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Stuart Lee Sullivan claims he had no idea he was about to become involved in a slaying as he and three other men walked deep into some woods off Belle Plains Road in July 2007.

Sullivan testified Tuesday in Stafford County Circuit Court that he was “shocked” when his boss at the time, William J. Hughes, fired a shot into the ribcage of 31-year-old Jason Plaster.

Hughes, 45, is charged with first-degree murder. Sullivan and the southern Stafford property owner, Dennis Paul Benzie, are the key prosecution witnesses in Hughes’ ongoing jury trial and both testified yesterday.

Their stories varied on certain points, but both men named Hughes as the one who planned the murder and fired the initial shot into Plaster. They said Hughes was upset that Plaster had made a pass at his wife.

But Sullivan, who has already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for his role in the incident, was much more clear than Benzie regarding the details of that summer day, though neither one is sure what day it was.

Sullivan said he, Hughes and Plaster left Hughes’ business, Scooter Works, to go to Benzie’s home, supposedly to look at a motorcycle Benzie was working on.

Sullivan said they looked at the bike, then went to nearby Potomac Creek, where Hughes and Plaster engaged in a “friendly” wrestling match.

After they returned to Benzie’s shed, Sullivan said, Benzie suggested that they go into the woods to dig up some firearms he had buried.

Asked if that seemed strange, Sullivan said, “knowing Dennis, it didn’t seem unusual.”

As they were walking, Sullivan testified, Hughes, without warning, shot Plaster with a Derringer, then ordered Sullivan to fire his 9 mm.

Sullivan said he complied out of fear. “I figured if I didn’t, they would kill me also,” he said.

After the slaying, Sullivan said Hughes, the head of a local motorcycle gang, told him he was upset about an incident his wife told him about in which Plaster supposedly exposed himself and asked, “How does this compare to Bill’s?”

He said Hughes then kicked the dead man, called him a name, and Benzie hit him with a shovel. They then spent several hours burying the body.

“I had no reason to hate or dislike Jason,” Sullivan said. “I barely knew him.”

Benzie, who testified before Sullivan, said he also had no reason to want Plaster dead. But he said he was supporting Hughes, his friend.

Benzie said he, Sullivan and Hughes discussed a plan to lure Plaster into the woods with the buried-guns story so they could kill him.

After throwing him into the hole they dug, they put lime on Plaster’s body and covered him up.

The slaying remained covered up until March of last year, when Benzie was arrested on drug charges. It was then that he told Detective Chris Cameron about Plaster’s body.

He implicated Hughes and Sullivan in subsequent interviews.

Benzie received immunity from a murder charge in exchange for his testimony. Sullivan has a pending deal in which he would receive between 13 and 21 years in prison.

Police began a multiday digging operation at Benzie’s property last year that resulted in the recovery of Plaster’s remains.

There was a 9 mm bullet in the back of his skull and a bullet wound in his ribs. A medical examiner has determined that either wound could have been fatal.

Much of Benzie’s testimony Tuesday morning was disjointed, as he repeatedly responded to defense attorney Chris Feldmann’s questions with answers such as “I don’t remember” or “It was a long time ago.”

Both Benzie and Sullivan said that Plaster was already dead before they did anything to him.

Asked why he hit Plaster with the shovel, Benzie said, “I was participating in a crime.

“As soon as it was over, I tried to black it out as best I could.”

Benzie, who admittedly has a long history of alcohol and drug abuse, did recall one incident in which Plaster threw him out of his home and down a hill.

Benzie said he was drunk that day and couldn’t find his way out of a room in Plaster’s home, so he kicked a hole in the wall in an effort to get out.

But he said that had nothing to do with Plaster’s death.

Benzie put prosecutors Lori DiGiosia and Ed Lustig on edge as soon as he began testifying. He was unable to identify Hughes in the courtroom, at one point saying, “He’s not in here.” Hughes currently has a short haircut and no facial hair and looks different than he did even a few months ago.

About 90 minutes into his testimony, Benzie said he finally recognized Hughes at the defense table.

Plaster was reported missing in August 2007 by family members who said they hadn’t seen him in several weeks. His car was found abandoned on Charles Street in Fredericksburg.

Benzie said he felt like “crap” testifying against Hughes.

“I loved him. Testifying against him sucks because I care about Bill and his family.”

Keith Epps: 540/374-5404