The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

September 4, 2008

Life sentence assessed in 32nd Street murder

By Jeff Lehr

NEOSHO, Mo. — Robert W. Attwood, of Joplin, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison plus 50 years for the shooting death of 19-year-old Aaron King in 2007 in a parking lot on 32nd Street in Joplin.

Newton County Associate Judge Kevin Selby sentenced Attwood, 29, at a hearing in Neosho to life without parole for a first-degree murder conviction rendered by a jury June 25 at the end of a two-day trial in McDonald County on a change of venue from Newton County.

The judge also assessed Attwood a 50-year term for a second conviction for armed criminal action that the jury returned and ordered that the two sentences run consecutively.

But the judge granted a defense motion for a new trial on a third conviction for second-degree assault that the jury rendered. Selby set that conviction aside because of a technicality involving a jury instruction. The judge agreed with the defense that an instruction pertaining to the charge should have included a legal definition of “recklessness,” an element of the crime the prosecution needed to prove.

Attwood shot King through the neck with a .45-caliber handgun in the early morning hours of March 27, 2007, as King sat in the driver’s seat of his car in the parking lot of a plastic surgeon’s practice in front of the Missouri Place Apartments on 32nd Street. The bullet passed through King in a downward trajectory and struck the thigh of front-seat passenger Corey Marshall, also 19 at the time, according to the trial testimony of the Newton County coroner.

The assault conviction set aside by the judge pertained to the wounding of Marshall.

Jake Skouby, Newton County prosecutor, told the Globe after the sentencing hearing that a life term without parole, plus 50 years, may suffice as far as the prosecution is concerned.

“I’m going to explain the situation to Mr. Marshall and discuss it with him,” Skouby said. “Since (the defendant) got life without parole, I doubt that we will reconvene for another trial on a Class C (felony) assault. But, before I make that decision, I’m going to meet with the victim and discuss it.”

The shooting arose out of a dispute between Chris Harrison, 21, a friend of King’s, and Brandon Bowman, 23, both of whom had dated the same woman. Attwood came to the assistance of Bowman and Attwood’s half brother, James Weber, who lived together at the Missouri Place Apartments.

The trial in Pineville focused on whether Harrison, or any of his five friends involved in the dispute, introduced any weapons into the fray during a series of confrontations culminating in the shooting in the parking lot. It also focused on whether the shooting was accidental or deliberate.

Public defender Frank Tolen claimed that Attwood was simply trying to “even the odds” in an unfair fight and intended nothing more than “to scare off” King with the gun. The defense claimed that the gun accidentally discharged.

The prosecution maintained that Attwood “brought a loaded pistol to what was essentially a fistfight,” and that the defendant’s actions in the wake of the shooting reflected his sense of guilt. A Joplin police detective testified for the state that Attwood disassembled the gun and discarded the parts in various ways, then lied to police about what he had done with it.

Appeal prospects

Robert Attwood’s attorney, public defender Frank Tolen, has filed an intent to appeal his client’s convictions for first-degree murder and armed criminal action. Prosecutor Jake Skouby said he is confident those convictions will stand up to appellate-court scrutiny.