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Two men accused of being involved in a murder near downtown La Grange have had their cases sent to the Oldham County Grand Jury for possible indictment.
Henry Schultz-Eggenspiller, 22, and Roberto Cabrera Jr., 46, were arrested May 11 by La Grange Police on charges related to the death of Justin Rogers, 24, in what police have called a drug transaction that went south. All three men are from La Grange.
Schultz-Eggenspiller has been charged with murder and tampering with physical evidence while Cabrera is charged with complicity to commit murder and trafficking in a controlled substance.
But at a preliminary hearing held last week to determine whether there was probable cause to send the two to a grand jury for possible indictment, attorneys for both men started to build a case for self-defense for their clients.
At the hearing, La Grange Police Detective Ray Whitehill gave testimony about what police knew about the case, while being questioned by County Attorney John Carter and defense attorneys Steve Romines, representing Schultz-Eggenspiller, and Mike Goodwin, representing Cabrera.
According to Whitehill, La Grange Police first became aware of the incident after receiving a call from Schultz-Eggenspiller, who explained that he was involved in a drug transaction gone wrong when Rogers tried to sell Schultz-Eggenspiller “something he didn’t want.”
During the initial call, Schultz-Eggenspiller told police he didn’t intend to kill Rogers and that he wanted to turn himself in, Whitehill said.
According to Whitehill, the events began when Schultz-Eggenspiller initially reached out to Cabrera about “knowing someone who could get him lortabs,” in which Cabrera replied he could help facilitate such a transaction with Jessica Martin, a co-worker of his.
Sunday evening, Schultz-Eggenspiller and Cabrera drove to 402 East Washington Street in La Grange to purchase the painkillers, where Martin and Michael Rogers, the brother of Justin, were.
According to the testimony Schultz-Eggenspiller gave to police, when he arrived at the residence looking for lortabs, he was instead given a plastic bag containing pills that he didn’t believe were lortabs. When Schultz-Eggenspiller confronted Michael Rogers about the contents of the bag, Michael called his brother over to the house.
Whitehill said Schultz-Eggenspiller told police he asked for his $400 back after believing he was deceived. The Rogers brothers asked to discuss the matter with Schultz-Eggenspiller outside and when the three men exited the house, Schultz-Eggenspiller said he was punched by Justin Rogers in the head and both men started to beat and kick him.
At that time, according to Schultz-Eggenspiller, he called for help from Cabrera, who ran outside. But when yelled at by Michael Rogers to leave, Cabrera took off running down the street, according to the testimony.
Whitehill said according to Schultz-Eggenspiller’s account, the Rogers briefly stopped their attack, which allowed him to get to his car in the driveway. Schultz-Eggenspiller then opened his passenger side door, opened his glove box and pulled out a .45 caliber handgun.
According to his account, Schultz-Eggenspiller turned to see Justin Rogers charging him with a computer chair. Schultz-Eggenspiller told police he told Justin Rogers to stop attacking him and when he didn’t stop his progression, Schultz-Eggenspiller fired one shot “toward his abs.”
Schultz-Eggenspiller then fled the residence, going to his girlfriend’s apartment to shower before she told him to leave her residence too, Whitehill said. That’s when Schultz-Eggenspiller called police and confessed, Whitehill said.
Cabrera confirmed that account Monday morning at the police station, Whitehill said.
Under questioning from Romines, the attorney for Schultz-Eggenspiller, Whitehill told the court that Martin and Michael Rogers gave different accounts from each other and from Schultz-Eggenspiller.
Whitehill said Martin claimed Justin Rogers was inside the home when he was shot, while Michael Rogers claimed his brother was shot when Schultz-Eggenspiller tried to rob the two during the transaction.
So far, blood swabs, the pills recovered at the scene and other evidence has been sent off for testing, but has not come back yet, Whitehill said.
In an attempt to convince District Judge Jerry Crosby of his client’s version of events, Romines asked Whitehill if a black computer chair was found at the residence. Whitehill said one was found, with a hole and a red substance on it, but that it had not yet been tested for evidence.
Romines also said that when police found Schultz-Eggenspiller, he had several bruises and injuries, proving he had been attacked. Whitehall confirmed Schultz-Eggenspiller still had a bloody nose, as well as several injuries when police picked him up 90 minutes after the incident occurred.
Romines also said Schultz-Eggenspiller and Cabrera hadn’t communicated before giving statements to police about the incident, further proving his client acted in self-defense and not malice in the situation.
Goodwin, the attorney for Cabrera, said his client shouldn’t be charged with complicity because he wasn’t even at the residence. In fact, Cabrera told police he didn’t know Schultz-Eggenspiller had a gun in his car and was blocks away when he heard the gunshot, Goodwin said.
“He told you he didn’t see a gun, didn’t get involved in the fight and you didn’t check him for injuries,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin also raised the issue of past armed robbery issues with Justin Rogers. A check of Justin Rogers’ records shows charges of terroristic threatening in 2008, burglary, criminal mischief and criminal trespassing in 2007 and another charge of intimidating a participant in a legal proceeding, also in 2007.
The defense attorneys also asked why Michael Rogers and Martin weren’t charged with trafficking in a controlled substance as a result of the incident. Whitehill said the police investigation was still ongoing.
After that, Carter motioned to add a trafficking in a controlled substance charge to Schultz-Eggenspiller, which Romines objected to.
“Based on the testimony we don’t know it was a controlled substance and the detective said he was a purchaser who never received the goods,” Romines said.
But Crosby allowed the new charge.
After the testimony, Romines made a motion for immunity from the charges on Schultz-Eggenspiller, because he said the testimony showed his client was acting in self-defense.
“I’m not requesting a hearing on this at this time, but the court must consider if he’s immune,” Romines said. “And if he is, it starts right now.”
Goodwin, the attorney for Cabrera, also made his case to dismiss charges on his client.
“There’s no probable cause he was complicit in murder,” he said. “Nobody said he was there at the time, he had no idea it escalated to the point Schultz-Eggenspiller fired a gun, apparently in self-defense. In terms of trafficking, there’s no indication he was doing the trafficking or attempted to.”
But Carter argued to move the charges forward to the grand jury.
“At the time the defendant shot the victim, he had gone back to his car,” Carter said. “He had the opportunity to leave, but instead of leaving he got his gun when the victim was inside his house. So there wasn’t an immediate harm (for the self-defense claim).”
Carter said Cabrera also couldn’t dodge the complicity charge just because he was running down the street at the time of the shooting, because the law puts responsibility for Schultz-Eggenspiller’s actions on Cabrera as well, as an original party to the incident.
“He doesn’t get off by the mere fact he left before the victim was murdered,” Carter said.
After the testimony and arguments, Crosby found probable cause to send both men’s charges to the grand jury. The grand jury meets the third Friday of every month, meaning the two could be indicted as soon as mid-June.
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