OGDEN — Dalton Aiken told an Ogden courtroom that he did not kill a homeless man in 2018.
Aiken, one of two men charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of 28-year-old Brian Racine, took to the witness stand Tuesday afternoon.
He began to testify shortly after the state rested their case, allowing the defense to begin theirs. The first person they called as a witness was Aiken.
That night, Aiken told the court that he had gone to the home of the other defendant — 35-year-old Cory Fitzwater — to help a neighbor break up some concrete. Aiken testified that he had known Fitzwater since high school. The two were friends: they regularly went trap shooting together and Aiken said on the witness stand that he would buy marijuana from Fitzwater.
When Aiken arrived he could tell Fitzwater had been drinking, he told the court, saying he could tell Fitzwater was slurring his words. At the neighbor’s house, they continued drinking while breaking up the concrete. Aiken estimated that he had five beers, while Fitzwater had 10.
Aiken testified that he and Fitzwater then decided to go to the 21st Street Pond area, because the two needed to have a “guy talk” about marital issues between Fitzwater and his wife. Before they left, Aiken grabbed an ice tea and Fitzwater grabbed some beers, a bag of marijuana that Aiken left at the neighbor’s house and a gun.
Aiken was asked if he thought it was odd that Fitzwater brought a gun with them. He responded that it was not out of the ordinary.
“Cory always has a gun,” Aiken said.
After a pit stop at a gas station for a burrito, Aiken drove Fitzwater to a parking lot near 17th Street, he said. Aiken said he had been there many times before going back to when he was young, and was familiar with the area. The two smoked marijuana and talked about Fitzwater’s issues and his need for additional money to help pay for a home he just closed on, Aiken said.
The two began walking, when Aiken said he saw Fitzwater drop something. Aiken picked a bullet up off the bike trail the two were walking on, and he could see that Fitzwater had a handgun pressed to his chest.
They began to approach what Aiken believed to be a homeless camp, and could see glowing embers from a fire. Aiken testified that Fitzwater was ahead of him when Fitzwater walked up to a man laying on the ground. The two mumbled words to each other before the man on the ground sat up, causing a cat laying next to him to run away. When that happened, with his focus distracted by the cat, Aiken said he heard a gunshot.
Aiken began to run. “I was running like a chicken with my head cut off,” he told the courtroom. “I didn’t know what to do.”
He heard a voice and stopped. Fitzwater ran up to him and gave the gun to Aiken before they both kept running. He had to hold the gun against his backside as he was running so it wouldn’t fall out. Those details came back to him in the days after the shooting, Aiken told the courtroom.
Aiken got back to the truck first and unloaded the gun, removing the magazine and bullets from the chamber. Fitzwater came back to the truck about 10 to 15 minutes later.
In that time, Aiken said he was scared what Fitzwater would do if he left him, saying that Fitzwater has PTSD, military training and experience and knew where Aiken lives.
With Fitzwater in the car, the two left. Little did they know that a Weber County Sheriff’s Office deputy had seen the marijuana left in the car and was positioned to pull over the truck once it began to move. Aiken was arrested for possessing the marijuana, which was in a baggie and visible from his pocket at the time of the traffic stop.
At the time of his arrest, Aiken said he had not slept in “well over” 24 hours, he said on the stand Tuesday. He was interviewed by different detectives at the Ogden Police Department off and on for roughly five to six hours.
He denied that he and Fitzwater were at the pond to assault and harass homeless people, as prosecutors said in opening arguments was the reason they were at the pond. Aiken claimed that he said that statement to police after hours of questioning.
“I didn’t think they would stop unless I told them what they wanted me to say,” Aiken said.
He said they were not there to kill homeless people, and he had no idea that Fitzwater would shoot anybody.
What happened next prompted the jury to leave the courtroom as defense attorneys and prosecutors could discuss if it could be allowed. Ultimately, Judge Camille Neider allowed a transcript to be read of what Aiken said to himself while detectives were out of the interview room, but the camera was still recording.
The jury, later allowed back in to hear the statement, heard a tearful Aiken read the transcript of him appearing to pray in the interview room.
“I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it. I’m so scared, help me please,” Aiken read, choked up and tears forming in his eyes. “No body believes me, I should have told the truth to the cop when he pulled me over. My life is over, I didn’t do it.”
Neider noted that the statement was admissible and could be allowed as a reference to Aiken’s mental state at that time, not as to if he committed the crime.
After being questioned by one of his attorneys, Rand Lunceford, Aiken was questioned by Deputy Weber County Attorney Matthew Hansen.
Hansen pressed Aiken as to why he originally mislead police, making up stories and saying at first he never heard any gunshots.
“I was scared and just wanted it to go away,” Aiken said.
Hansen pointed out that at one point during Aiken’s interview, he says he wanted to “come clean” and set the record straight, but instead he told another story that ended up being untrue.
Aiken would go on to say that his reasoning for not telling the truth to investigators was because he was scared of the police, Fitzwater and all the circumstances behind the shooting.
“I’m surprised I even knew how to drive my truck,” Aiken said.
Aiken ended his testimony just after 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Jurors were then excused for the day and will be back in court Wednesday for another day of the trial.
Included in those who testified Tuesday was the mother of the victim, Brian Racine. She told the court that Brian grew up in Alameda, California, just south of Oakland. He suffered from substance abuse and had mental health issues, but moved to Utah in order to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Weeks later, she fell out of contact with her son, which worried her. One day she called local police asking them to find Brian, and an officer said he would call her back. The next day, she was told the horrible news: her son was dead. Brian had two brothers, and photos were shown of him and his family.
Aiken’s trial will continue Wednesday morning in Ogden’s 2nd District Court.