July 2012 was hot.
It touched nearly 100 degrees at one point — heat stroke weather. That heat withered crops, browned lawns and interrupted the plans of two Amsterdam teenagers.
On July 9, Matt Phelps and Anthony Brasmeister lined up and shot their two friends, Paul Damphier and Jonathan DeJesus, in the forehead. They did it in a soybean field behind Phelps’ house on Snooks Corners Road south of Amsterdam — a field of clay soil baked hard in the heat wave.
“There was a small hole near where we found the bodies,” said Montgomery County District Attorney James “Jed” Conboy. “It looks like they planned to bury the bodies, but that was a hot week. The ground was all clay and hard as rock. They gave up.”
Brasmeister, 16 and Phelps, then 15, confessed to killing their friends and were sentenced to 25 years to life and 15 years to life, respectively. Damphier was 16 and DeJesus just 13. Few details were released during the year of court proceedings, but with the boys in prison, new information was made available to The Gazette.
Both killers had to file an account of what happened and why, for parole purposes. Those accounts could not be released in their entirety, but Conboy summarized them.
“The two of them were talking weeks before the murders,” he said. “Brasmeister mentioned Damphier had robbed him. That’s when they decided he needed to be dealt with.”
Conboy said Phelps and Brasmeister plotted the killing over many days, developing a story to lure Damphier into the field. Brasmeister’s account claims he told Damphier to come help him rob a stash of marijuana kept in a neighbor’s shed.
The night of the supposed raid, DeJesus just happened to be tagging along, an inconvenient witness.
“It’s Brasmeister’s story, so take it with a grain of salt,” Conboy said, “but neither one seemed to be trying to make themselves look better. In fact, they didn’t seem to show any remorse at all.”
Damphier and DeJesus were missing for nearly two weeks before their bodies were found. In those days, DeJesus’s mother, Bridget Masesie, hit the streets in her minivan.
She became a detective. She talked to countless teenagers and heard as many rumors.
“I didn’t meet one that didn’t lie to me,” she said. “One kid told me my son was skateboarding at the end of the street when he’d been dead for three days.”
The accounts of Phelps and Brasmeister, she said, are no different.
“Of course they’re going to lie,” she said. “They’re teenagers in prison. They’re looking for an excuse.”
She described an average day from before the murder. Damphier was her son’s best friend and her daughter’s boyfriend. He was always around.
“Jonathan just loved him,” she said. “He would follow him anywhere.”
Damphier was a popular kid — a kid without enemies. Masesie had a son just three months before the murder, and said even the baby liked Damphier.
By contrast, Brasmeister seemed to lack friends. Sandre Damphier, Paul’s mother, said Brasmeister was an occasional visitor to her home, but was usually pretty quiet.
“Pauly was good looking and funny. He was good at basketball. Women just flocked to him,” she said. “I think Brasmeister was jealous. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”
Masesie formed similar conclusions from her detective work, calling Phelps a psychopath looking for someone to kill and Brasmeister a jealous and unpopular kid, willing to lead a trusted friend to his death for notoriety.
“Everyone knew Pauly,” she said, “but Brasmeister — no one heard of him until he murdered two people. You don’t kill someone over some weed.”
Conboy said Phelps brought at least one friend out to see the bodies. That boy was so disturbed he eventually told an adult. Even before he did, though, snippets of information began spreading long before law enforcement reached the field.
Amsterdam High School senior Harrison Flint was in summer school at the time, and said kids were full of conjecture and speculation.
“They were pretty freaked out,” he said. “Those guys were friends.”
Many said Damphier stole Brasmeister’s marijuana and the murders were revenge. Some said there was a small band of white supremacists, including Phelps and Brasmeister, and Damphier and DeJesus were shot for their black and Hispanic lineage.
“Some people said Phelps cut up the bodies and scattered them all over the field,” Flint said. “Imagine thinking that.”
Most of the rumors spread around remain just that.
But there’s some truth to the most disturbing rumor: Conboy said that when Phelps and Brasmeister couldn’t dig a hole to bury the bodies they tried to dismember them.
“But it’s hard to dismember a human body,” he said, “and eventually they gave up on that as well.”
They left the two bodies in the field after severing only DeJesus’ hands.
The two killers confessed under what Conboy described as “significant proof.” At the time of the arrests, police said Phelps was the triggerman, shooting both boys in their torsos multiple times. Since then, more accurate details have come to light.
At the scene two weeks after the murders, investigators found 11 .22 caliber shell casings. Ten were brass colored, of the same type as live rounds found near a Savage brand rifle with a 10-round clip in the Phelps’ residence.
One shell was silver.
Following his arrest, Brasmeister called his father, Tim, at his Belfance Road residence on a recorded line.
“We have him asking his father if he had disposed of what he described as, ‘that thing I use when I’m out in the woods with the dog looking for woodchucks,’” Conboy said. “That line is obviously recorded. There’s a sign. We’re not dealing with professionals here.”
Police mobilized to the Brasmeister home immediately. Conboy said Tim Brasmeister met the officers at the door, saying, “I screwed the door shut the day he got arrested.”
A single-shot Rossi .22 caliber rifle was found in the bedroom.
Ballistics experts couldn’t conclusively say the shells were from the recovered guns, but did rule the brass shells were not used in the single shot, and the silver shell was not used in the Savage.
“So at that point,” Conboy said, “we have two shooters.”
Under that proof, he said they won’t likely make parole.
The sentencing wasn’t much consolation to the grieving mothers, but Masesie has one detail to cling to.
“At least Damphier and my son left this world next to someone they loved,” she said. “I don’t think their killers will experience that.”