By Jeff Lehr
JOPLIN, Mo. —
With DNA evidence, his son’s eyewitness account and his own utterances all implicating him, William Laramore was deemed guilty by a jury Thursday of the brutal murder of Sean French and the severe beating of Steve Shockley.
Jurors deliberated 45 minutes before returning verdicts against the 46-year-old Joplin man for first-degree murder and first-degree assault.
Since a first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence in Missouri, Laramore will spend the rest of his life in prison, barring a successful appeal. But he showed no strong emotion as Circuit Judge David Mouton read the verdicts at the conclusion of his two-day trial in Jasper County Circuit Court.
One of the more poignant moments of the trial came when the defendant’s 20-year-old son, Charles Laramore, was called as the state’s final witness against his father.
Charles Laramore testified that his dad called him on his cellphone at 12:25 a.m. on Nov. 15, 2010, and asked him to pick him up at 814 W. A St. in Joplin. His father told him he had been fighting with French, 46, who lived with the defendant and his mother, and was the mother’s boyfriend.
The son told the court that he drove over, and his father called him a second time just as he arrived at the door at 12:33 a.m. His father let him in, and he saw French lying unconscious on the floor of the living room in a pool of blood, making gurgling noises, he told the court.
His father was cursing French and exclaiming that he had told French not to provoke him.
The defendant’s mother was in the hospital at the time, dying of pancreatic cancer. William Laramore had just gone to visit her that day.
“He said that Sean had been disrespectful towards my grandmother by saying that he was going to take her medication and hide it, or keep it for himself, or something like that,” Charles Laramore told the court.
He said that in the few minutes they were together inside the house, his father also acknowledged that he hit Shockley with a metal baseball bat earlier in the night. His father told him that two other people had dragged Shockley out of the home before Charles Laramore came over.
His father kept ranting about French and saying how he was going to kill him, and he then picked up a coffee table and walked over to where French lay bleeding on the floor and threw the table down on him, the son told the court. He said the table caromed off the victim into an entertainment center, and a television toppled over onto French’s head.
Charles Laramore testified that he set the table and television back up, and tried to calm his father down. Under cross-examination by public defender Brett Meeker, the son said he never saw his father hit French with anything other than the coffee table. But he acknowledged under questioning by Assistant Prosecutor John Podleski that his father told him that he had struck French with anything he could grab.
No eyewitness account was presented as to how French suffered many of the blows to his body that were discovered on autopsy by Dr. Carl Stacy, a forensic pathologist at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Stacy testified that French died of blunt-force injuries to the head, with at least four or five blows to the left side of the head and three or four to the right side. He described a “hinge fracture” to the left side of the skull as the type of fatal injury seen in high-velocity traffic accidents, with evidence of hemorrhaging and injury to tissue extending as deep as the center of the victim’s brain.
The prosecution presented blood evidence obtained from a metal bat and a broken leg of the coffee table and from a pair of pants the defendant was wearing that night.
Rachel Lovelace, a DNA criminalist with the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab, testified that the DNA profile of blood obtained from the bat matched Shockley’s DNA profile, while the blood on the table leg was a mixture of French’s and a second donor’s, and that Shockley could not be eliminated as the second donor. The blood on Laramore’s pants matched French’s DNA profile, she said.
The defendant, who was prosecuted as a prior and persistent offender, chose not to testify. Over the objection of prosecutors, however, the judge allowed the defense to call a Joplin police officer who testified that Shockley told him before he was taken to the hospital that night that he had been jumped by two people.
Meeker tried to use the apparent inconsistency of that statement with Shockley’s testimony at trial to raise doubts about who actually attacked the two victims.
Shockley had testified Wednesday by video deposition that he was drinking with William Laramore and French late at night when French apparently thought he was about to suffer a seizure and got down on the floor. As he did, the defendant began berating French and kicking at the soles of his feet.
Shockley said he tried to intervene, and Laramore attacked him with some sort of club. He thought he was struck three or four times in the back of the head. Police later found him wandering in the 400 block of West A Street, bleeding profusely from a skull fracture that literally left his brain exposed. His injuries required staples, and he spent two weeks in the hospital.
Meeker also argued that the blood police observed on Laramore’s hands and the lack of blood found on the handle of the bat or the portion of the table leg that an assailant might grab suggested that someone else may have wielded those weapons. But she raised no other plausible suspect, and Podleski argued that the testimony of Shockley and Charles Laramore clearly spoke to the defendant’s guilt.
“There’s no evidence that contradicts that,” Podleski said. “He’s the one who did it.”
A PROBABLE-CAUSE AFFIDAVIT filed in the murder of Sean French named a woman as a witness to the slaying, and assault victim Steve Shockley referred in his testimony to a woman being present when he, French and William Laramore were drinking together. That woman was not called by either side to testify at trial.