NEOSHO, Mo. — A jury acquitted a McDonald County man of murder charges Thursday in a case involving the state's controversial "stand your ground" law.
A jury of eight women and four men deliberated almost three and a half hours before finding Matthew S. Bowman, 41, not guilty of either second-degree murder or armed criminal action in the 2015 shooting death of Jimmie Tillery, 38, of Pea Ridge, Arkansas.
Bowman hugged his two young sons in the courtroom following the reading of the verdicts. The defendant and his family were clearly relieved though emotionally drained at the end of the four-day trial that was moved to Newton County on a change of venue.
"It's just been horribly constant worrying and stressing about (the case) and the legal aspects of it," Bowman said of the two years spent under the dark cloud of murder charges.
Jurors were given a verdict option of involuntary manslaughter if they felt what Bowman did fall short of second-degree murder but still warranted punishment by the state. They chose instead to clear him of any offense. His attorney, Ted Luby, said the jurors did their job and followed the law and the instructions given them by the court.
"Although this was a tragic event, Mr. Bowman conducted himself under the law at all times," Luby said.
Bowman shot Tillery five times as Tillery sat in the driver's seat of his pickup truck about 50 feet from the porch where the defendant stood armed with an AK-47 rifle.
Bowman testified that Tillery had come to the residence on Karla Road in McDonald County and threatened to kill him shortly after he and his sons moved in with Tillery's ex-wife, Cheryl Tillery. The threats continued in phone calls placed to Cheryl Tillery at her place of work in Arkansas.
An application for a protection order against Tillery was pending in McDonald County Circuit Court when Bowman looked out a window on Sept. 17, 2015, and spotted Tillery sitting in his pickup truck at the head of the driveway to his ex-wife's house. Bowman armed himself with the rifle and stepped out on the porch.
According to the defendant, Tillery drove toward Bowman from the head of the driveway at high speed, causing him to think at first that Tillery intended to crash into the house. Bowman testified that Tillery instead stopped short and shouted from his truck that he wanted to talk to Cheryl. Bowman testified that he shouted back that he should leave.
Bowman maintains that he had reason to believe Tillery was armed. Cheryl had told him that her ex-husband possessed a concealed carry permit and liked to carry a handgun with him at all times. The defendant told the sheriff's office at the time of the shooting, and testified in court again this week, that he raised his rifle and fired when Tillery appeared to be reaching for a gun.
His attorney argued at trial that his client's decision to shoot was lawful because Tillery was trespassing at the time, had made prior threats to kill Bowman, his ex-wife and himself, and was acting on that day "in a violent, tumultuous manner."
Prosecutor Bill Dobbs spoke with several of the jurors after the trial about their decision and told the Globe he believes their verdict was consistent with their interpretation of the "stand your ground" law. Dobbs said the standard for the self-defense claim is "a reasonable belief you are in imminent threat of serious injury or death."
"If I had felt the death of Jimmie Tillery was a justified homicide, I never would have charged Mr. Bowman," Dobbs said.
The prosecutor indicated that he filed the murder charges primarily because when sheriff's deputies arrived on the scene of the shooting, they found Jimmie Tillery dead in the driver's seat of his truck with his seat belt on, the truck in reverse gear, the engine running and both of his feet on the brake pedal. There was no gun in the truck.
Following a jury's acquittal of him on Thursday, Matthew Bowman once again displayed disdain for the validity of some evidence the McDonald County sheriff's office reported having found scene of the shooting of Jimmie Tillery.
While Bowman was not specific in his comment after the trial, he told the Globe in a telephone interview in December 2015 that he believed Tillery was not still wearing a seat belt and his truck was in park, not reverse, when deputies arrived on the scene.