I am a killer 2: Brandon Hutchinson

I was just worried about staying alive'

“I couldn’t believe I had committed murder.”

- Brandon Hutchinson

When Brandon Hutchinson stood in court in the autumn of 1996, accused of a double murder, he faced the very real possibility of being told that he was to be killed by the state of Missouri by way of lethal injection. To avoid this happening he needed a smart, hard-working lawyer, a forgiving jury or a lenient judge. He got none of things. 

Except the death penalty. 

For the two murders he had carried out on New Year’s Day some ten months previously, Hutchinson received the ultimate punishment. Although it would go on to be commuted to a sentence of life without chance of parole 15 years later.

There was an almost guaranteed way that Hutchinson could have reduced his sentence, however. But it involved talking - something he flat out refused to do. Not everyone follows the criminal code and observes a ‘keep your mouth shut’ omerta when faced with the prospect of being sent to Death Row. His accomplices certainly didn’t. They were extremely talkative. 

Not only did he refuse to tell the police or courts exactly what happened and who exactly was responsible for doing what in the early hours of January the 1st, 1996 (he pleaded the fifth), the man hasn’t spoken about the incident to anyone. At all. Ever.

Until now.

I Am a Killer gave Brandon Hutchinson an opportunity to open up and speak out about what really happened that night. It was an opportunity he seized with enthusiasm, gladly unburdening himself for the cameras and explaining exactly what went down and who was responsible for what.

This is his side of the story...

 Fleeing a childhood of sexual abuse and an adolescence of alcoholism and methamphetamine use, in the mid-nineties Brandon Hutchinson left his hometown of Ventura, California and headed east for the city of Verona in Missouri. 

Old habits die hard, though. Pretty soon, he was selling weed for two Mexican men with gang affiliations - Freddy Lopez and Michael Salazar.

Brandon was afraid of the two men. He knew all about their ties to murderous Californian prison gangs and drug cartels south of the border. They were serious guys. But nonetheless he liked them and they worked well together.

I was just worried about staying alive

Skip to the night of the murders. It was New Year’s Eve. There was a party at Freddy’s. One fuelled by beer, shots and cocaine. So, inevitably, into went on into the small hours. 

Brandon found himself in Freddy’s garage talking to Brian and Ronald Yates, two local brothers who had had some dealings with Lopez and Salazar. Suddenly, things became ‘unpleasant’, to say the least.

The two brothers began badmouthing their host. They spoke derogatively about Lopez and then Salazar. They called them ‘wetbacks’ and joked about their immigrant status. 

Brandon took exception to the comments and told Michael what had been said. Michael also took exception to the comments and got his gun. Moments later, he had shot both Yates brothers.

The party was officially over.

The men were both still alive, though. So Michael grabbed a screwdriver and shanked them both, prison style. Brandon panicked and got Freddy. Brandon pleaded with his friends. They had to take the brothers to the hospital, Brandon insisted. Freddy relented and told Brandon to load the severely injured men into the trunk of his car.

They drove to the hospital. Halfway there, the brothers started shouting and making noise. Freddy told Brandon to pull over on the road. As he did so, Freddy took out a .22 pistol, handed it to the driver and nodded towards the car door. It was clear what was expected of him.

“I really wasn’t worried about the Yates’. I was just worried about staying alive.”

Brandon stepped out of the car, opened the trunk and shot each man twice in the head. He had, after all, been given - as he refers to it - ‘a silent order’.

Five days later, police arrested all three men. Ten months later, sentences were dished out. Salazar got life without parole. Freddy Lopez received ten years for his involvement. Brandon Hutchinson got the death penalty.

Is this precisely how things went down? Aside from the sentencing, we can’t really say. That’s Brandon’s story. Not everyone agrees with it and you can catch some other sides of the story in the I Am a Killer episode all about Brandon Hutchinson.

All we know is - and you’ll see when you watch it - getting it all off his chest after 23 years of stony silence seemed like blessed relief to the man. There’s real catharsis on show.

Free from the burden of his silence, just ten days after filming, Brandon received a diagnosis of fatal late stage liver and stomach cancer. On November 2nd 2019, aged just 44 years old, he died in jail.

Here’s hoping that telling his story make his last few months more peaceful than they otherwise would have been.