Two St. Louis men have walked out of courtrooms with their freedom intact in recent days after juries concluded that they acted in self-defense during encounters with angry motorists.
Last Thursday a jury found 19-year-old Michael Henderson not guilty of murder in the death of 42-year-old Joseph Raymond Shaw, who was shot and killed last August. Henderson and a couple of buddies were riding motorcycles when there was an altercation with Shaw, who was behind the wheel of a Jeep. While prosecutors contended that Henderson was the aggressor in the incident and shot Shaw without cause, defense attorneys pointed to the fact that police found a revolver with several spent shell casings in the vehicle, which they contended meant Shaw had been the first to open fire with Henderson shooting back in self-defense.
One week later a separate jury reached the same conclusion in the trial of 20-year-old Kinard L. Wilson, who had been charged with murder in the death of 33-year-old Maurice Wilbert. Wilson and his attorneys maintained that he never fired any shots and that a passenger in his vehicle returned fire after Wilbert shot at their car, and once again the defense was able to show that Wilbert did have a gun of his own when police searched his vehicle after he was shot and killed.
Police connected Wilson to the shooting through his license plate and then tracked him through cell phone location data. Prosecutors had presented a jail call from Alton in which they said Wilson admitted to driving the car that was involved with the shooting.
Wilson was then interviewed by the police and lied during that interaction about what transpired that day. His lawyer, Thomas Peterson, said that was his client’s biggest mistake.
“If he didn’t talk to the cops, we wouldn’t be here,” Peterson said.
Much like in Henderson’s case, where police found a revolver that contained spent shell casings in the dead man’s vehicle, authorities found a gun on Wilbert when he got to the hospital. The gun was missing two bullets, which Peterson said matched his client’s testimony that he heard two shots from the other car and a similar alert from the nearby police Shot Spotter detection system.
I wasn’t in the courtroom to hear all of the testimony, but if Wilson did lie to the police about the incident and still managed to be acquitted by a jury of his peers prosecutors must not have had much, if any, evidence that he or his passenger were the initial aggressors. Oddly, it doesn’t appear that the passenger in Wilson’s car was ever charged with a crime, even though Wilson himself was charged with murder after admitting he was behind the wheel in a jailhouse phone call recorded by authorities.
I’ve seen cases that were much more obvious acts of self-defense that have resulted in the armed citizen’s arrest and prosecution, so I’m not exactly surprised to see that Wilson and Henderson were both charged with homicide in these road rage incidents. After losing two high-profile homicide trials in seven days, however, I would hope that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gabe Gore won’t be nearly as gung-ho about filing murder charges going forward when there’s strong evidence that the defendant was acting to protect their own life when the fatal shots were fired.