Jury acquits 64-year old veteran in fatal gas station shooting

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File

After reading the details of the case, it’s no wonder that a jury found 64-year old Marvin Humphrey not guilty of murder. The real question is why on earth prosecutors ever charged him in the first place.

Back on Thanksgiving Day in 2019, Humphrey stopped at a Love’s Travel Stop in north St. Louis to pick up a 12-pack of beer. The man behind him, 33-year old Shawn Stewart, apparently thought that Humphrey was taking too long with his transaction and began arguing with him before eventually leaving the store. Instead of leaving the property, however, Stewart was waiting for Humphrey, and when the older man walked outside Stewart attacked.

Stewart punched Humphrey at least 12 times and kicked him after he fell on the ground, defense attorneys said.

Eventually, Stewart’s father tried to intervene, but as Humphrey stood up from the ground, he shot both men multiple times. Stewart died. The father survived.

Prosecutors charged Humphrey in January 2020 with first-degree murder, assault and armed criminal action roughly two months later, arguing he had plenty of opportunities to leave without firing his gun.

On Wednesday, Assistant Circuit Attorney Alex Polta repeatedly said Humphrey was responsible for escalating the situation. He alleged Humphrey walked up to Stewart and shot him in the head even after the encounter was over, showing criminal motive.

“There was no threat to his life,” Polta said. “It’s obvious nobody is armed; it’s obvious this is a fistfight.”

That’s absolute nonsense. People die from beatings all the time. According to the FBI, there were more homicides in 2019 in which hands, fists or feet were the murder weapon than killings in which a rifle was used.
When Humphrey drew his weapon and fired, he had already been repeatedly punched and kicked, and had no idea whether his attacker’s father was coming to join in or to try to stop his son from going further. Clearly the jury felt that Humphrey had a justifiable fear of death or great bodily injury at when he drew his gun, and it’s hard to argue otherwise given that he had just been pummeled to the ground by a man half his age for no reason whatsoever.
Humphrey wasn’t the aggressor in this dispute. He was jumped by Stewart as he was leaving Love’s and hoping to get on with his Thanksgiving, and yet prosecutors portrayed him as a cold-blooded killer who acted with premeditation in shooting and killing the younger man.
The tragic events that Thanksgiving day were indeed avoidable, but not by Marvin Humphrey.  Shawn Stewart was the person who made the ill-fated decision to wait outside the gas station so he could give Humphrey a beatdown instead of simply driving off with his dad. He was the one who put into motion the chain of events that led to his death and the wounding of his father, not Humphrey. I have a lot of sympathy for Stewart’s family, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was his bad decisions that directly resulted in his death.
Humphrey’s attorneys Brandy Barth and Talmage Newton said in a post-acquittal statement that their client never should have been charged with murder because he was acting in self-defense, and while I too find that decision inexplicable I’m glad that justice has finally been done.