It only took the jury an hour to come to a guilty verdict in the case of Jordan Michael Heathco, 31, who was standing trial for the attempted murder of Matthew Dean, and the murder of a Kiowa man, Benjamin Keith Wagner Zotigh, 24, in Hobart, Oklahoma. The jury recommended the maximum sentence, life for the shooting with intent to kill charge and life without parole for the charge of first-degree murder. Formal sentencing is set for April 3rd by District Judge Richard Darby.
The murder was apparently a random killing, as the shooter and victim barely knew each other; Heathco occasionally worked at a liquor store that Zotigh occasionally patronized.
On the evening of January 4th 2011 Heathco arrived at a party he had been invited to and, with no provocation, within 30 minutes he pulled a semiautomatic gun and shot Zotigh five times.
Heathco then attempted to shoot another man, Matt Dean, while Dean successfully wrestled the gun away from him. Heathco fled, but soon turned himself into the Kiowa County Sheriff’s office, where he told the attending officers “I have killed many people.”
Zotigh was rushed to the hospital, but could not be saved.
Ben Lucero Wolf is Zotigh’s biological uncle, but he had been raising Zotigh since infancy, so they considered each other father and son. Though he lives in California, Wolf went back to his hometown of Hobart to try to get answers from the trial.
“They couldn’t figure out why he shot Benjamin,” Wolf said. “And this is what we’re finding out; there is no motive.”
Wolf said in the testimony it came out that on the morning of the murder Heathco had an argument with his Grandmother, whom he worked for in her liquor store in Hobart. He started drinking that morning after the argument, while working. According to Wolf, there was testimony in court that Heathco had a drinking problem and he had a prescription for anti-depression drugs, but the prescription had not been refilled in almost a year.
According to District Attorney John Wampler, the trial primarily focused on the mental state of the defendant at the time of the shooting as the defense asked the jury to find Heathco not guilty by reason of insanity.
According to Wolf, his sister (Zotigh’s Aunt,) Sophie Cordova, was at the party; she felt one of the bullets go over her head.
“My sister’s traumatized, my nephews and nieces are traumatized,” Wolf said. “All of our lives were changed by this, and people don’t understand what we’re going through.”
Wolf said that after the trial was over he apologized to the D.A., their Victim’s Advocate, and the investigators on the case. “I jumped all over them,” Wolf said. “They threatened to arrest us and argued with us; I didn’t think they were doing their job. I thought they were looking at us like we were stupid Indians.”
The family was pleased with the verdict. “We were very happy and surprised because the law doesn’t always work for the victim.”
Sadly, Benjamin was not the only member of his family to be randomly killed. His brother, Shane Dean Zotigh, 20, was shot and killed in Long Beach, California in 2002.
Wolf has started an organization, the Native American Indian Parents, Family, and Friends of Victims of Murder Program, through California State University, Dominguez Hills. The organization is there to give support to American Indian people who have lost love ones to violence or murder through memorials.