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McKINNEY Is Adam Staup the gullible sidekick to a master manipulator who was bent on taking out his romantic rival?

Or is he a cold, remorseless killer in a premeditated murder scheme?

Those were the two contrasting images painted of 17-year-old Staup as prosecutors seek to certify him to stand trial as an adult in the March 2014 strangulation of his Wylie East High School classmate Ivan Mejia.

Staup was 16-and-a-half at the time of the murder.

Last week, the same judge decided that Staup's accused accomplice, Brenden Bridges, will be tried as an adult. Bridges and Mejia had both dated the same girl, and investigators say Bridges wanted Mejia out of the way so that he could have the girl to himself.

In court on Monday, a former classmate of all three teens described a conversation she overheard in a car about eight days before the Mejia was killed. She said she was in the car with Bridges, Staup and a third teenager.

She said Staup told Bridges that he had seen his 'favorite person' that day, and Bridges replied that he hated this person. They did not identify the person.

'I was asking what they were talking about, and Adam brought up, 'We should tell her,'' the girl testified. 'Brandon said, 'We shouldn't tell her, because we won't get away with it.''

The female classmate said Bridges and Staup went on to say that they were planning to kill this person.

'I was shocked,' the witness said. 'I was stunned. I was basically just saying, 'You can't be for real.''

The classmate testified that Bridges threatened to come after her if she told anyone what they had said. She said after they dropped Bridges and the other boy off, she was alone in the car with Staup.

'I was saying, 'You can't be serious about killing somebody,'' she recalled.

The classmate said she asked Staup if they were talking about Mejia. She said that he replied that she shouldn't bring up his name were Mejia to disappear.

Still, the witness testified that she didn't take it seriously, and did not report what she had heard.

But testimony in court clearly shows that this was very serious business.

Wylie police Investigator Amanda Villalobos said Staup told her that over the course of three days, he and Bridges hatched the plot. They dug a grave on the fourth day and they carried out the plan on the fifth day.

'He said it started out like a game,' Villalobos said, adding that Staup told her that they didn't talk about the plot on the phone or in writing; they did all their planning in person.

Villalobos said Staup told her that he was the one who suggested creating a fake online messaging account to trick Mejia into thinking that he was coming to meet the girl.

'[Staup] said the initial plan was that they would lure him there and that he would hit Ivan over the head with a bat and knock him out and then Brenden would catch him,' Villalobos said.

But once Mejia arrived at the meeting place, Staup said he began talking to him, and Mejia told him that he was meeting the girl, according to the police account. Staup told investigators Mejia tried to call the girl a couple of times, but it went to voice mail.

'[Staup] panicked and he just grabbed Ivan from behind,' Villalobos said. 'He described it as a 'headlock.''

After suffocating Mejia with a rag and holding his nose shut, the two teenagers allegedly put Mejia in the trunk of Bridges' car and took him to an area near Garland's Firewheel Mall, the investigator testified.

Villalobos testified that Staup told her that Bridges began to get paranoid as they were dumping the body. He also told her that Bridges spotted the Garland police officers who had responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle.

'He said Brenden was freaking out,' the investigator said.

Villalobos said Staup told Bridges stop to calm down and to push the body into the grave that they had dug. Investigators later found Mejia's body in the water.

Bridges began running from the scene, and that's when Villalobos said Staup told Bridges to stop running because it was clear that they were caught.

'He said, 'We just need to face the consequences,'' Villalobos testified.

Throughout her testimony, the investigator described Staup as having a cool, matter-of-fact demeanor as he described the murder plot and its aftermath.

'He really showed very little emotion,' Villalobos said. 'I'm concerned that they thought it out; planned it for a week; went out and dug a hole to bury him in. I feel like there was plenty of time for them to change their mind and to say, 'This is crazy.' This is the first time that I've dealt with a juvenile case where there was this much planning.'

Defense attorneys argued that it didn't seem very sophisticated to have murdered Mejia in a neighborhood where they might be spotted, or to dump the body in a place frequented by local teenagers.

In testimony, A Collin County Juvenile Detention Center counselor recalled his interaction with Staup shortly after the killing. He found Staup's demeanor to be odd.

'He was smiling,' Rickey Kennedy said. 'He appeared happy.'

E-mail teiserer@wfaa.com

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