Two men accused of kidnapping one man and kidnapping and beating another testified in their own defense Wednesday.
Rodney Couch, 53, and his son, 29-year-old Clinton Couch, testified and denied all allegations against them.
The Couches are accused of kidnapping and threatening landowner Steve Busby and kidnapping and beating a former ranch hand of Busby’s, Jason James, after a business deal went bad.
The prosecution is alleging the Couches were two ranchers who felt they were wronged and delivered some backwoods vigilante justice. The defense has said the Couches are hard-working, law abiding family men who did no such thing.
• The deal
Jason James testified he was at a family get together Thanksgiving 2009 when Rodney Couch inquired about buying some horses and needing land for them to graze on. Rodney Couch is married to the aunt of James’ wife.
James mentioned he knew a wealthy Ada businessman, Steve Busby, who owned 800 acres of land just east of Allen and he could broker a deal between Couch and Busby.
James met with Busby, CFO of Ada-based Tornado Alley Turbo and General Aviation Modifications, Inc., who James worked for taking care of the land clearing brush among other tasks. Busby said he agreed to lease the land in exchange for $3,000 from Rodney Couch and 300 hours of work on the land from James.
James said after the horses were fattened up (for slaughter) and sold by Couch, he would get paid an unknown cut of the profits. Slaughtered horse meat is sold for human consumption in Mexico.
Rodney Couch said he was told Busby just wanted animals on his land to graze it down because it had become overgrown with vegetation and did not seek lease money. Rodney Couch said he agreed to buy the horses, put them on the lease for the growing season, sell the horses and split the money with James. He said if he knew Busby wanted $3,000, he would have never agreed to the deal.
Busby said he wanted a signed lease agreement from Couch, but whenever he mentioned it to James, James would avoid the issue.
Busby testified he was surprised when he discovered 60 horses on his property without a signed agreement. He said he never spoke with Couch and James was the go-between.
Busby said James backed out of the deal soon after leaving him to deal with the horses. Busby testified he was concerned there were too many horses and his land was being overgrazed. He said the agreement was for 30 horses, not 60.
Busby said he made numerous attempts to contact Couch, to no avail. After no response, Busby said he took measures to acquire ownership of the horses legally so he could sell them.
Rodney Couch said he never received any letters or calls from Busby and when he went to reacquire the horses in late October 2010, he was surprised when Busby asked for lease money.
• The alleged kidnapping
Steve Busby testified he and Rodney Couch couldn’t agree on lease remuneration. Busby testified Couch threatened legal action if Busby sold the animals.
Busby said he had already taken steps to gain legal ownership of the horses so he could sell them to get them off his land. According to Busby, on Nov. 21, 2010, he received a call from Clinton Couch — who gave an alias and inquired about horses he might have for sale, Busby testified.
Busby informed the caller he didn’t have ownership just then, but might soon. Busby said Couch, who he had never met, showed up at his land with another man. Busby got in a pickup with Couch and the unknown man to look at the horses and discuss a future sale.
He said when the inspection was finished and the men were driving him back to his house, they sped away with him in the pickup and threatened his life many times.
Busby said he was terrified as he was driven to some property south of Allen to meet with Rodney Couch. He said Clinton Couch told him he was to allow Rodney Couch to take the horses back and not to call police and threatened his life if he did.
He said he was driven back to his house by Rodney Couch and dropped off. Clinton Couch testified Wednesday he never met Steve Busby and only called him to see if he was going to sell his father’s horses. He said he was never anywhere near Steve Busby and only saw him for the first time at a court appearance in February 2011.
• The alleged kidnapping and beating of James
Jason James said on Nov. 21, 2010, he received a call from Clinton Couch who told him his name was Rodney Johnson. The caller said he needed work on a vehicle and heard James worked at an auto repair shop.
James said he agreed to look at the vehicle and give an estimate. He said Couch drove to his house and, after missing the driveway to his house in the Happyland area, agreed to meet him at the highway at the end of his driveway.
James said Couch was in a pickup alone and after shaking hands with him, a man came out of nowhere, hit him in the head and pushed him into the pickup.
He said he was driven to some land south of Allen where Clinton Couch, the unknown man, and several other men — already at the property — started beating and kicking him. He said he was also prodded with an electric cattle prod and hit with a piece of landscape timber by Rodney Couch.
He said he was able to escape and call for help from a nearby farmhouse. He was taken by Allen police, at his request, to meet a family member in Allen who drove him to an Ada hospital to treat his wounds.
• Clinton Couch
Clinton Couch took the stand Wednesday and said James was lying about the incident. Couch said he drove to James’ house only to talk about what had happened with the horses and the lease deal gone bad.
He said there was no mystery man and he and James went for a drive to discuss the situation. He said the conversation was friendly until Couch mentioned that there were 13 horses missing.
He said James became upset and asked, “Do you think I stole those horses?”
Couch said the conversation grew more heated and James punched him in the nose. Couch said he pulled off the highway, the men got out of the truck and a fight ensued.
He said both men punched each other several times and wrestled on the ground. He said when the fight was over, he left James by the road in no worse shape than he was.
• Rodney Couch
Both Rodney Couch and Steve Busby told authorities they felt they were lied to by James. Rodney Couch said at the family get together in 2009, James, who he didn’t know that well, was bragging about being a ranch manager for some rich guy who owned a lot of land.
He said James told him the man would allow Rodney’s horses to graze — without charge — to get the vegetation down. Rodney Couch said he agreed to the deal and said he would sell the horses after the grazing season and split the profit with James “right down the middle.”
He said he didn’t learn James had backed out of the deal until late October 2010.
When he spoke with Busby, Rodney Couch was surprised to learn Busby wanted money for the lease. He said he met with Busby and was allowed to look at the horses. He said he noticed some were missing and Busby didn’t know what happened to them.
Rodney Couch said he offered to take the horses and sell them and split the profits — the same deal he had with James. He said Busby wanted more money than the horses were worth and the two couldn’t come to an agreement.
Rodney Couch said he did tell Busby to sell them but he never said anything about suing him. He said on Nov. 21, 2010, he met with Busby about the horses again. He said Busby had researched the prices and, when he discovered the horses wouldn’t bring any real money, told him to come and take them away.
Rodney Couch said there were no threats made and no kidnapping.
• The trial
The prosecution and the defense rested Wednesday. The trial resumes today at 8 a.m. and after the jury is given instructions, both sides will give closing arguments before the case is handed to the jury of seven men and five women.