SAN DIEGO – A former Playgirl model has been convicted of second-degree murder in connection with the beating death of Jason “Cowboy” Huggins, a beloved figure in the local LGBT community.
A jury comprised of six men and six women returned the verdict on Friday, the day after the prosecutor and the defense attorney presented their closing statements in the courtroom of Judge Theodore M. Weathers.
Joshua James Larson, 38, of San Diego will learn how much prison time he will face at a future sentencing hearing. He faces up to 20 years to life in prison, according to the state's sentencing guidelines.
During the trial, which began Sept. 5, prosecutor Makenzie R. Harvey painted a picture of an angry, revengeful Larson who was determined to get even with Huggins, whose testimony during a criminal trial helped convict Larson. She noted that Larson served 88 days in jail for that conviction, then another 79 days at another time after Larson violated his probation.
Harvey used witnesses, security video and GPS data to prove her case. She acknowledged to the jury that her case against Larson was not full of forensic evidence, but that her star witness and other evidence would be enough to convict Larson.
She presented evidence that Larson crossed paths with Huggins and his boyfriend, Nathan Meza, at the McDonald’s in Hillcrest between 4:16 and 4:48 pm on June 22, 2011 – a fact that was not disputed by defense attorney Peter Will. She used GPS data, security video and witnesses to prove that Larson followed Huggins and Meza to the “Camelot” canyon where the two men were living in a tent compound.
Meza, the star witness, testified that Larson threatened to burn them to death in the tent and then attacked him and Huggins with a large, smooth rock. Meza said he fled from the tent, climbed up the canyon off Washington Street at state Highway 163, and sought treatment at a nearby hospital. He was admitted into the hospital at 5:48 pm, records show.
Meanwhile, Huggins crawled out of the canyon and was seen on a security video at about 6:02 pm. He called 911 at 6:12 pm and was taken to a nearby hospital. Suffering from severe brain injuries, Huggins lingered in a coma for two weeks, while members of the LGBT community, friends and relatives held vigils in public parks and at the hospital. Huggins died of his injuries on July 6, 2011.
Peter Will, the defense attorney, tried to convince the jury that Huggins was the victim of a gay love triangle that ended tragically with domestic violence. He said Chad Lucas and Nathan Meza were both in love with Huggins, and that Lucas had been rejected by Huggins on the afternoon of the vicious beating and had admitted during testimony that he had laid his hands on Huggins that day. The defense attorney blamed Lucas for the death of Huggins.
Larson, however, did not have an alibi for his whereabouts during the attack. The jury apparently did not agree that GPS data supported the defense’s claim that Larson was walking east on Washington Street toward El Cajon Boulevard and was about 5 minutes away from the crime scene at the time of the attack.
Also damaging were jailhouse recordings between Larson and his mother. Such recordings are automatically made by authorities.
In the recordings, Larson never denies attacking Huggins and Larson’s mother expressed disappointment that her son “hadn’t let it go yet” after Larson admitted that he knew the man who in the hospital after being badly beaten.
During her closing statement, Harvey said:
"Revenge, retaliation, and payback is why this man [referring to an on-screen photo of Cowboy] is dead. He held the defendant accountable for his actions and now he is dead. Can a single witness’s testimony be sufficient? Nathan Meza's [testimony] could be sufficient. Rarely do you have one person who witnessed most of the events, who also has lots of pieces of evidence that corroborate his testimony."
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at [email protected], @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to (877) 727-5446, ext. 713.