The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

September 5, 2012

Trial to decide whether defense of girlfriend was murder

PINEVILLE, Mo. — Kendrick Long acknowledged on the witness stand Wednesday telling a detective a year ago that he could understand why Brian Clapper shot Long’s friend, John Bevill II, the first time but not the second.

Long, 23, of Rogers, Ark., was the state’s key witness on the first day of testimony at Clapper’s trial in Pineville.

“John fell on the ground screaming, and he (Clapper) took a step forward and shot him again,” Long told the court.

Clapper, 32, of Bentonville, Ark., is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree assault and two counts of armed criminal action in the slaying of Bevill, 34, and the wounding of Long on Sept. 23 of last year in southeastern McDonald County.

On the day in question, Clapper was helping Bevill’s ex-girlfriend, Karis Cunigan, retrieve belongings from Bevill’s home on Cecil Epling Way near Washburn. Clapper had been seeing Cunigan since her breakup with Bevill about three months before.

With the permission of Bevill’s landlord, they left some of Cunigan’s larger possessions in a storage shed while they hauled a first load to her home in Arkansas. When they returned that night to pick up the remainder, Bevill spotted Clapper’s truck as he rode by in Long’s car, and he had Long turn back around and pull into the driveway where the confrontation took place.

Long acknowledged that Bevill was angry when they pulled up in front of Clapper’s pickup truck.

“He’s upset because she’s taking things that were not hers,” he said.

Long said Bevill and Cunigan began arguing. Bevill grabbed her near her collarbone, but “not in a death grip,” he said.

He acknowledged hearing Cunigan say something about Bevill having a knife. But he never saw a knife, he said. Long told the court that Clapper pulled a shotgun out of his truck and pointed it at Bevill in an effort to get him to stop, and that Bevill told him: “You don’t have a hair on your a-- if you don’t shoot me.”

By Long’s account, Clapper shot Bevill the first time while he still had a grip on Cunigan. His friend fell to the ground, and Clapper stepped forward and shot him again, he said.

“He was incapacitated,” Long said under cross-examination by defense attorney Andrew Miller. “He was on the ground screaming.”

Long told the court that he reached down and picked up a rock after Bevill was shot. But he dropped the rock when the defendant turned and fired a shot toward him that struck the ground at his feet, he said. He said he started running, and Clapper fired a second shot that struck him in the arm.

Miller attacked Long’s testimony as unreliable because of his use of methamphetamine the previous day and his previous convictions for assault and three counts of obstructing law enforcement.

The defense attorney also pointed out inconsistencies between Long’s testimony Wednesday and his testimony at a preliminary hearing in the case. For instance, Miller pointed out that Long had testified previously that he never saw Bevill after the first shot was fired but now claims he did. The witness explained the discrepancy as a matter of something coming back to him later that he had not been able to recall at the hearing.

Besides Long’s account of what happened, Prosecutor Jonathan Pierce introduced into evidence the account Clapper provided investigators in a videotaped interview a few hours after the shooting.

Clapper told Sgt. Jeff Berryhill in the interview at the McDonald County sheriff’s office that Bevill had slapped some items out of Cunigan’s hands. He said she picked them back up, and Bevill grabbed her by her shirt, breaking her necklace.

Bevill had her by her throat and was bending her backward over the tailgate of Clapper’s truck, he said. He tried to intervene, telling Bevill to let her go, trying to reason with him, the defendant told Berryhill. Cunigan grabbed Bevill’s shirt in an effort to fend him off and managed to pull free of him briefly before Bevill grabbed her once more with his right hand, Clapper said. He said it was then that he spotted a knife in Bevill’s other hand, although he could not tell the deputy what type of knife it was.

“All I saw was the blade,” he said.

Clapper said he saw Bevill swing the hand with the knife toward Cunigan, and he told him he needed to stop. Clapper said he had reached inside the truck and grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun by that point. Bevill kept walking Cunigan toward him with his hand to her throat as Clapper kept backing up, pointing the gun at him and yelling at him to let her go, he said.

By that point of the interview, Clapper was sobbing and shaking. Berryhill asked him repeatedly how Cunigan got away from Bevill before he finally answered that she got away as he fired a first shot in Bevill’s direction that missed. But Bevill kept coming toward him, and he fired a second shot that struck him, he told the deputy.

Clapper told the deputy that at that moment, he felt something hit his face, and he turned and fired a shot into the ground at Long’s feet. When Long started toward him, he fired a second shot that struck him, he told the deputy.

A former reserve deputy testified that four spent shotgun shell casings were found at the scene, and three live shells were recovered from the cab of Clapper’s truck. The shotgun held seven rounds. The deputy testified that Bevill was shot in the chest through his left arm with one round and in his groin with a second round. Long told the court that he was shot in his right arm.

Knives in question

ONE OF THE ISSUES in the trial of Brian Clapper is whether the slain man, John Bevill II, was threatening his ex-girlfriend with a knife. Jurors heard testimony Wednesday that investigators recovered a closed pocketknife from Bevill’s jeans. A second knife was discovered sheathed in the grass several feet away from his body.

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