On Friday night, Jan. 23, 2015, just before 10 p.m., after a five day trial in Shannon County, a jury of nine men and three women found Howell County resident Craig Belcher, 28, of Pottersville, Missouri, not guilty of charges stemming from a shooting which occurred on August 7, 2011, in Howell County.
Howell County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Josh Corman filed the initial charges in the matter accusing Mr. Belcher of Assault in the First Degree, by knowingly causing serious physical injury to Mark Riley by shooting him, Unlawful Use of a Weapon by discharging a weapon while Intoxicated, and Armed Criminal Action.
According to information provided by Belcher’s attorney, Christopher Swatosh, of Ava, Mo., his client, Craig Belcher, had been separated from his wife for approximately four weeks when the shooting incident occurred. Swatosh said that his client had taken possession of a marital pet, a shih tzu dog named “Johnny,” earlier in the evening on August 6, 2011, and had later called his then wife Caitlyn Riley Belcher to let her know “Johnny” was alright and that he would return the dog the following day, August 7, 2011.
Swatosh said that Caitlyn became distraught and went to her parent’s home to request help in getting “Johnny.” Craig and Caitlyn Belcher did not have and do not have children, but at trial, according to Belcher’s attorney, each side testified that the dog was treated like a “baby.” Swatosh went on to say that his client resisted returning the dog because it was late, but later agreed to return the dog to the marital residence where he and Caitlyn had lived at 8970 County Road 7590, Pottersville, Mo.
When Belcher arrived at the “marital” home, Swatosh said that Mark Riley, Caitlyn’s father, brought a .30 caliber carbon rifle, an 870 Remington shotgun, a baseball bat and a “stun gun.”
According to Swatosh, his client delivered “Johnny” to his wife, who was sitting in the passenger seat of the Riley Tahoe, and when he walked away from the vehicle, Mark Riley jumped out of the Tahoe and fired two shots in the direction of his client, who, according to Swatosh, was approximately 25 feet from the Riley vehicle and in the direct lights of the Tahoe.
“My client was fired at after Riley had him in his sights like a deer in headlights; there was nowhere for Craig to go; he was a sitting duck and if he turned and ran, he was worried he would take a bullet in the back; my client thought he was going to die; he returned one gun shot from his pistol, hoping that the gun fire would cease and instead, Mark Riley returned fire, which caused Belcher to continue shooting,” said Swatosh.
Swatosh said that his client was acting in self-defense, to protect his life, and that it’s “what any normal person would do when threatened with a life or death situation.” “My client’s ‘fight or flight’ instincts took over, and if he could have taken cover, he would have, but Riley waited for his son-in-law to get approximately 25 feet from the vehicle before ambushing him, leaving Belcher with no other option but to defend his life with his pistol,” added Swatosh.
Swatosh said that the jury deliberated for less than an hour and said he was proud of the Shannon County jury who used “common sense” in delivering a quick verdict after such a lengthy trial, and that the “jury obviously understood that self-defense, regardless of whether someone, in their own home, had something to drink, precludes prosecuting a person for defending their life.”
“My client didn’t want to make a dog exchange at one in the morning,” said Swatosh, “and he called his estranged wife numerous times requesting that he be allowed to return the dog the following day.” Swatosh said there was undisputed evidence that the Riley’s demanded the dog be returned at such a late hour.
Swatosh said the Howell County team of prosecutors asked the jury to consider convicting his client of 2nd Degree Assault in lieu of 1st degree Assault, as well as Unlawful use of a Weapon and Armed Criminal Action. Swatosh said his client was gratified and thankful that the jury found him not guilty on all of the charges, and thanked them for their service. Swatosh said his client took the stand and testified in his own defense on Friday afternoon before the trial finally concluded.
Swatosh said, “the jury rejected all of the State’s theories, and decided, rightfully, that self-defense granted his client absolute immunity; I’m proud of our country’s justice system, and in our State’s self-defense law and particularly proud of Shannon County. The Second Amendment is alive and well in Missouri!”