Jonathan Broyhill was in a dark, desperate state in April 2013 when he took a knife to the home of his friends Jamie and Nation Hahn, his defense attorney said Wednesday.
Caroline Elliot, a public defender representing Broyhill, 33, during his murder trial, did not dispute that her client held the knife that killed Jamie Hahn, a Democratic strategist.
Nor did Elliot deny that Broyhill was responsible for nearly $50,000 missing from a campaign fund for U.S. Congressman Brad Miller.
What the defense team disputes is that Broyhill, a Lenoir native who was best man at the Hahns’ wedding, committed first-degree murder.
She argued that Broyhill, a man who felt shunned by his family and much of his hometown for being gay, was bent on ending his own life on April 22, 2013, and, indeed, inflicted wounds to himself.
“The only person Jon planned on hurting that day was himself,” Elliot said.
Prosecutors claim that Broyhill had been weaving a web of lies for years – about who he was, how he got money, as well as feigned illnesses and health issues fabricated for sympathy and elusion.
Attorneys made opening statements Wednesday morning in a trial that could part curtains that often cloak the world of political strategizing and campaign fundraising.
It also could offer details and insights into the relationship between Broyhill and Nation Hahn, friends from childhood.
Prosecutors said the frenzied knife attack that left Jamie Hahn bloodied and screaming for help occurred amid questions about Broyhill’s handling of a campaign account for Miller and a bounced check.
Miller, a Democrat from Wake County who represented the 13th District from 2003 to 2013, has said he noticed irregularities in a campaign account in 2013 and sought answers from Jamie Hahn, whose company was doing work for him.
Broyhill had worked off and on for Sky Blue, the company that Jamie Hahn founded in 2008.
Prosecutor Doug Faucette said as questions mounted about irregularities in Miller’s campaign account, Broyhill’s lies grew about ailments he never had.
Broyhill stayed with the Hahns for several days in early April 2013 after lying to them, saying he had gallbladder surgery.
Broyhill also said falsely that doctors had seen evidence of pancreatic cancer and wanted him to come back for an appointment for further exploration.
The Hahns had agreed to go with him to an appointment Broyhill said was scheduled for late April.
Though Broyhill and the Hahns were together so much that neighbors thought they all lived together, there was a brief period in the spring of 2013 that the defendant was nowhere to be found, according to prosecutors.
Miller had a quarterly campaign report due, but the Hahns had been unable to reach Broyhill for days to discuss problems that he told them had been cleared.
“As each medical issue materialized, Jamie would step back from pressing the defendant,” Faucette said. “Instead, she would turn her attention, her sympathy and her efforts to help her friend to get through these awful health issues, including driving him to the doctor and waiting.”
‘Hearts will break’
The Hahns, married in April 2009, had arranged an anniversary trip to Emerald Isle beach in late April and invited friends to join them.
Broyhill was among those invited and he surfaced for that trip and stayed with the couple through the weekend before the attack.
More questions lingered about the account after that trip. Time Warner Cable called Jamie Hahn about an unpaid bill, and that conversation revealed that Miller’s campaign account was overdrawn.
Faucette told the seven women and five men on the jury that their “hearts will break” when they hear about Jamie Hahn.
She was “young,” Faucette said, “29, full of energy … dedicated to others.”
Family and friends held vigil for Jamie Hahn for almost two days after she was stabbed multiple times in her home, but she died at WakeMed hospital on April 24, 2013.
Nation Hahn was injured, and Broyhill is on trial for his attempted murder, too.
Broyhill, the defense pointed out, also had self-inflicted wounds. He slashed his wrists, according to his attorney, and sunk a knife into his abdomen.
“The evidence is going to show a picture of a tormented soul that had become so depressed and so despondent that he was ready to take his own life – the act of a man overwhelmed by life,” Elliot said.
Life in Lenoir
Broyhill grew up in Lenoir, a furniture-company town in the western part of the state where his friendship with Nation Hahn began in a Pentecostal church.
They attended youth group and prayer meetings together and spent many afternoons hanging out at a local waffle and coffee shop.
Broyhill was several years older than Hahn, but the two talked often about how their beliefs and ideas were different from many around them.
Broyhill was gay, his attorney said, but kept that secret from his family and friends there, worried about their reactions.
There was strife between Broyhill and his mother, according to Elliot, and he gravitated more and more toward Nation Hahn and his wife.
Broyhill worked at a Lowes Foods in Lenoir after high school, but he showed signs of financial instability early on – declaring bankruptcy at age 23, while owing more than $32,000.
Jamie Hahn’s political strategy company, Sky Blue, was in its infancy when Broyhill stood by the couple as their best man in their wedding.
But by 2013, Jamie Hahn had reported raising more than $4 million for causes around the state. The Hahns were taking on prominent roles in Democratic Party efforts, especially the fight against the 2012 state constitutional amendment that defined marriage in North Carolina as a union between a man and a woman.
Broyhill had told the Hahns he was gay, and though it was not a big deal to them, Elliot said, it was to him.
Broyhill more often than not was with the two as they took on causes and activities. They vacationed together often and posted photos on Facebook and Instagram of hugs, smiles and happy times at restaurants and bars with tropical drinks on the table.
The three often ate together on Monday nights.
Day of the attacks
On the afternoon that Jamie Hahn confronted Broyhill about the financial irregularities and more, Nation Hahn came home from work early and was upstairs when he heard his wife scream.
“It began with Jamie screaming,” Faucette said.
Nation Hahn came downstairs to find his wife, bloody, on the kitchen floor, and Broyhill standing over her with a knife.
Nation Hahn stepped in to defend his wife from further violence, according to prosecutors, and was injured in the process.
Nation Hahn told Jamie to get up and run from the house, according to Faucette, and she was able to but collapsed outside in front of a concerned neighbor.
“Jonathan Broyhill held the knife that killed Jamie Hahn,” Elliot conceded.
But she argued that he had not gone to the home planning to end her life or to injure his childhood friend to cover up his crimes, as prosecutors contended.
“It’s all so irrational it’s all so bizarre, it doesn’t point to a person who wants to cover up his crimes,” Elliot said.
Attorneys expect the trial to last several weeks.
Nation Hahn, in the courtroom on Wednesday surrounded by family and friends, is expected to be called to the witness stand to tell the jury what he saw.
“You will hear of a traumatized and bloody Nation as he desperately tells his wife they will enjoy a long future together,” Faucette said.
John Wallace, a Raleigh lawyer who worked as a treasurer for the Miller campaign, was on the witness stand much of Wednesday, laying out for jurors how the financial irregularities in the congressman’s accounts were noticed. He talked about learning of Jamie Hahn’s death, then quickly moving to freeze the account and alert the Federal Election Commission to potential problems.
He submitted a complaint against Broyhill, according to testimony, amid his amazement about the violence.
“I was shocked to hear it,” Wallace told defense attorney Joseph Arbour on cross-examination. “I did not expect this to happen.”