Residents of a tiny rural Missouri community have been sounding the alarm for weeks over what they described as a suspicious fatal shooting of a Black man by his white neighbor, but on Tuesday, a jury’s inquest went with the official version of events and ruled it a justifiable homicide.
Justin King, 28, was found fatally shot in his neighbor’s yard in a Bourbon trailer park community on Nov. 3. The killing was almost immediately deemed self-defense by the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, which said at the time that “it appears that King was shot and killed after forcing entry” into a neighbor’s home.
Police said investigators had managed to “preliminarily corroborate” the shooter’s claim that “he feared for his life and shot King.” Later, after mounting questions from the community, however, they walked that back and promised further investigation before the case would be handed over to the Crawford County Prosecutor’s Office.
On Tuesday, a jury of six Crawford County residents unanimously agreed with the initial police findings, ruling the shooting a justifiable homicide in line with Missouri’s “castle doctrine” law, which holds that residents can use “deadly force” to prevent home invasion and have no obligation to retreat. It is now up to the prosecutor’s office to decide whether or not to file charges or side with the jury.
But many, including King’s family, are questioning whether the jury was provided sufficient evidence to draw that conclusion. The jury, which was handpicked by Crawford County Sheriff Darin Layman, heard testimony from law-enforcement officers and witnesses, and saw a video of investigators questioning the shooter immediately after the killing.
The shooter, who has not been named because he has not been charged, claimed King was high on drugs and broke into his home before breaking several TVs; he admitted to providing King with a joint prior to the shooting, but insisted it was not laced, even though authorities said King had THC and meth in his system at the time of his death.
While police testified that they had corroborated many of the shooter’s claims, surveillance video from the shooter’s trailer, which was described by authorities in their testimony, was not provided for jurors, according to KMOV.
“This is not over. It’s far from over,” King’s father, John King, told the local news outlet. He has said his son was the only Black resident in the trailer park community and questioned whether “racially motivated hate” played a part in the killing.
“The only person that says it’s a home invasion is the guy that shot my son,” King’s father was quoted telling NBC News. “And all the neighbors are saying, ‘No, you shot him in cold blood outside.’”
The local NAACP chapter also raised questions about the shooting and subsequent investigation.
“This is a pattern of conduct that we see in rural Missouri. There’s a reluctance to hold assailants accountable when the victims are Black. It’s a terrible reality that we have here in Missouri,” Nimrod Chapel Jr., the president of the Missouri NAACP, told NBC News.
He said King’s family was “distraught” after “seeing their son being vilified” at the inquest instead of seeing all the evidence presented.
In the aftermath of King’s death, several witnesses have spoken out about what they described as red flags in the shooter’s version of events. Neighbors interviewed by Fox 2 in early December said King was friends with the man who shot him.
“I heard one of them say, ‘Hey, I thought we were friends!’ And you hear the other one say ‘Well, we were!’ And then you hear pop, pop, pop,” neighbor Earl McCoy Jr. told the news outlet.
Dwoyne DeJean, King’s boss, said the 28-year-old father had been working virtually just before the shooting, a fact that made him question the “home invasion” claim.
“He was literally on a 15-minute break,” DeJean told Fox 2. “A kid can be gunned down in front of his house while he’s at work, and nobody cares enough to dig a little deeper.”
Katherine Bosek, another witness, testified for the jury Tuesday, telling them King had been helping her look for her dog just before the shooting, and then both King and the shooter helped her start her car. She said King had confided to her in earlier conversations that he believed the shooter might kill him, something she said she had told police. But the sheriff denied that investigators had ever heard that claim.
King’s family has also said they saw surveillance footage showing the shooter inside King’s home the morning of the shooting. According to Fox 2, the shooter was at the center of an earlier gun case in 2017, when residents of the trailer park said he had pointed a gun at a man’s head.
Charges were ultimately dropped in that case because the accuser failed to show up to court.