Prosecutor Theresa Kenney told a jury Monday that Ricky Marchbanks got into an argument with his neighbor Jeremy Neeper four years ago over "something about a motorcycle."
Their argument became heated, the prosecutor said. Neeper's wife tried to intervene. Neeper pushed her away, she said.
The disputants separated, and Marchbanks called police and told them Neeper assaulted his wife, she said. Carthage police came and questioned the couple about what happened. Neeper's wife denied that there had been any assault and police left, the prosecutor told jurors during opening statements the first day of Marchbanks' trial on murder charges in Jasper County Circuit Court.
But Marchbanks had been drinking and was angry, Kenney told the jury. He went to the home of a woman he knows and complained to her about something Neeper had done to his lawn mower and about how he had assaulted his own wife right in front of him. He told the woman that he was probably going to have to kill his neighbor, Kenney said.
"The evidence will be: Within three hours, he acted on that," she said.
The prosecutor acknowledged that Neeper, 38, also was not about to let the matter drop. He was angry about Marchbanks, who was 59 at the time, having called police and walked over to Marchbanks' yard later the same day and tipped his riding lawn mower over on its side. Marchbanks came home from his friend's place that night, saw the overturned lawn mower and right away knew who had done it.
He called a male friend to come over and help him set the lawn mower back upright. Then he grabbed his rifle, got in his truck with the friend and started to leave.
Kenney said Neeper, who had gone to bed, heard the truck and came charging out of his house in his underwear, yelling at Marchbanks and calling him names. He even slapped the back end of the truck as Marchbanks drove past Neeper's yard on Valley Street. She said the defendant stopped the truck about 75 feet down the street and got out, armed with the rifle.
Kenney said Neeper's teenage stepson was watching from the living room of their home as he heard Neeper speak his last words: "What? You got a gun? What you gonna do? Shoot me?"
"And Mr. Marchbanks answers with one shot," Kenney said.
Public defender Angela Acree provided a decidedly different account of the shooting for jurors during opening statements.
"Jeremy Neeper had a gun," she declared right off the bat.
He was mad at the world; he was mad at his neighbor, Acree said.
He came running down the stairs from his bedroom with a gun in his hand and shot at Marchbanks' truck as he drove past, she told jurors. Something hit the truck, she said. Marchbanks got out to see what it was and saw Neeper standing there with a gun pointed at him, she said.
"At that moment, he made the decision: 'It's either him or me,'" she said.
The problem is that when police arrived on the scene, there was no gun in the yard where Neeper lay dying. That's because someone removed it from the scene, she suggested. She said jurors will hear evidence that a neighbor looking out their window saw someone running from the scene.
Acree said they will also hear that when police arrived, Neeper's wife was in the yard with her fallen husband and her son was on his phone in the doorway of their home. But neither of them were the ones who called police, she said. It was a neighbor who reported the shooting.
She said police found an airsoft gun and a BB gun in Neeper's residence, neither of which Marchbanks was likely to have mistaken for a lethal weapon. But Neeper also was known to have possessed a pellet gun that used gas cartridges, one of which was found on a table inside the house. But the pellet gun itself was not found, she said.
"Someone hid that gun," Acree told jurors.
She said police spent time looking for the round that killed Neeper but spent no time looking for the gun Marchbanks tried to tell them Neeper had.
"Because there's no gun, they don't believe there's self-defense going on here," Acree told the jury.
Marchbanks is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action. A panel of 70 prospective jurors was called for the trial. Jury selection took most of the day on Monday, with nine men and five women being seated to hear the case. Two of those chosen will serve as alternates.
Just one witness was called by the state before Judge David Mouton sent jurors home for the night with the trial to resume about 9 a.m. today.
First witness's account
Wanda Brady testified Monday that when Ricky Marchbanks came to her house on May 16, 2016, he was drinking and "riled up" about his neighbor, Jeremy Neeper. She said Marchbanks told her "that he was going to have to kill him, but he said that about everybody."
On cross-examination by public defender Angela Acree, she said that she did not take what he said seriously. That prompted Assistant Prosecutor Nate Dally to make the point on redirect examination that this time his threat to kill someone proved to be different from those other times since he actually carried out the threat.