Witnesses provided conflicting accounts Wednesday of what they saw and heard when Bronson Moon Lewis Jr. allegedly attacked Julius Barthel Tripp with a hatchet and then shot him with an AR-15 rifle.
Dale Mabry and a 17-year-old Hoopa girl were both in Lewis’s Toyota Tacoma pickup truck when it pulled off the highway next to Tripp’s old truck, which was parked in a turnout. Mabry was driving because earlier Lewis had fallen asleep at the wheel and almost wrecked.
It was July 19, and the teens had all gone to a party on Tish Tang Road in Hoopa. There were five of them in the Toyota, heading toward Weitchpec, when they saw Tripp’s vehicle.
“We bumped it with the bumper,” Mabry said under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Trent Timm.
“How hard?” Timm asked.
“Just a little bit. We just got up next to it and bumped it.”
Mabry said he thought the truck was abandoned, but then Jules Tripp jumped out. He was furious and picked up a tire rim, throwing it at the Toyota and hitting the back window.
“He was screaming,” Mabry recalled. “Then Jules took off toward Hoopa, running.”
He said Lewis was angry and “kinda” cussing after the tire rim hit his truck. But they started heading toward Weitchpec again, Mabry still driving. Then they turned around and went back toward Hoopa “because Bronson wanted to.”
When they reached Tripp’s vehicle, “we pushed it over a cliff.”
“I don’t know what was going through my head.”
“Did anybody encourage you?”
“Everybody in the car.”
When they saw Tripp on the side of the road, Mabry testified, Tripp picked up a rock and hurled it at Lewis’s truck, shattering the windshield. Tripp then ran down a hill. Lewis went after him, carrying what was variously described as a hatchet, a blade and a machete.
“Jules was down the hill and then he was coming back up and Bronson whacked him with the hatchet,” Mabry said. “(Tripp) said he went down there because he was scared after he broke the windshield.”
According to Mabry, Lewis struck Tripp once on the back of the head. He heard screaming. He said he didn’t remember Lewis saying anything about going to get a firearm. But when interviewed by a sheriff’s deputy on Aug. 14, Mabry told the deputy Lewis said “Let’s go get my gun. I gotta end him.”
Mabry said he told Lewis “I can’t do it no more and I had to go home.” Yet he drove Lewis and the rest of the teens back to Hoopa, where Lewis went into a house and came out with an AR-15. Then they headed back to where Tripp was.
Lewis and “maybe Daniel,” another teen with the group, went down the bank.
“Did you hear Jules say anything?” Timm asked.
“Just screaming,” Mabry said.
While testifying Mabry became emotional several times and Judge Kelly Neel called for breaks. During cross-examination by defense attorney Russ Clanton, Mabry was agitated, complaining that Clanton was yelling at him and asking the judge “What’s the point of this guy?”
Under cross-examination, Mabry said it was him who contacted law enforcement.
“Why?” Clanton asked.
“People were trying to kill me because I was a witness to this.”
“Are you still frightened?”
He acknowledged that he was, and still is, concerned about charges being filed against him.
Lewis, 18, sat in the courtroom jury box, wearing an orange jumpsuit and a mask. He faces a maximum sentence of 51 years to life if convicted of all charges. Lewis turned himself in after Tripp’s body was found and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
During the approximately two weeks between the killing and Mabry going to police, he and Lewis exchanged messages on Snapchat. Mabry said those messages were automatically deleted because he didn’t save them.
Clanton also questioned whether Mabry had seen Tripp — or anyone — pick up a pistol from the ground. Mabry said no.
The second witness, the 17-year-old girl, corroborated some of Mabry’s testimony but also contradicted him. For example, she said Tripp jumped out of his truck when Lewis and Daniel “were knocking on his windows.” She said Tripp and Lewis got in a physical fight, “and that’s when Dale pushed (Tripp’s) truck over the bank.”
Tripp and Lewis continued to fight, “along the road, like up and down the road,” the girl said under questioning by prosecutor Timm. Then she saw Tripp running away, and Lewis getting “like a machete, I think.”
“I didn’t really see anything,” she said. “I stayed in the truck.”
Then they drove back to Hoopa, where Lewis got a gun. When they returned to the fight scene and Lewis and Daniel went down the bank, she heard Tripp “yelling at Bronson and Daniel, saying they were going to go down for attempted murder, stuff like that.”
Then she heard one shot.
Tripp’s truck was found on July 24. His remains weren’t recovered until Aug. 20. He was 42.
Testimony was expected to continue this morning, with the girl returning to the witness stand.
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