Jurors in the 18th District Court deliberated about 1 1/2 hours Friday before finding Cleburne resident Nico Cogdill guilty of capital murder. The verdict gives Cogdill an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.
Cogdill, 23, stood trial for the Sept. 21, 2011, death of Rio Vista resident Richard “Ricky” Eugene Warren. Jurors found one of Cogdill’s co-conspirators, Chad Bukowski, 26, of Burleson, guilty of capital murder in November and sentenced him to life without parole. The third suspect, Paul Milne, 27, of Cleburne, awaits trial on the same charge.
The three, who had only met a few days beforehand, broke into Warren’s mobile home that night intending to rob and kill him, prosecutors said during Cogdill’s trial.
Bukowski, according to evidence entered in his and Cogdill’s trials, was the only one of the three who knew Warren before the night in question. Bukowski and his girlfriend lived at Warren’s home for a time until Warren’s mother and sister became concerned that Bukowski was taking advantage of and stealing from Warren and made him move out.
The plan was to steal Warren’s TV, guitar, laptop and other property to sell for drug money and for Cogdill and Milne to kill Warren to assist their chances of gaining entry into the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang, prosecutors argued. Bukowski is, or at least claimed to be a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, or know members, prosecutors said.
According to testimony and evidence entered during Cogdill’s trial, Bukowski gathered and stole items from Warren’s home while Cogdill and Milne entered his bedroom, where he was asleep, and beat him to death with a large crescent wrench.
Prosecutors entered the wrench as evidence, partially covered in Warren’s blood, and graphic crime scene and autopsy photos of Warren’s face and head wounds during Cogdill’s trial. They also entered the shirt Cogdill told police he wore that night, which tested positive for traces of Warren’s blood.
Cogdill’s attorney, Patrick Barkman, argued that Bukowski lured Cogdill and Milne to Warren’s home that night under false pretenses and that Cogdill initially thought they were going there to buy, sell or take drugs. Barkman further argued that, while Cogdill is no angel, neither is he a killer and that he did what he did under duress.
Cogdill, during interviews with law enforcement officers, initially claimed he never touched Warren, but later said he hit Warren between one and four times with the wrench. Although Cogdill never took the stand, Barkman argued that he did so because he was afraid of Bukowski and that Bukowski held a shotgun on him that night and told Cogdill he would kill him and/or his family if he did not cooperate.
Barkman insinuated that the less serious facial wounds on Warren’s body may have come from Cogdill while the more severe wounds on the side and back of his head occurred while Milne “savagely beat” Warren.
“The less serious injuries were to Warren’s face,” Barkman said. “Not to say it’s OK to hit someone with a pipe wrench and only cause moderate injuries, but it matches Nico’s statements.”
Barkman said pictures of the crime scene, which show “blood everywhere” in Warren’s bedroom contradict assertions made by prosecutors.
“If you believe Cogdill beat Warren to death are you also to believe that he only got two small spots of [Warren’s] blood on his T-shirt, or even if he was just standing by?” Barkman asked jurors. “How reasonable does that sound to you? Or, maybe the more reasonable is Cogdill’s details of the events.”
Johnson County Assistant District Attorney Martin Strahan rejected such notions as absurd.
Strahan reminded jurors that Cogdill, in a video jail interview, admitted to having struck Warren one to four times with the wrench and said Warren awoke and began to raise up after the first blow. Cogdill, in the video interview, also “unconsciously” touches the side of his head and the back of his head, the location of two of Warren’s most severe injuries, when asked by a detective where he struck Warren.
Strahan argued that a crime scene picture of Warren’s bed also contradicts Cogdill’s version of the events. The picture shows a blank spot on a pillow, presumably where Warren’s head lay, with large blood stains on either side and a large blood stain on the blanket or sheet hanging off the side of the bed. Warren’s sister, who lives in a house on the same property, discovered Warren shortly after, facedown on the floor of his bedroom covered in blood and barely breathing. Warren appears to have died while his sister was still on the phone to 911.
Strahan argued that, had Warren raised up after the first blow as Cogdill claimed, the two sides of his pillow would not be soaked with blood. Strahan said that, had Cogdill only inflected the moderate wounds to Warren’s face, as Cogdill claimed, they would not have produced the large amount of blood found on the pillow.
Cogdill as patsy
Throughout the trial, Barkman continued to argue that Cogdill’s video, written and email statements remain consistent save for the fact that Cogdill initially denied hitting Warren. Barkman argued that Bukowski planned the crime.
“Nico Cogdill did not kill anyone,” Barkman said. “Nico Cogdill did not go to Ricky Warren’s house to kill anyone. So why was he there? Because Bukowski is a poser, a wannabe who had been sponging off Warren and he had a plan. But he needed two things, because he certainly wasn’t going to do it himself. He needed a psycho, Milne, and he needed a patsy, Nico.”
Cogdill and Bukowski reunited briefly on Thursday afternoon. Barkman called Bukowski as a witness. Bukowski, citing Fifth Amendment rights, refused to testify and taunted Cogdill as deputies led him out of the courtroom.
“You’re coming to my world, Nico,” Bukowski said. “You’re coming to my world. Get ready.”
Barkman, on Thursday, also called an inmate, Richard Dale Wise, to the stand outside the presence of the jury.
Wise said he used to live in a Keene trailer park where Bukowski also lived and that the two later did time together at the Johnson County Law Enforcement Center. Wise said he did not know Cogdill.
Wise said Bukowski discussed Warren’s killing while in jail.
Wise said Bukowski told him that he, Cogdill and Milne went to Warren’s that night to steal Warren’s property but then told Cogdill and Milne that Warren was an old roommate of his and pulled a shotgun on Cogdill and Milne and forced them to attack Warren.
18th District Court Judge John Neill sustained Strahan’s objection, which barred Wise from testifying before jurors.
Barkman argued that, in all his statements, Cogdill claims that Bukowski threatened him and his family and that he did not know Bukowski and Milne planned to kill Warren until they arrived at his home.
Strahan countered that Cogdill willingly took part in plans to rob Warren, that he knew that Bukowski brought a hammer, wrench, gun, gloves and a ski mask to the scene.
“What did he think?” Strahan asked jurors. “That they were driving to a church social?”
By willingly participating in plans to rob Warren, Strahan argued, he should have also known a there was a reasonable chance that Warren could have been seriously injured or killed and that as such, even if Cogdill never touched Warren, he would still be guilty of capital murder.
The evidence, however, overwhelmingly points toward Cogdill’s participation in Warren’s beating death, Strahan said.
“Bukowski is trash,” Strahan said. “I agree with the defense on that. But at least he had some malice toward Warren. What kind of person does this to someone he’s never even met before? [Cogdill] did, right there.”
Cogdill appeared resigned and showed no emotion as Neill read the jury’s verdict. Cogdill told Neill he wishes to appeal his case but does not have the funds to hire an attorney. Neill told Cogdill an appellate attorney will be assigned to him. Deputies then handcuffed Cogdill and led him from the courtroom.
Strahan estimated that Milne’s trial will probably be scheduled within the next few months.