PINEVILLE, Mo. —
A judge assessed Caleb Saddler seven years in prison Tuesday for the fatal shooting of Michael Smith, of Goodman.
Saddler, 28, a welder from Del Rio, Texas, pleaded guilty Sept. 10 to involuntary manslaughter in a plea deal with the McDonald County prosecutor’s office that allowed the defendant to avoid trial on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. Under terms of the plea bargain, he was to receive a minimum of five years, or up to seven years, in prison.
Circuit Judge Tim Perigo decided to assess Saddler the full seven years at a sentencing hearing in Pineville.
Smith, 31, was fatally shot in the head during a night of drinking with Saddler and John Shellenberger on May 17-18, 2012, at the home of Shellenberger and his girlfriend, Danette Busch, about five miles west of Goodman.
Saddler had come to Missouri from Texas for the funeral of a grandfather and was staying with the couple. The night in question, Shellenberger became upset with Smith, reportedly prompting Saddler to ask Shellenberger and Busch if they wanted him to shoot Smith.
Busch testified at a preliminary hearing more than a year ago that the couple emphatically told Saddler that they did not want him to do that. But, after Busch went to bed, the three men resumed drinking together outside the residence, culminating with Saddler sticking a .45-caliber pistol in Smith’s face and threatening to shoot him.
According to Shellenberger’s testimony at the preliminary hearing, Smith drunkenly responded that he was not afraid to die and directed the barrel of the gun into his own mouth. Shellenberger said he then saw Smith grab the barrel and heard the gun fire. He told the court that he did not believe the two men were struggling for control of the weapon when it discharged.
Later, Saddler tried to burn Smith’s body by placing a tire on his chest and setting it on fire, according to testimony in the case. He eventually crammed the corpse into a plastic barrel and dumped the barrel in a ravine on his grandfather’s property in Newton County.
THE WIFE OF A COUSIN OF MICHAEL SMITH provided a victim-impact statement to the judge Tuesday at the sentencing hearing of Caleb Saddler, describing the loss that Smith’s relatives felt after his death.