Tuscola County Courthouse

Recollections vary of night man was shot

Two different pictures were painted of a Fourth-of-July gathering that turned into a violent-crime scene.

Witnesses were called to testify at the Wednesday preliminary exam for Trevor Payne in Tuscola County District Court. Everyone agreed that Payne shot Trevor Betzing at Betzing’s home in Vassar Township. 

But the events that led up to the shooting were disputed by those who witnessed the incident. 

At about 11:30 p.m. July 4, Tuscola County Central Dispatch received a call about a domestic dispute in the front yard of a home in the 4000 block of Brown Street in Vassar Township. When police arrived, they found Betzing had been shot in the head.

(Retired Bay City) Judge Kenneth Schmidt heard two versions of what occurred that evening. In one scenario, Betzing had gotten into an argument with his wife, who assaulted him. A short time later, as she was in the front yard with two of her daughters, ages 17 and 19, and their male friends, the 21-year-old Payne and a 20-year-old male, Betzing came out of the house and grabbed his wife, asking her to remain at their home. After he released her, Payne, who had retrieved a firearm from his vehicle, first aimed the weapon at Betzing’s mother and father, and then fired at Betzing.

In another scenario, Betzing’s wife was slapping her husband to snap him out of what she called a “blackout.” When Betzing’s wife and the four young adults went outside to leave, Betzing ran out of the house and assaulted his wife, who testified that Betzing had her in a headlock when she heard the gunshot. 

At the Wednesday prelim, Schmidt heard witness testimony from Betzing, his father and Tuscola County detective Sgt. Scott Jones, who were called to the witness stand by Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene. And from Betzing’s wife and oldest stepdaughter, who were called by Payne’s attorney, Jason Gower of Bay City.

After the over-two-hour-long hearing, Schmidt – who heard the case in place of new district court Judge Jason Bitzer – bound it over to circuit court. Now the two sides must come to a plea agreement, or the case will go to trial.

Payne was arraigned last month on charges of assault with intent to murder, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder or by strangulation, carrying a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent, assault with a dangerous weapon and four counts of possessing a firearm while committing or attempting to commit a felony.

What happened?

Here are some of the things that occurred on July 4, according to common witness accounts:

• At about 2 p.m., Trevor Betzing was joined at his Brown Street home by his mother and father, where they enjoyed several hours of cooking out, and hanging out on the backyard deck by the swimming pool. Betzing’s wife was not home at the time, and arrived at about 6:30 p.m.

• At about 10:30 p.m., two of Betzing’s stepdaughters (his wife’s children) arrived at the home along with two male friends – Payne, and another man. Prior to the arrival of the four, and the arrival of Betzing’s wife, the five had been at a holiday gathering at the home of Betzing’s wife’s aunt and uncle.

• Trevor Betzing said he had consumed about a fifth of Southern Comfort (whiskey) throughout the day. His wife testified that she had consumed two drinks (Bahama mamas) at her aunt and uncle’s, and two drinks, each containing two shots of vodka, once she returned home.

• Once the four young adults arrived, Betzing’s wife gave Payne a tour of the home, which dismayed Betzing. “(Betzing’s wife) started showing these kids the house and Trevor (Betzing) started getting angry about that,” Betzing’s father testified. “He told me, ‘They’re going to try and keep these (males) in the house for the night and I don’t want them here.’”

• Both males worked with Betzing’s wife at a Bay City business. She claimed she had known Payne for about a year, and the other male for about two years.

• At some point, Betzing teased the other male about having a “man bun” hair style, after which, Betzing’s wife got angry and began yelling at and making physical contact with Betzing. Betzing shoved his wife, and then the younger of the two stepdaughters got into an altercation with him.

• At about 11:30 p.m., Trevor Betzing’s wife, along with the four young adults exited the house, intent on leaving, according to his wife and oldest stepdaughter. Betzing left the house and another altercation ensued. Soon after, Payne retrieved a 20-gauge shotgun-pistol from his vehicle and shot Betzing on the right side of his head. The oldest stepdaughter was on the phone with Tuscola County Central Dispatch, prior to, during, and after the shooting.

• Betzing went to the ground after being shot, but soon stood up and walked into his home. An ambulance arrived and transported him to a Saginaw hospital, and then to University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. Betzing’s wife visited him at both locations.

•  Betzing lost his right ear in the shooting. He arrived at the prelim wearing a bandage around his head. 

• Trevor Betzing initiated divorce proceedings against his wife after about six years of marriage.

Conflicting accounts

• It is not clear if or when Betzing asked, or told, the four young adults to leave his home. Clayton Betzing testified that his son asked them to leave “multiple times.” Betzing contradicted himself at the prelim, telling Reene that “I asked them to leave, a number of, I think about three different times and they weren’t leaving.” Betzing told Gower that he remembered telling them to leave one time. Betzing’s wife, and oldest stepdaughter claimed that Betzing hadn’t asked anyone to leave until right before the shooting. “When I was on the phone with 911, (Betzing) told one of the boys to leave,” the stepdaughter said. “He said get the ‘f’ out of my house. But before that he did not ask us to leave at all.”

