “At that point, I just lost control,” he said. “I began to choke him. I heard a snapping or a pop, I’m not quite sure what it was.”
Espie said Nover passed out, and he slid him into the back seat, took the handcuff keys and some cash. “I started driving,” Espie said. “I was thinking I’ll find police.” Espie said he choked Nover again when he began to regain consciousness. “I was afraid. He was upset and wanted revenge,” he said. Espie said he left Nover along a road, but could not recall where. “He was alive at the time I left him because I could hear him breathing,” he said. First Assistant Attorney General Mark E. Blumer, who is acting as prosecutor in the case, questioned Espie about apparent inconsistencies in his account.
Blumer asked how Nover could have reached his left hand around to touch Espie in the back seat, and questioned how Espie could slip his hands in front of him while Nover’s hand rested on his knee. Espie frequently replied by saying, “I don’t recall.” Blumer questioned Espie about why he felt threatened by Nover, who was nine inches shorter than the youth. Espie said he didn’t seek medical help for Nover because “I didn’t think of it.”
Espie said he could not remember using Nover’s credit card to purchase pants, a T-shirt and a license plate cover at a Corunna Meijer Inc. store; to pay for a room at an Angola, Ind., hotel; for car-stereo equipment at a Meijer in Fort Wayne, Ind.; or for the room in Terre Haute. A clerk at the Terre Haute Holiday Inn processed the card and, finding a computer message indicating something was wrong, called police. Espie’s attorney, J. Kevin McKay, told jurors that his client drove around after choking Nover because “he was very distraught.”
“He didn’t know what to do,” McKay said Monday in his opening remarks. Espie’s mother, Nola Bruder, said that before Nover and her son left for East Lansing on Nov. 25, she delivered Espie a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Bruder, an Owosso elementary school vocal music teacher, said Nover confronted her when she handed him her son’s Prozac. Nover snatched a bottle from her hand, Bruder said. “He said, This is it? I had to wait all morning for this?'” she testified. “(Nover) had been using swear words and his voice was raising.” Espie was taking Prozac, an anti-depressant drug, and Ritalin, used to treat hyperactivity, Bruder said. Media attention prompted Shiawassee officials to move Espie’s trial to Saginaw County. Jerry Ernest of The Flint Journal contributed to this report. Page: 1B