Confronted with a murder accusation in the death of a police informant, two men accused each other of being the one who punched the informant repeatedly, tied him up and gagged him, stripped him naked and dumped his body in the woods behind a cemetery.
What is certain, according to a police affidavit unsealed Thursday, is that 29-year-old James W. Hawkes IV was working as a confidential informant when he approached Jimmy Dewan Fears in a controlled drug buy overseen by the Polk County Inter-Agency Narcotics Team, or POINT.
The affidavit doesn’t reveal how Fears, 44, learned of Hawkes’ role as an informant, but on Dec. 11, Fears and Zachary Thomas Mersch, 24, met Hawkes at a Polk County motel.
Both Fears and Mersch are charged with aggravated murder, which could carry the death penalty, though each insists he was a bystander and the other man killed Hawkes.
Both men acknowledged being present while Hawkes was beaten, shocked with a stun gun, hogtied and gagged. Though each pointed the finger at the other, neither said another person was involved.
Authorities say Hawkes was rolled in a blanket and stuffed in the bed of a pickup truck – Fears and Mersch disagree on whether he was still alive at this point – and the pair drove around Polk County, looking for a place to dump the body.
On Dec. 29, someone spotted Hawkes’ bruised remains behind the Pedee Cemetery in Polk County, about 70 miles southwest of Portland. His face was unrecognizable, but a shamrock tattoo on his right arm gave him away.
Police started to get in touch with Hawkes’ associates and a police officer in Independence tracked down Mersch.
“Mr. Mersch admitted that he and Mr. Jimmy Fears became aware that Mr. Hawkes was an informant working with POINT and they confronted Mr. Hawkes about this,” Polk County Sheriff’s Deputy John Williams wrote in the affidavit.
The Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office has conducted an autopsy, but the Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton said Friday afternoon the report was not yet complete and he hadn’t yet decided whether he would release its results when it is.
“These are always complicated matters and that the situation is developing,” said Fears’ attorney, Steven Krasik. “I have no information yet because we’re awaiting to see what a grand jury does.”
An attorney representing Mersch was could not be reached on Friday morning.
Mersch apparently gave police few problems during his arrest, but Fears proved to be another story. Police were trying to find him on an unrelated warrant, and at his apartment, they found Fears with his 15-year-old daughter.
A glitch in their computer system stalled the officers, who say they then watched Fears run back into his apartment and lock the door. He emerged several minutes later, his daughter “yelling and cussing” at the police. As he was being cuffed, Fears tried to hand his wallet to his daughter but police say they intervened.
A trial for both men has tentatively been set for Feb. 19.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.