In the middle of a beautiful summer two years ago, people were hiking, running, and sharing the sunshine in Flagstaff, Arizona. But some of the community’s teenagers, as in every community, were living a dark secret involving parties, drugs, and guns. If it happens in Flagstaff, it almost seems inevitable that it will happen everywhere.
On the night before Justin Jackson was murdered, he was up to no good. Justin was both a loving brother and son, and a small time drug dealer. He was out drinking, and in fact was very drunk. He got a call from a friend on the east side of Flagstaff that somebody was looking to trade marijuana for Justin’s ecstasy pills. That somebody was Micah Neumann. Justin agreed to swap drugs with Micah, but he had a different plan in mind.
Moments later, Micah showed up in the passenger seat of a car, ready to swap his marijuana for ecstasy. As Micah weighed the marijuana on a scale on his lap, Justin came up to the passenger side of the car and started pummeling Micah in the head and face with a closed fist. He took Micah’s marijuana and walked away. Micah left, too, and decided to call his drug supplier for help. That drug supplier was Jesse Collier.
Jesse Collier has a great family and strong community support. Nothing would have predicted that he held a dark secret: he was a drug dealer. And when Micah called Jesse after being beat up by Justin, Jesse revealed that he had a gun, a real one, with bullets. Jesse gave Micah a fake gun and held onto the real gun for himself. They did not decide to get revenge on Justin that night, but Justin was now on their radar.
Jesse lived with his best friend and fellow drug-dealer, Ben Hamilton. When Jesse woke up the next morning, after Micah had been beat up by Justin, Ben asked Jesse what had happened. Jesse told him, and Ben said they may have to kill Justin. The day unfolded quickly for Ben, Jesse, and Micah. Shockingly, Justin placed several calls to Jesse that day. They had never spoken before.
After one of those calls, Jesse realized that the “Justin” he spoke with is the same Justin that beat up Micah, the same Justin that was on their radar. Jesse and
Ben decided to exact revenge on Justin. The plan was simple, kind of. They would pick Justin up under the pretense of a drug deal. For some reason, Justin wanted to buy marijuana from Jesse, or at least that’s what Justin told Jesse.
Ben and Jesse drove to Micah’s house and told him to hide in the cargo area of Jesse’s SUV. Micah was told to get a blanket, and hide under it, so that he could secretly confirm that the “Justin” they were going to meet up with was the same one that jacked Micah the night prior. Ben, Jesse, and Micah drove off to meet up with Justin. On the way there, Ben tried to load a bullet into the chamber of Jesse’ gun. It jammed. Ben couldn’t get it to load. Jesse stopped the car, loaded the bullet into the chamber, and handed the gun back to Ben.
It was time.
They met up near the big movie theater in Flagstaff. Justin wanted to do the drug deal in a car wash. Jesse asked Justin to get in the car instead. They drove off. Micah secretly confirmed that it was the same Justin that had jacked him.
They drove out to a dirt road, in the far-west city limits of Flagstaff. It’s called Woody Mountain Road. Jesse took a dirt road off of Woody Mountain Road, back into the woods, into seclusion, and came to a stop. Ben said, “You robbed our runner, now you’re fucked.” He pointed the gun at Justin. Micah popped out from under the blanket. Jesse pulled a switchblade. It was an onslaught.
Justin refused to get out of the car. Ben kept the loaded gun pointed at Justin. Jesse put the knife to Justin’s throat. They all demanded Justin to get out of the car. He did.
They checked him for weapons and then ordered him to the ground. Justin laid face down on the dry Flagstaff dirt, with his hands up near his head. He looked back at his robbers, pleading for his life, “Micah don’t do this, Micah don’t do this.”
Suddenly, Ben pulled the trigger and sent a single bullet spiraling through the dry air, through the baseball cap on Justin’s head, through Justin’s skull, and out Justin’s cheek. Within minutes, Justin was dead. He was 16 years old.
Micah was the first to crack. Within 48 hours, he told the Flagstaff Police almost everything. Jesse was arrested hours before he was scheduled to fly to Italy for a pre-planned vacation. Ben turned himself in after learning that the police were looking for him.
Jesse ultimately cooperated with the police, led them to the gun (which Jesse and Ben had buried after the murder some 10 miles into the woods), showed them the victim’s cell phones (which Jesse and Micah had destroyed and buried in the woods), and agreed to testify against Ben Hamilton at trial.
Jesse testified, and so did Micah. Ben was convicted of Felony Murder, Second Degree Murder, Armed Robbery, Aggravated Robbery, Kidnapping, and Possession of Marijuana for Sale.
Ben got 27 years to life in prison. Jesse got 8.5 years. Micah got 5 years. Justin’s family… they got justice.
Flagstaff lost 4 promising young lives.