OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Garvin County’s top prosecutor said Monday an investigation into the shooting death of a 32-year-old man whose body was dismembered could determine whether he’ll seek the death penalty against the alleged assailant.
Justin Hammer, 31, is accused of fatally shooting Brandon Duran — his girlfriend’s ex-husband — on Aug. 7, 2002, then cutting up his body and stuffing it into concrete-filled buckets. Hammer has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder charge and faces possible penalties of death or life in prison with or without the possibility of parole if convicted.
But District Attorney Greg Mashburn said he has not decided what penalty to pursue. Hammer is scheduled to be formally arraigned on Aug. 2.
“We’re still looking around,” Mashburn said from his office in Norman. He said he is working with investigators from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to determine whether the victim may have been conscious and experienced pain after he was shot.
In order to seek the death penalty, prosecutors must have evidence that the victim suffered and his death was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.
“To meet one of the statutory aggravators, there has to be conscious, physical suffering,” Mashburn said.
Hammer has claimed he shot Duran in self-defense after Duran kicked open the back door to his home. In a video-recorded statement to the OSBI, Hammer claimed he shot Duran “right through the eye” before dragging the body into a bathroom, severing the arms, legs and head with a saw and placing the body parts in buckets.
When Hammer was asked why he dismembered Duran’s body, “he said he freaked out,” OSBI agent Marvin Akers testified at Hammer’s preliminary hearing in February.
The buckets containing Duran’s body parts were recovered on Aug. 10 in a pond on Hammer’s property in rural Elmore City, 65 miles south of Oklahoma City. Akers said an autopsy revealed that in addition to the shotgun wound, Duran had three small-caliber gunshot wounds in the left side of his head.
Friends of Hammer testified at the preliminary hearing that they overheard his girlfriend tell Hammer that Duran beat and abused her when they were married. They said she also was upset about a custody battle over the couple’s young child. Hammer’s girlfriend did not testify during the hearing.
Another friend testified he helped Hammer place the buckets in Hammer’s pickup truck but walked away when Hammer said he might need help disposing of them. The friend said he called the OSBI the next day.