Guilty verdict on aggravated battery charge in shooting case; hung jury on other count
A Putnam County jury deliberated nearly five hours Wednesday night before returning a guilty verdict on one of two criminal charges against Robert Eugene Young, 60, Cloverdale, in a March 2016 shooting incident.
The Putnam Circuit Court jury of four women and eight men found Young guilty of aggravated battery causing bodily injury, a Level 3 felony, in the shooting of Jeffrey D. Perkins, 59, Greencastle, in an equipment ownership and property dispute on Young’s land four miles south of U.S. 40 on State Road 243.
Meanwhile, a hung jury was declared on the Level 2 felony count of attempted voluntary manslaughter. Reports indicated there were two jury holdouts on the attempted voluntary manslaughter charge, which resulted in the hung jury with a reported 10-2 vote for conviction.
It was necessary for the jury vote to be unanimous to convict Young on either count.
The aggravated battery count carries a sentencing range of 3-16 years in prison. Young will be sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Matt Headley during a June 13 hearing.
Attempted voluntary manslaughter, a Level 2 felony, is punishable by 10-30 years in prison. Had Young been convicted of both counts, he could have faced a maximum sentence of 46 years in prison.
Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said his office will have up to 20 days following sentencing to decide to pursue the voluntary manslaughter charge for a second time.
“We’re satisfied with that verdict (on the aggravated battery charge),” Bookwalter told the Banner Graphic, “and after sentencing we’ll make a decision on whether the other count should be retried or not.”
Perkins, who suffered a serious head injury as a result of the shooting, remains in a nursing care facility at Avon. Prior to the March 25, 2016 shooting incident, the local contractor had done roofing work at the Young residence that became the focal point of the dispute between the two men.
The jury began deliberations about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday following lengthy final instructions by Judge Headley and final arguments by Bookwalter and defense counsel Jeff Boggess in the three-day trial.
During opening arguments, Prosecutor Bookwalter had told the jury evidence would show Young intentionally fired the 9mm handgun that wounded Perkins. Meanwhile, defense attorney Boggess countered by saying his client intended to fire a warning shot but was bumped by Perkins’ truck, causing the trajectory of the bullet to be altered, sending it through the rear window and into thevictim’s head.
Boggess told the jury Perkins knew he was “coming on Young’s property uninvited at a time (approximately 3:45 p.m.) when most people are not home” and was “possibly trying to kill my client with his truck.”
Ostensibly Perkins was attempting to retrieve a disputed set of scaffolding which had been on Young’s property for more than three years.
Perkins was “repeatedly told to leave” the rural property, Boggess said. On video Young repeatedly said Perkins was not going to leave his property with the scaffolding, which he had held onto because of what he alleged to be unsatisfactory work on his roof.
As Wednesday’s proceedings began, Bookwalter called upon Steve Perkins, who testified that he asked to borrow the scaffolding from brother Jeffrey about 10 days prior to the shooting incident in order to do brick work on his home. That is what reportedly motivated the victim to go to the Young property to retrieve it.
In later testimony Shirley Young, the defendant’s wife, said her husband had gone to Perkins’ property more than three years ago, loaded up the scaffolding and brought it back to his property where it had remained ever since.
She characterized Perkins’ actions as theft and trespassing.
Defendant Young declined to testify on his own behalf in the case.
“Under the circumstances,” defense attorney Boggess noted, “with the videos entered (into evidence), it’s like he already has.”
Reminding the jury that “serious, serious charges require serious, serious proof,” Boggess hammered away at the options Perkins had for “escape routes” to leave the property other than possibly run over Young who had positioned himself behind the truck.
He could have driven out at least two other exits to the land besides the one Mrs. Young blocked with her car, Boggess noted, “without running over my client.”
“Or here’s a crazy idea,” the defense counsel offered during final arguments, “he could have waited for the police to come.”
Mrs. Young had already called State Police twice before the incident escalated and the shooting occurred.
Instead, Boggess said, Perkins was “trying to get out of dodge with the scaffolding.”
The defense counsel also called Perkins’ truck a deadly weapon and said using it as such should constitute a felony. He also noted that Young told State Police he was in fear of his life and was preparing to fire a warning shot to get Perkins to stop backing the three-ton truck at all.
“He got hit a little bit,” Boggess said of Young. “Enough to throw his aim off. Again, it was one shot, not two, not four, not eight. One.”
That one bullet struck Perkins in the forehead as he was turned, looking over his shoulder out the rear window of the truck.
Steve Perkins earlier told the court his brother, who has lost more than 100 pounds since the shooting, no longer has normal motor skills and can’t get out of a wheelchair or bed without assistance.
“Has he gotten any better the last six months or in the past year?” Bookwalter asked.
“No,” Steve Perkins succinctly replied.
Boggess said the prosecution was attempting to convict his client of a crime by “accusing him of being a jerk” or because Young complained about his neighbors or said odd things and “didn’t care about Jeff Perkins enough.”
Bookwalter, meanwhile, said the theme he saw develop was that the shooting was everyone’s fault except the man accused of it.
“He should have left by some other exit ... State Police didn’t get there in time ... (CSI) Cody didn’t do his job right ... he didn’t like 1st Sgt. Fajt’s attitude ... he’s got bad neighbors ...”
The prosecutor said Young “acted out of anger, not fear” and put himself in harm’s way despite never being physically or verbally threatened by Perkins.
Immediately after the shooting, Bookwalter stressed, Young is captured on a State Police dashboard camera saying, “I meant to kill that stupid SOB.”
“You get the real truth right there,” the prosecutor said. “The only thing he didn’t know over that 4-1/2 to five hours (before his interview at the Putnamville State Police Post) that it turned into an accident was that the car camera was running.”
Bookwalter noted that later, during Young’s interview at the post, it became “an accident.”
“Nothing is Mr. Young’s fault. Mr. Perkins backed into him and made the gun go off.”
Dramatizing the fateful moment in Johnnie Cochran fashion, Bookwalter removed Young’s 9mm handgun from evidence and handed it to 1st Sgt. Jason Fajt to clear it of any ammunition (there was none). Crouching in front of the jury, Bookwalter tucked the weapon in his right pants pocket in an effort to demonstrate what Young claimed had happened that afternoon.
“I’ve got pretty loose pants here,” the prosecutor said, noting it was still difficult to even remove the handgun from his pocket as he tried to make a simultaneous move to the right to imitate what Young had said he did as the truck was backing up.
Noting that the trigger was even actually “pretty hard to pull,” Bookwalter said the picture Young had painted “doesn’t make sense. It didn’t happen.”
The defense argument was that Young was poised to fire straight up in the air but impact from the truck hitting him about abdomen level caused the trajectory of the bullet to change, smashing through the rear window and striking Perkins.
Producing a weapon and thus suggesting deadly force is no way to settle a property matter that could have been resolved in small claims court, the prosecutor suggested.
“You can’t bring a gun to a fistfight,” Bookwalter summarized, later adding, “And you don’t shoot somebody over $50 worth of rusty scaffolding.”