Hullihen guilty of double homicide

ON THE STAND: Blake Hullihen testifies in his own defense on Monday in Osceola County Circuit Court. He was the only witness called by the defense. (Pioneer photo/Whitney Gronski-Buffa)
ON THE STAND: Blake Hullihen testifies in his own defense on Monday in Osceola County Circuit Court. He was the only witness called by the defense. (Pioneer photo/Whitney Gronski-Buffa)

REED CITY — After a long jury deliberation, Blake Hullihen was found guilty of two counts of second degree murder and two counts of felony firearm possession.

Hullihen, 27, of Harrison, was convicted of killing Gabrielle Gabrielle Woodworth and Donald C. Feneis on Dec. 7, 2011, in the parking lot of Chuck’s Corners Citgo Convenience Store in Marion.

“It’s not exactly what we were looking for. We were looking for first (degree murder),” said Osceola County Assistant Prosecutor Andy LePres. “The jury worked hard on it and if that’s the verdict they came up with, then it’s the right one.”

As the sole witness called by the defense on Monday, Hullihen testified about carrying a sidearm, caring for his daughter and the custody battle that led up to the night that he shot Woodworth and Feneis.

Contrary to testimony his father delivered earlier in the trial, Hullihen said he began carrying his gun about six years ago, when he was driving truck and traveling through rough areas. He later went through the process of becoming a Clare County Police Reservist and even was sworn in for the job. He bought a bulletproof vest to wear on duty – not for the express purpose of wearing to custody exchanges – but never actually served in the reserves because of his concern that his issues with Woodworth and Feneis were escalating and would mar the reputation of the organization.

When Woodworth first moved in with Feneis and his family, custody exchanges were “civil,” Hullihen said. Then he became the target of threats, so he started taking asking people to accompany him to the house. He asked the court for a public meeting place and, until it was eventually changed to Chuck’s Corners, requested police assistance at the exchanges.

Meanwhile, Hullihen’s daughter was complaining of abuse while with her mother, he said. The girl told him that people at her mother’s house were pushing and hitting her, and that her mother had held a gun to her head.

All this flashed through Hullihen’s head the night that he met Feneis and Woodworth at the gas station parking lot.

That day, Woodworth had received the letter from a Clare County court granting her primary custody of the girl, and she wanted to make the exchange that night, Hullihen said. When he told his daughter about the change of custody, he says she became hysterical. He left her with his parents and went to meet Woodworth with the intention of asking to keep her through the weekend.

When they met in the parking lot and Woodworth realized the girl wasn’t with Hullihen, she started yelling, he said. Then Feneis got out of the car, and the couple continued berating him.

“It escalated to (Feneis) screaming he was going to kill me,” Hullihen said.

Feneis then reached into his pockets and pulled out a shiny, black object.

“I just snapped or something,” Hullihen said. “I swore it was a gun. I pulled my sidearm and just started shooting.”

The object turned out to be Feneis’ cell phone.

From there, Hullihen doesn’t remember many details: not Woodworth falling to the ground after being shot, not reloading, not standing over Feneis to shoot him, not driving home or even interviewing with Det. George Pratt.

When asked by his attorney, Dennis DuVall, why his bullet-proof jacket was later found in his car, indicating that he hadn’t worn it to the meeting, Hullihen said he “had just wanted to talk.”

LePres questioned Hullihen further on that statement, asking, “What made you believe you’d be able to go and just talk her into that?”

“I just wanted a few days,” Hullihen responded.

“What were you prepared to do if she said no?” LePres asked.

“At that point, I was seriously considering just taking off with my daughter,” Hullihen said.

On redirect, DuVall asked Hullihen what was going through his head when he started shooting.

“I was just thinking of the threats in the past, the things Emily told me,” he answered. “I was dazed, shocked and in fear.”

In their closing statements, attorneys painted the situation in extremely different lights.

LePres called the shootings “a cold-blooded murder.”

“Basically, this was a custody battle and one of them won,” he said. “She won, and it was too much for him. … Sometimes things are what they appear to be.”

DuVall asked jurors to consider his client’s assertions of self defense, citing the threats he endured and the fear he felt upon seeing Feneis brandish what he thought was a weapon.

“If somebody is pulling out a gun, are you required to sit there and think, ‘Is he pulling it out just to threaten me, or is he going to pull it out and shoot me?’” he said. “There’s not enough time to think of that. If you see a gun being drawn, or something that looks like a gun being drawn, and you can protect yourself, you are going to protect yourself, which is exactly what Mr. Hullihen did.”

A sentencing for Hullihen will be scheduled at a later date.

Pioneer staff writer Sarah Neubecker contributed to this report.