Jury finds man guilty of murder in Home Depot parking lot hit-and-run case in Cedar City

The 5th District Court courthouse building in Cedar City, Utah, June 8, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — A man accused of deliberately running over another man with his car in a Cedar City parking lot more than two years ago has been found guilty of first-degree murder.

Jacob Schmidt (in white shirt) and his lawyers stand in court during the first day of Schmidt’s murder trial, Cedar City, Utah, May 22, 2023 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Wednesday afternoon, after approximately two-and-a-half hours of deliberations, an eight-member jury returned its verdict against Jacob Wayne Schmidt, finding him guilty of murdering 37-year-old John Daniel Sineath on Sept. 7, 2020.

Fifth District Judge Ann Marie McIff Allen presided over the three-day trial and scheduled Schmidt’s sentencing for July 18. Schmidt, who was 25 years old at the time of the incident, faces at least 15 years and up to life in prison.

During the first two days of the trial, prosecutors called nearly one dozen witnesses to the stand, including both of Schmidt’s parents, eyewitnesses who were in the parking lot, law enforcement officers, jail inmates, a physician, a man who had employed both Schmidt and Sineath, and the woman who’d originally sold the car in question to Schmidt.

That vehicle, a Dodge Stratus, was a key focal point throughout the trial.

Prosecutor Shane Klenk began his opening statement on Monday by quoting from a voice message that Schmidt had reportedly left for his mother the day after the incident.

Responders at the scene of a fatal hit-and-run incident in a parking lot, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 7, 2020 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“‘Mom, I’ve got to burn the car. I’ve killed somebody. I don’t know what to do. Call me back.,’” Klenk said. “Those are the words of the defendant, Jacob Schmidt, spoken to his mother in a voicemail the day after he killed John Sineath. The car he wanted to burn: a 3,000-pound weapon, a 1998 Dodge Stratus.”

Prosecutors said Schmidt had been angry about a dispute he’d had with Sineath over a transaction involving the sale of a purported handgun that never materialized but for which Schmidt had reportedly paid money. 

When he came down the canyon from Duck Creek Village after another failed rendezvous with Sineath, Schmidt was “unhinged with rage,” according to Klenk.

The next evening, on Labor Day, Schmidt found Sineath in the Home Deport parking lot in Cedar City, Klenk said.

Responders at the scene of a fatal hit-and-run incident in a parking lot, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 7, 2020 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“The defendant drove there in his ’98 Dodge Stratus wearing a dark paisley bandana around his face and a hat on his head,” Klenk said. “And when he saw John Sineath walking in the parking lot, he snapped.”

After narrowly missing Sineath with his car the first time he drove at him, Klenk said Schmidt ran over him on a second pass, causing traumatic injuries that led to his death a couple of hours later.

Once again referencing Schmidt’s voicemail about burning the car, Klenk noted that the message was deleted by his mother and not recovered by police. 

“However, the defendant’s parents called the police and recounted this voicemail and a conversation he had with his father,” Klenk noted. “The defendant told his father that he had an accident at the Home Depot. He told his father there was an argument over a gun and that the guy wanted more money.”

Cedar City Police released this surveillance image showing the Dodge Stratus suspected of being involved in a fatal hit-and-run incident in the Home Depot parking lot, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 7, 2020 | File photo courtesy of Cedar City Police Department, St. George News / Cedar City News

Throughout the first two days of the trial and up until Tuesday afternoon when the state rested its case, several witnesses testified regarding Schmidt’s involvement. 

Various pieces of evidence were presented, including transcripts of text messages between Schmidt and Sineath over a period of several days leading up to the incident, along with DNA and other evidence found in and around the car. A video of Schmidt’s initial post-arrest interview with Officer Justin Chappell, then a Cedar City Police detective, was also played in court. 

On Wednesday morning, the defense rested its case without calling any witnesses. However, defense attorneys Clifford Gravett and Shain Manuele, in their respective opening and closing statements, pointed out to jurors that the defendant is presumed innocent until proven otherwise, and that burden rests upon the state to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Manuele pointed out what he said were inconsistencies in some of the witnesses’ statements and said someone else may have also had access to the vehicle.

“If the state cannot prove he was the one in the vehicle at that time, you do not need to continue your analysis,” Manuele said in his closing statement. “You do not need to go forward. That element fails and Mr. Schmidt must be found not guilty.”

Jacob Schmidt appears in court for a pretrial conference, Cedar City, Utah, May 16, 2023 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

However, in his rebuttal, Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson reminded jurors of the voicemail Schmidt had left his mother and the statements he made to his father effectively rule out the possibility that there was an alternative culprit.

“Somebody else didn’t call their mom and leave a voicemail saying that I killed somebody in a car,” Dotson said.

Although 10 people (six women and four men) sat on the panel during the trial, only eight jurors actually went into deliberations, with one man and one woman sitting out after being designated as alternates. The jury’s deliberations lasted from approximately noon until about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, after which their verdict was read in court.

In previous recent court appearances, Schmidt had sported long hair and a mustache while wearing an orange jail-issued jumpsuit; however, during the trial he was clean-shaven with a short haircut, dressed in a white shirt and tie.

Schmidt will remain in Iron County Jail until his July 18 sentencing, Judge Allen said.

Dotson issued the following written statement to Cedar City News after the verdict was read:

The murder of John Sineath was an absolutely senseless act of violence committed in broad daylight. This kind of brazen violence has no place in our community and won’t be tolerated. I am grateful for the service and verdict of the jury. Jacob Schmidt will now be held accountable for his actions as he faces a lengthy prison sentence that is mandated under Utah law.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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