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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Amick murder trial underway in Alton

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Leona Maxine Vaughan
On Tuesday, June 28, two-and-a-half years after the charred remains of a rural Myrtle woman were found inside her daughter's home with six bullet holes in her head, Oregon County jurors began hearing the case against defendant Michael Amick, 34, of rural Myrtle.

Amick was charged Dec. 5, 2008, with first-degree murder and second-degree arson in connection with the death of Leona Maxine Vaughan, 67, his grandmother-in-law. Amick has been in the Oregon County Jail since that time with bond set at $1 million.

Springfield defense attorney Dee Wampler began his opening remarks by pointing at shoddy investigation work by the Oregon County Sheriff's Department, and a key witness he described as "a doper."

Oregon County Prosecutor Fred O'Neill argued that the witness' timeline of events clearly puts Amick at Vaughan's residence at the time of her death and that he had a motive to kill her.

Wampler asked in January 2009 that Amick's bond be reduced to $100,000. Oregon County Associate Circuit Court Judge Jo Beth Prewitt denied the request., she said, based on the seriousness of the crime.

Prewitt has since recused herself from the case, which is now being heard by Missouri Assistant Attorney General Kevin Zoellner of Jefferson City.

Thirteen jurors, four women and nine men, were selected Monday, June 27, from a pool of 56 prospective jurors in a five-hour selection process with O'Neill and Wampler.

Amick is accused of shooting Vaughan to death at the home of Jackie Risner (Vaughan's daughter) near Myrtle and then setting the house on fire about 11:20 a.m. Dec. 2, 2008. Amick is married to Vaughan's granddaughter, Sara (Jackie Risner's daughter). An autopsy of Vaughan's badly burned body revealed gunshot wounds, caused by a small-caliber weapon, killed her.

Jake Mayberry, who was then 19, testified that he saw Amick's truck at the Risner residence as Mayberry drove to the nearby Myrtle store at 11:20 a.m. A few minutes later, Mayberry reported seeing the Risner home on fire when he drove past, after leaving the store.

Despite several objections by O'Neill, Wampler repeatedly asked Mayberry whether he had marijuana in his system that day and whether he was sure it was Amick's truck he saw at the Risner home. Wampler referred to a January 2009 deposition when Mayberry said he disagreed with people who may have said he has a reputation as a doper.

"If we all got to pick our reputations, we would all be astronauts," Mayberry said.

"You may be flying high, but it's not as an astronaut," Wampler said.

At the time, Sheriff Tim Ward, who retired on Dec. 31, 2008 after opting not to run for reelection in November 2008, went by Amick's residence on Dec. 4, 2008, after a witness reported seeing Amick load items into his truck, as if preparing to move, according to court records.

Ward reported seeing an oxy-acetylene torch in the back of Amick's truck.

The following day, a search of Amick's property revealed evidence a cutting torch had been used next to a pond on Amick's property. Pieces of a .22-caliber pistol were found in the pond, court records indicate.

Amick has denied being at the Risner residence that morning. Phone records from that morning show that Amick was at his mother's house, about three miles from the Myrtle Post Office, at 10:25 a.m. Dec. 2. Amick met his brother and another man for lunch about two miles south of the Risner home at 11 a.m., according to the second man. A Myrtle Cafe waitress told authorities Amick and the men came to the restaurant around 11:30-11:40 a.m. that day.

The report further states that Vaughan had secured a loan in March 2008 at a local bank for about $21,000 using as collateral a 2007 Honda van titled to Amick. The loan carried a credit life insurance policy. Upon Vaughan's death, the policy would have covered the loan balance.

The first to testify in the case was Kent Risner, Jackie Risner's ex-husband, who said he called Vaughan at 10:56 that morning, and that she sounded "in a hurry," which was unusual for their conversations. Vaughan had been living with Jackie for about two months at the time of her death. Previously, she lived with Michael and Sara Amick.

The trial is set to run five days.

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