The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

September 6, 2012

Defendant claims first shot was intended as warning

PINEVILLE, Mo. — Brian Clapper stuck to his story Thursday when he testified in his own defense at his trial in McDonald County Circuit Court on murder and assault charges.

Asked by defense attorney Andrew Miller if he had spoken the truth when he was interviewed a year ago by a deputy in the aftermath of the slaying of John Bevill II, 34, and the wounding of Kendrick Long, 23, Clapper said there was nothing he would change about his statement.

Clapper had told the deputy that he fired four shots with a pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun the night of Sept. 23, 2011, in defense of his girlfriend and himself. By his account, Bevill had a grip on the throat of Karis Cunigan in defiance of Clapper’s warnings for him to stop and let her go, and Bevill was pushing her toward him when he fired the first of two shots toward Bevill at close range.

Cunigan testified Thursday that, like Clapper, she thought the first shot missed. That’s what Clapper had told the deputy, and he stuck to the claim on the witness stand, stating that he never intended to hit Bevill with the first shot.

“I meant to fire a warning,” Clapper ultimately told the court under cross-examination by Prosecutor Jonathan Pierce.

Pierce pointed out that both shots obviously struck Bevill; the pathologist who performed the autopsy testified that Bevill had been shot in the groin, and through the back of his left arm and into his chest. Long, the state’s key witness, had testified Wednesday that Bevill fell to the ground screaming in agony after the first shot, and that Clapper then stepped forward and shot him a second time.

Pierce pressed the point home with the defendant on the witness stand, asking him who shot Bevill the second time if it was not him.

“Well, it wasn’t Kendrick,” Pierce said. “It wasn’t Karis. You shot and killed him, didn’t you?”

“As far as I know, yes,” Clapper was forced to admit.

Pierce then asked him if he had turned and fired two more shots at Long. Clapper admitted that he had fired the third shot “in the general direction” of Long and that a fourth shot “went off.” He said he did not know where on Long’s body the fourth shot hit him, only that it must have struck him.

The trial of Clapper, 32, of Bentonville, Ark., is expected to go to the jury sometime today after closing arguments. The defense finished presenting its case Thursday afternoon with the testimony of the defendant. Defense attorneys Miller and Kristen Pawlik have argued that their client was justified in his efforts to protect Cunigan and himself.

Cunigan, who had broken up with Bevill a couple of months before the shooting and had been seeing Clapper, testified that Bevill was slow to let her retrieve the possessions she had left in his home.

“My main concern was really my son’s things,” she said. “I wanted those out.”

She said she and Clapper sought help at the McDonald County Sheriff’s Department, thinking a deputy might be able to stand by while they picked up her belongings. She said they were advised instead to try to get them on their own when Bevill’s new girlfriend was there and he was not, and that is what they did.

Bevill showed up with Long just as Cunigan and Clapper returned that night to pick up a final load they had left in a shed with the permission of Bevill’s landlord.

“Did you have any emotional reaction to seeing (Bevill) up there?” Pawlik asked Cunigan.

“It scared me,” she said.

Cunigan described Bevill as a man with a temper who had served time in prison for a drug conviction and had been a past user of methamphetamine. She said she had just started loading stuff into Clapper’s truck when Bevill and Long pulled up and Bevill began challenging what they were doing.

She said Bevill slapped a box of Christmas decorations out of her hands to the ground and began calling her a thief as she bent down to get them. He entered the shed, claiming he wanted “to see what else you have stolen,” and then came back out and started getting “rougher and rougher” with her, she said.

“I don’t think he ever closed his fist, but he kept grabbing my throat,” Cunigan said.

He also “started smacking me around,” she said. She fought back, especially when he pulled off her necklace. She said Bevill always carried a knife, and she saw that knife in his hand at a point in the confrontation when he gestured toward Clapper.

Cunigan acknowledged that she also had a sheathed knife hooked to her belt at her back that she had brought along to assist in packing and moving her possessions. She identified a picture of a sheathed knife found at the scene by deputies as being the knife she had in her possession. She told the court that Bevill may have grabbed it from her belt and thrown it aside during their struggle.

She said Bevill bent her backward over the dropped tailgate of Clapper’s truck and was walking her around the back of the truck toward Clapper with his hand to her throat, with Clapper yelling at him to let her go, when she heard the first shot. She thought that shot missed Bevill, but a second shot did not.

“I think I remember him saying: ‘He shot me,’” Cunigan said. “I’m pretty sure he said my name.”

Dr. Keith Norton, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, testified that the fatal shot was the one that passed through Bevill’s left arm and into his chest. The shot struck the back of his arm first, and stippling around the wound indicates that it was fired within 41 inches, he said.

He testified that it was difficult to say which shot was fired first, although his preliminary finding was that the chest shot came first. He said he based that opinion on the discovery of minimal bleeding caused by the groin wound, suggesting that the victim’s blood pressure may have been attenuated by the previous injury to the heart.

Norton said that when he was informed that a witness reported hearing Bevill screaming in pain after the first shot, he had to acknowledge the possibility that he may have been shot in the groin first. He said someone who suffered that shot could have walked some distance and screamed.

The pathologist found no blood in the victim’s trachea, which he said might be expected had he been shot in the chest first and had screamed.

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