The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

September 7, 2012

Jury acquits Arkansas man in McDonald County murder case

PINEVILLE, Mo. — The verdict left Brian Clapper, his family and supporters temporarily speechless with relief Friday afternoon and hugging each other in congratulations.

It was quite the opposite with family members and friends of John Bevill II and Kendrick Long, who seemed stunned and left the courthouse in Pineville with little comment.

After deliberating about an hour and 40 minutes, the McDonald County Circuit Court jury of four men and eight women acquitted the 32-year-old Clapper on all four counts that he was facing in the shooting death of Bevill, 34, and the wounding of Long, 23, almost a year ago in southeastern McDonald County.

The jury had the option of convicting Clapper of any of the lesser offenses of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter with respect to the death of Bevill if it did not think he committed first-degree murder. Jurors also could have convicted him of second-degree assault or misdemeanor assault in the wounding of Long if they thought a conviction for first-degree assault was not warranted.

The jury chose instead to find that the defendant was justified in shooting both men.

Andrew Miller, lead attorney for Clapper, said the four-day trial was difficult for all concerned because anyone could look at the core situation and “interpret what happened in a variety of ways.”

“I felt Brian made the best decisions he could make at the time based on what he was facing,” Miller said after the verdict was rendered.

Clapper shot Bevill twice with a 12-gauge shotgun during a confrontation in a driveway near Bevill’s home. At the time, Bevill had his hand to the throat of his ex-girlfriend, Karis Cunigan, and was pushing her toward Clapper, who had warned him to stop and let her go.

After shooting Bevill, Clapper turned the gun on Bevill’s friend Long, discharging the weapon once at his feet and wounding him in the arm with a second shot.

The McDonald County prosecutor’s office initially charged Clapper with second-degree murder in the death of Bevill and first-degree assault with respect to Long. The murder count was upgraded to first degree based largely on the account Long provided investigators a few days after the shooting. Long told them Bevill fell to the ground screaming in agony after the first shot and that Clapper “stepped forward” and shot him a second time.

“‘Stepped forward,’” Prosecutor Jonathan Pierce said, emphasizing Long’s testimony during closing arguments.

“Deliberation,” he added, ticking off the legal elements for a first-degree murder conviction. “Cool reflection. No matter the amount of time.”

He told jurors Clapper and Cunigan could have avoided the confrontation with Bevill that night but did not. They could have turned around and left when they spotted him and Long on their way to a storage shed to pick up her belongings, he said. They could have left when the two men pulled into the driveway and Bevill began challenging what they were doing, he said.

The prosecutor downplayed the threat Bevill posed to Cunigan and the defendant.

“We don’t know if it was an actual chokehold or not,” he said.

The prosecution maintained that Clapper’s and Cunigan’s claims of having seen a knife in Bevill’s hand were vitiated by the discovery after the shooting of the slain man’s closed knife in a pocket of his jeans.

Pierce pointed out in closing arguments that Clapper admitted shooting Long and had no cause for doing so other than that Long picked up a rock to defend himself when his friend was shot and that Clapper claimed to have felt something hit his face when he fired a second shot toward Bevill. He reminded the jurors that Long told them he dropped the rock and ran when Clapper turned the gun on him.

Miller told jurors that the prosecutor’s claim that Clapper stepped forward to shoot Bevill after he was down on the ground runs counter to the medical evidence in the case.

“He hasn’t a single shred of evidence that says that, and he’s trying to put my client in jail for the rest of his life,” Miller told the jury.

He reminded them also that the medical examiner’s initial finding in the case was that Bevill was shot first in the chest and then in the groin because he found little bleeding from the groin wound. The defense maintained that this showed the shots were fired in fairly rapid succession and while Bevill still posed a threat to both Cunigan and the defendant.

Clapper maintained that Long was coming around the truck and toward the defendant when he shot him. His attorneys attacked Long’s reliability as a witness at trial, emphasizing his drug use and prior convictions for assault and obstruction of law enforcement. The defense elicited similar testimony with respect to Bevill’s past and painted him as “violent,” “possessive” and “aggressive” to jurors.

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