GREENCASTLE -- A Greencastle man who shot an assault rifle at a Putnam County Sheriff's Department Reserve deputy was convicted by a jury Thursday of Class A felony attempted murder and Class D felonies criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon and resisting law enforcement.
Justin Hargrove, 25, will be sentenced on Feb. 17. He could be sentenced to up to 56 years in prison.
"It was a just verdict," said Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said. "Shooting at a police officer is not acceptable."
Hargrove was charged after an April 6 incident in which he was one of five individuals that drove around Greencastle shooting out of the windows of a moving vehicle driven by Hargrove's then-girlfriend, Lacey Couch.
The five guns used in the incident were stolen during an April 4 burglary at a Coatesville residence. Two of Hargrove's co-defendants, Michael Scott Pryor and Keven Dale Crowe, were convicted in that burglary.
The shooting spree led to a high-speed chase, and eventually a foot pursuit of Hargrove, who jumped from the vehicle while it was moving.
During the vehicle pursuit, Hargrove fired an AR-15 assault rifle at Putnam County Sheriff's Department Reserve Officer Matthew Biggs as Biggs sat in his police cruiser and was preparing to stop the vehicle in which Hargrove was riding.
Hargrove took the stand Thursday -- he was the only witness to testify for the defense.
Hargrove told the jury he had grown up in Indianapolis, but had moved to Greencastle a little over a year ago. He said he had a 10th grade education and he had never had long-term employment.
At the time of his arrest, he said, he was living with Couch.
Couch, Crowe and Pryor all testified for the state.
Hargrove said Crowe and Pryor were "friends of mine." He said they had met through a mutual friend and had spent much time together, playing cards and video games and watching television.
Hargrove went as far as to say that he had considered Crowe and Pryor his best friends in Greencastle.
Hargrove said the night of the shooting he had met up with Crowe and Pryor, and that they had planned to "just hang out" as far as he knew. He said Crowe and Pryor did show him the firearms, and that he had handled and eventually shot them, but that he had no idea they were stolen.
"They said they got them from a friend," Hargrove said.
Hargrove said he and his friends took the guns to a secluded area to shoot them, and that he didn't think what they were doing was dangerous.
As the group left the spot where they were shooting and became aware that they were being followed by a police car, Hargrove said, Couch "tripped out." Hargrove said Couch had been drinking, smoking marijuana and taking Xanax (for which she had a prescription). He said the rest of the people in the car had also been drinking, and that Couch had been sharing her Xanax with them.
"She thought she was going to jail," Hargrove said.
When asked about shooting at Biggs, Hargrove said he was just trying to scare the officer -- and that if he had wanted to kill him, he would have.
"Did you ever have any intention of shooting anyone?" Hargrove's attorney Sidney Tongret asked Hargrove.
"No," Hargrove said.
"Have you ever shot anyone?" Tongret asked.
"No," Hargrove responded.
Hargrove said he just wanted Biggs to stop following him and his friends.
"He was following us and he was coming fast," Hargrove said.
Hargrove said he was high when he shot in Biggs' direction, and that he only fired one round.
Hargrove said the reason he decided to jump from the car was to make the police come after him so his friends could get away.
"You weren't trying to protect anyone but yourself," Bookwalter said. "You went back to Lacey's house, which sent the police there. She ended up arrested and she lost her child. Worked out real good for Lacey, didn't it?"
Bookwalter also took exception to Hargrove's statement that everyone in the car was doing something illegal except for him. Bookwalter asked Hargrove if he was "drinking," "smoking weed" and "popping pills," and Hargrove said he had been.
Tongret pointed out that, once police found Hargrove, Hargrove "didn't fight, struggle or run."
The fact that Hargrove at first denied any involvement in the shootings, Tongret said, was because Hargrove was scared.
"What did you think would happen if you confessed?" Tongret asked.
"I'd go to prison," Hargrove said.
In his taped interview, Hargrove acted genuinely shocked when he was told he was being charged with attempted murder, exclaiming "Are you serious?"
"Did you think you had tried to murder anyone?" Tongret asked.
"No," Hargrove said.