Archive for Thursday, April 4, 2002

Shooting case ends in mistrial

April 4, 2002

A Douglas County jury deliberated for almost eight hours Wednesday but was unable to reach a verdict in the case of a man charged in the October shooting in Baldwin.

The eight-man, four-woman jury's inability to reach a unanimous decision caused District Judge Jack Murphy to declare a mistrial in the case involving former Baldwin resident Stephen Meeker.

Meeker, 35, was charged with aggravated battery, aggravated assault and attempted aggravated battery after allegedly shooting and wounding Steven Swafford, 31, Lawrence, on Oct. 14 in west Baldwin.

According to court testimony, Meeker shot Swafford three times with bullets fired from a 9 mm Ruger pistol after an argument between children escalated into a neighborhood dispute.

Testimony revealed Kerry Chalmers, Swafford's girlfriend, who was upset about comments that had been made to her children, confronted her next-door neighbor, Erin Meeker, Stephen Meeker's wife, and threatened to "kick her ass."

Erin Meeker testified Chalmers actually entered her house and threatened to kill her.

Stephen Meeker, who had just gotten out of the shower, said he heard the threats, didn't take the time to dress but grabbed his pistol, and confronted Chalmers, backing her out of the house.

When he reached the doorway of his house, Stephen Meeker said he turned and fired at Swafford and Swafford's friend, Christopher O'Neill, in self-defense because they were charging at him.

Swafford and O'Neill said they were only trying to distract him so he wouldn't shoot Chalmers.

Court testimony lasted five days and the jury heard from a number of witnesses including law enforcement agents, neighbors and even Meeker's attorney, Jim Rumsey.

Wednesday morning, Douglas County Sheriff's Lt. Ken Massey was recalled to testify about statements he made the previous day. Massey testified he told Rumsey before the preliminary hearing in December that one of the defense witnesses approached him and said he hadn't witnessed anything on the night of the shooting.

After talking to Massey, the witness, Steve Hatcher, a neighbor and friend of the Meekers, then gave a statement to a sheriff's deputy that he had heard Chalmers yelling threats and had seen her in the Meekers' house. Hatcher testified in court that he had seen what he reported to the deputy and said Massey never asked him if he had seen anything.

Rumsey took the stand Wednesday morning, and under questioning from another attorney, Charles Branson, he said Massey had never told him about the conversation with Hatcher.

In closing arguments Wednesday, Douglas County Assistant District Attorney Dan Dunbar told the jury that Meeker was not justified in shooting Swafford. Dunbar said a "reasonable" person would not have used a gun in that situation.

Rumsey argued Meeker didn't have any choice because he was dealing with "bullies." Rumsey said Meeker was only defending himself and his family.

"Man fires gun to protect family and home from aggressors that's what this case is about," he said.

The jury began deliberations at noon and returned shortly before 8 p.m. with no verdict.

Meeker will appear in court at 1:30 p.m. April 15 to find out whether a second trial will take place.

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