Heskett trial: Defendant says victim was ‘like an older brother’ and asked to be shot

Ronald Eugene Heskett, in a recorded police interview shown to jurors Wednesday, recalled the man he allegedly asphyxiated as a country music lover and sports enthusiast who had suicidal thoughts.

Ronald Eugene Heskett, 49, of Eudora, appears in court Aug. 14, 2015. Heskett is charged with first-degree murder in the September 2014 death of 65-year-old disabled Lawrence resident, Vance Van Moulton.

The 49-year-old Eudora man is being tried on a charge of first-degree murder in Douglas County District Court in the death of Vance “Van” Moulton, 65, of Lawrence. Heskett was a home health care attendant to Moulton, whose cerebral palsy left him almost entirely dependent on others. Moulton could not move his legs and had restricted mobility in one of his arms.

Late Lawrence resident Vance Moulton laughs as he talks with former case worker, Corey Roelofs in this Journal-World file photo. Moulton, who suffered from cerebral palsy, died Sept. 12, 2014 in an alleged homicide.

In the taped interview, Heskett said he called his boss to report Moulton had killed himself while Heskett was out running errands for him. Heskett told police that he arrived at Moulton’s Prairie Ridge apartment, 2424 Melrose Lane, around 10 a.m. Sept. 12, 2014, and found Moulton dead of apparent asphyxiation by a towel around his neck.

In photos presented to jurors Tuesday, Moulton was seen hours after he was pronounced dead lying on his right side with a gray towel twisted around his neck, the ends extending behind him.

‘Like an older brother’

In the four-hour interview, Heskett told investigators of his daily routine with Moulton. At least four times a week, Heskett said he would tend to Moulton, cooking, dressing and bathing him. Each morning, Heskett said they’d watch the Top 40 Country Countdown together on TV and talk sports. Heskett said Moulton, a St. Louis Cardinals fan, would often kid Heskett about his baseball team, the Kansas City Royals.

“We were pretty close,” Heskett said. “To me, he was like an older brother or an uncle or something.”

But about six months prior to Moulton’s death, Heskett claimed, Moulton grew increasingly pessimistic, allegedly asking Heskett daily to “shoot him.”

“Anything that happens, if it doesn’t happen perfect, it was against him,” Heskett said. “Every day he was upset about life.”

Heskett claimed Moulton was especially irritated with his living arrangements. Heskett told detectives that Moulton was angry with his landlord because Moulton felt the landlord caused a prior health care attendant to be fired.

Moulton also was allegedly torn by the thoughts of his medical condition, Heskett said.

“He thinks about it all the time, ‘What if I didn’t have cerebral palsy? My life would be so different,'” Heskett said.

Suicidal thoughts

Heskett said that he tried to console Moulton. He said he relayed to Moulton his own prior suicide attempt. Heskett said he told Moulton “things got better” after he survived an attempt to shoot himself with a rifle in the late 1980s.

Heskett also claimed that he tried to get Moulton to see a counselor, but Moulton wouldn’t have it.

“I told him one time to get something (for mental health) and he said, ‘Don’t you dare,'” Heskett said. “I couldn’t go against the client.”

Moulton allegedly asked Heskett to have his son shoot him, but Heskett told him, “You’re not sending my son to prison.” Heskett claimed that Moulton said he would call police and tell them he requested the shooting and request that no one be prosecuted.

Twisted towel

Though Heskett in the video claimed Moulton rolled the gray towel, wrapped it around his neck, bunched up the ends and laid on it to kill himself, Douglas County Coroner Erik Mitchell testified Wednesday that couldn’t have been the case because of Moulton’s limited dexterity.

“It would not be possible (for Moulton) to arrange the towel in that way or to maintain pressure long enough” to cause suffocation, Mitchell said. “The towel couldn’t have been twisted to compress the neck by lying on it.”

But when investigators asked Heskett in the interview if it was possible Moulton could have “done something like this on his own,” Heskett attested that Moulton could.

“(Moulton) can pull himself around on that bed,” Heskett said. “His cerebral palsy affected his legs … his right arm and hand was just a good as yours or mine.”

Mitchell testified that the positioning of Moulton’s body at death — lying on his right side, rolled slightly toward his abdomen with his arms crossed in front — would have rendered even his mobile right arm ineffective.

“At the time of death, the right arm is immobile by gravity,” Mitchell said. “He is unable to accomplish strangulation due to his physical deformities.”

The trial will continue Thursday and is expected to last through Friday.