During the preliminary hearing for murder suspect Ryan Anthony Tanner, eyewitness Christopher Champagne has testified under oath that he first watched Tanner cut Jason Garrett’s throat, then a few hours later shoot Garrett and his dog with an assault rifle.
But Champagne has also testified under oath about witnessing events that are difficult or impossible to believe.
On Tuesday, testifying under cross-examination by defense attorney Russ Clanton, Champagne recounted his visit to Tanner’s father’s house on Blue Slide Road on the day of Garrett’s murder. He hadn’t been in the house since he was a kid, and he now discovered a room transformed into a chamber of horrors.
In the room were eight king-sized beds, covered in a material similar to a school bus seat or an airport shuttle, Champagne recalled. In the corner, a queen-sized bed was made up with a hand-stitched down comforter. But above that bed he saw spattered blood, bone fragments and tissue “from whoever got shot.”
On three or four of the king-sized beds he saw spots of old, moldy blood. He thought someone had been raped there.
Champagne looked through an old notebook and its pages were smeared “with dots of meat or flesh.”
The windows in the house were tinted, so one could see out but not in. The curtains had been ripped down, apparently used to wipe up blood, then thrown into a wood stove. They were “half-way burnt,” Champagne recalled.
“Did you see anything else unusual?” Clanton asked.
“Yeah. It looked like I was going to be the next victim.”
He then went on to describe a battery and jumper cables, with a deteriorating human finger clamped in one of the cables. He said he showed Tanner and asked him, “Is this your finger?”
“He laughed and said, ‘You’re a sick son-of-a-bitch. I thought it was yours.’”
Along with the other suspicious items in the room, Champagne saw a device “set up for chopping flesh or limbs to put into the fire.”
It was in that house, Champagne said, that Tanner forced Garrett and him into a bathtub and killed Garrett and the dog with one shot. On Tuesday Champagne added some new details, saying at one point he managed to get the rifle away from Tanner. He also said the fatal bullet had grazed his upper right arm.
Another detail: Champagne believed law enforcement officers were lurking around the whole day. When they were at Tanner’s father’s house, he was able to see police cars — one Chevy and one Dodge — on the main road 20,000 feet away.
“I have really good vision,” he explained.
Tanner suspected Garrett — along with Champagne and many other people — of stealing from houses on the mountain. Earlier that day Tanner had discovered a substantial amount of his marijuana was missing.
Although Garrett was ultimately killed by a bullet, earlier in the day at another property Tanner had slit Garrett’s throat from ear-to-ear after Garrett spit in his face and told him “Fuck you.”
Champagne said blood was squirting from Garrett’s neck, and he could see his Adam’s apple “hanging out.”
Champagne used a piece of his shirt and some duct tape to wrap the wound. Then, he testified, the three went to Tanner’s house. Tanner’s marijuana trimmer Robert Norris was there, and according to Champagne, Norris and Garrett had a friendly chat.
They ate tacos, smoked cigarettes and weed, “laughed and chuckled,” watched a movie and got drunk.
As the cross-examination wore on, Champagne’s testimony got wilder.
He said he and Tanner drove to the top of Tanner’s property to bury Garrett and his dog. They drained about half the water from a 400-gallon tank, then managed to tip the tank over and release the remaining water. The plan was for a grave under the water tank. Tanner ordered Champagne to dig a hole “big enough for both of you.”
According to Champagne, he kept digging while Tanner walked down to his house, showered and changed his clothes. Then Champagne dug for two hours, watching from his hilltop perch while Tanner engaged in a firefight with numerous uniformed officers.
Tanner killed six officers, Champagne recalled. He saw Tanner build a sort of teepee, put the bodies inside and set it on fire.
Much of the testimony Tuesday was undoubtedly new information for the prosecutors, Deputy District Attorneys Whitney Timm and Jessica Acosta.
Champagne was scheduled to take the witness stand again this morning and to testify until at least noon and possibly beyond. Today is his third day of testifying.
The Outpost plans to resume coverage when the next witness is called.
Judge John Feeney is presiding over the hearing. Several days ago Feeney denied the defense motion to have Champagne withdrawn as a witness.
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