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Murder trial opens in Llano courtroom in case of body dumped on ranch

LLANO — A Llano County jury heard opening statements Aug. 27 in a case that could decide whether a man’s death was a cold-blooded slaying or the result of an "off-the-books" business that went sour.

Thomas Barkley Creech, 35, is charged with murder in the death more than two years ago of Mark Shurish, 29, whose remains were located on a Mason County ranch in October 2010.

Authorities say Creech lured Shurish to a Buchanan Dam residence June 5, 2010, intending to kill him.

"(Creech) lured Mr. Shurish there for the sole reason of executing him," prosecutor Stacy Street told jurors as the trial began in 424th state District Judge Dan Mills’ court.

But defense attorney Richard Davis told the jury of seven women and six men — including an alternate — that the case may not be so cut and dried.

"The evidence is going to show you there was a murder," Davis said during his opening arguments. "But as you hear the evidence, (it) isn’t quite as simple as the state (claims). The real issue here is the circumstances surrounding it."

Davis alluded to an "off-the-books" business Creech and Shurish were involved in.

Following jury selection that morning, open statements and then testimony began after lunch.

Eddie Huddleston, 39, testified that Creech told him sometime during the summer of 2010 that Creech had shot Shurish in the back of the head at a Buchanan Dam residence.

Prosecutors asked Huddleston what Creech, 35, told him about the incident.

"That he had killed (Shurish)," Huddleston said. "(And) that he used a pistol."

According to Llano County deputies, Creech killed Shurish at the residence and then eventually took the body to a Mason County ranch where he tried to dispose of it. Authorities recovered Shurish’s remains months later with help from anthropologists at  Texas State University at San Marcos.

As the investigation unfolded two years ago, three other people were charged in the case with tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, meaning a corpse — Mary Louise Grote, 56, Justin Dale Silvernale, 26, and Letecia Chapman Jeffers, 25.

Authorities have since dropped the charge against Grote. Jeffers was scheduled to enter a plea Aug. 17 but never showed up, court officials said.

Silvernale earlier this year pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to two years in prison.

On Aug. 27, Silvernale testified Creech admitted shooting Shurish. Silvernale told jurors he helped Creech pick the body off the floor and place it in an entertainment center, but that was the extent of his involvement.

Street told jurors Creech tried to escape justice.

"He dumped the body, he pawned the weapon and he fled the state," she said.

He was arrested Oct. 19, 2010, in Madison County, Mo., and returned to Llano County where he’s remained behind bars ever since.

Davis told jurors there is more to the story and asked them to keep an open mind about a possible business arrangement.

Shurish’s widow Kelly Ann Lee, 29, testified she believed her husband, Creech and and another woman were involved in the illicit methamphetamine trade.

Lee described for jurors the last time she saw her husband June 5, 2010.

The couple with a third man traveled to Fuzzy’s, a watering hole at Texas 29 and RR 1431 in Buchanan Dam, so Shurish could meet with Creech, she told jurors.

Shurish said he was going to go into Fuzzy’s and visit with Creech for a few moments, the widow testified. But Lee said she knew something was wrong when she pulled around the back of the bar and found Creech sitting in a car next to hers, the court heard.

Her husband left his cell phone, identification and other items on the car seat next to her before getting in the auto with Creech, Lee testified. One thing she noted that Shurish didn’t leave behind was $2,000 in cash.

"After telling me he loved me, (he) gave me a kiss goodbye — emphasized he really loved me — and he got into (the car with Creech)," Lee said.

The two men left Fuzzy’s headed in the direction of the other woman’s home, the widow said.

Lee told jurors she eventually returned home to Leander after Shurish failed to return to Fuzzy’s. When she couldn’t reach her husband for 16 days, she filed a missing person’s report. That in turn triggered the investigation that eventually led authorities to the Mason County ranch where they recovered Shurish’s remains.

If convicted of the murder charge, Creech faces up to 99 years in prison.

Testimony resumes Aug. 28 in Mills’ courtroom.