• The extent of the altercation between Betzing and the other male is in question. Betzing said he flicked the male’s “man bun” once. “He had a ‘man bun’ on his head, and Trevor (Betzing) thought that was pretty funny and he flicked it with his finger,” Betzing’s father testified. The alleged incident took place in what the Betzing family calls the “mud room,” which is used for smoking and is adjacent to the kitchen. Betzing’s wife alleges her husband was upset that she was smoking with the young people and not him. “(Betzing) started smacking (the male) really hard on his ear,” Betzing’s wife said. “I got after him and I pushed him and said what the (expletive)? You don’t talk to people like that, what is wrong with you?”

• According to the testimony of Betzing and his father, Betzing’s wife followed him into the kitchen and began punching Betzing. “(Betzing’s wife) became irate and said ‘don’t (expletive) with my friends’ and began punching me,” he said. Betzing said his wife struck him multiple times in the face. He then pushed his wife away, and she ended up on the floor. Betzing added that after he “pushed her away,” the younger of the two stepdaughters began punching him as well. Betzing’s wife and older stepdaughter testified that his wife did not punch Betzing but slapped him, and that they weren’t aware of any physical altercation between the younger stepdaughter and Betzing.

• Betzing and his father testified that after the altercation between Trevor Betzing and his wife and stepdaughter, Betzing and his parents remained in the kitchen for between 10 and 25 minutes before Trevor Betzing went outside to see why the young adults were still there. This was disputed by Betzing’s wife and stepdaughter. Gower asked the stepdaughter if they had been in the front yard for 10 to 15 minutes before Betzing exited the house. She replied, “No, it all happened really fast.” Betzing’s wife testified that her husband followed her outside almost immediately after she walked out the front door. “I look up and my husband comes at me fast as he can,” she said.

• There is also a discrepancy in testimony as to where Betzing’s parents were when the altercation went outside. Clayton Betzing said they were near where his son and daughter-in-law were grabbing each other. When Payne “walked out of the shadows,” Betzing’s father said. “He pointed (the gun) at me and my wife. He thought we were going to rush him. And then he turned it toward (Trevor Betzing).” Betzing’s older stepdaughter said she didn’t recall Betzing’s parents being near the scene, testifying she thought they were on the porch or in the home. At the end of the hearing, Reene requested that four more charges be added against Payne because of Betzing’s father’s testimony. Schmidt obliged, and two charges of felonious assault and possession of a firearm while committing or attempting to commit a felony were added to Payne’s file.

• Potentially the biggest question in the case is whether or not Betzing was committing an active assault on his wife when he was shot. And witness testimony varies on that issue too. Betzing’s wife said her husband had her in a headlock when she heard a gunshot. “He grabbed me, I told him ‘I’m leaving,’ and it went from there to my neck,” Betzing’s wife said. “He pulled me away from the vehicle very forcefully, and he started squeezing my neck.” The oldest stepdaughter testified that her sister, who had intervened to help her mother, also was grabbed by Betzing. But Betzing and his father painted a different picture of the moment. “Me and my wife were in the front of my house,” Trevor Betzing said. “She had her hands on my shirt, I had my hands on her shirt and we were arguing. I don’t remember what was said, but I do remember vaguely asking her not to leave.”

Reene said the use of potentially deadly force was not necessary, considering that at no time was Betzing armed. Reene asked all of the witnesses whether they had seen Betzing strike his wife in the past, and all replied they hadn’t.

Reene asked Betzing’s wife about injuries she received during the altercation with her husband. She testified that she had no cuts or bruises, but had red marks on her neck.

The prosecutor then questioned the motive for Betzing’s wife’s testimony.

“You are here today to try to protect the defendant,” Reene said.

“No, I am here today to tell the truth,” Betzing’s wife said.

“That would be nice,” Reene replied.

Betzing’s wife testified that when Payne retrieved his gun, it was the second time he had done so. The first time she asked him to put it away.

“(Because) there was no need for a gun, correct?” Reene asked.

“I wouldn’t say there was no need for a gun, there was a need for a gun,” Betzing’s wife said. 

“There was?” asked Reene.

“Yes, there was,” said Betzing’s wife.

“Well, let’s explore that for a little bit,” Reene replied.

“OK, let’s explore it,” Betzing’s wife said.

“Do you want to argue with me, or do you want to answer my questions?” Reene asked.

Schmidt then interjected and told Betzing’s wife that she was there to answer questions, and not ask them. He also instructed the prosecutor to avoid arguing with the witness.

Trevor Betzing testified that he lost all hearing in my right ear as a result of the injury. “(There is) significant damage to my equilibrium, my ear drum’s more than likely going to be removed because it’s nonfunctional, I have permanent nerve damage to the side of my head, permanent nerve damage to the front of my face right side…” Betzing said. He added that he is scheduled for at least one or two surgeries in the near future to get a prosthetic ear and get the hole in his head covered up.

Payne remains free on a $10,000 cash bond while awaiting his next court appearance.

John Schneider is editor of The Advertiser. He can be reached at john@tcadvertiser.com.

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