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Shawgo found not guilty

  • Beau Shawgo receives hugs from family members after a seven-woman, five-man jury found him not guilty of involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday at the Randolph County Courthouse.

    Beau Shawgo receives hugs from family members after a seven-woman, five-man jury found him not guilty of involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday at the Randolph County Courthouse.
    Pete Spitler/Herald Tribune

 
 
updated: 4/19/2017 9:09 AM

After two days of courtroom testimony, and several rounds of surveillance video, the jury in Beau Shawgo's trial needed about 15 minutes Tuesday to find him not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

"It always feels good to achieve the outcome you're hoping for," said defense co-counsel Justin Kuehn after the verdict. "It was a privilege to be a part of this defense and I couldn't be happier for Beau."

Shawgo, 38, of Percy, was originally facing one count of first-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter in connection to the death of 55-year-old Jeffrey D. "J.R." Welty as the result of a bar fight at Hideaway Tavern in Percy on October 24, 2016.

Welty, also of Percy, later died at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis from his injuries. He and his wife, Crystal, were reportedly planning on starting a new life in Texas the day after the incident occurred.

After Randolph County State's Attorney Jeremy Walker rested his case on Tuesday morning, Shawgo's defense team of Kuehn, C.J. Baricevic and John Baricevic asked Circuit Court Judge Richard A. Brown to dismiss both charges as they felt Walker did not present sufficient evidence during his case to support them.

"One of the elements of murder is intent and I don't think the State has proved intent," John Baricevic told Brown.

John Baricevic, formerly the St. Clair County circuit judge for the 20th Judicial Circuit, also argued case law that reportedly demonstrated that one punch - which Shawgo delivered to Welty's face during the incident and later resulted in his death - was not enough to establish "murderous intent."

"A fist simply in Illinois is not a deadly weapon," Baricevic said.

Baricevic later argued that combining first-degree murder with manslaughter is a tactic to get the jury to "compromise" to the middle ground of involuntary manslaughter.

"The jury should not have the opportunity to decide a charge that's not supported by the law," he said.

In his rebuttal, Walker argued that the power of the punch created the exception and pointed to the physical differences between the 6-foot-2, 317-pound Welty and the 5-10, 175-pound Shawgo.

"This case is unique," Walker said. "It is one of the few times where we, the court, the jury get to see the actual punch."

After taking about 20 minutes to think it over, Brown sided with Shawgo's defense on the first-degree murder charge, but denied the defense's motion on the involuntary manslaughter, stating it was a question to be decided by the jury.

The defense counsel tried to get the involuntary manslaughter charge tossed again prior to closing statements, but was denied.

"The big thing I'm most disappointed in was the direct verdict (on the first-degree murder charge) by Judge Brown," Walker said after the verdict. "In theory, this case presents a unique set of facts.

"The family certainly was disappointed, and so was I."

In the courtroom, Walker stated he had a desire to appeal Brown's decision to the 5th District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon.

But after another recess for both sides to research that possibility, Walker rescinded his request as he felt the risk was too high for the prosecution in that if he lost the appeal, he would lose the entire case.

"Part of that was to buy some time to talk to the family to see what they wanted to do," Walker said after the verdict.

Shawgo, who had been free on bond since late November, and his defense team spent most of Monday's testimony reliving the incident in question via three different angles of the video taken from inside the tavern.

The video focused on a roughly six-minute time frame starting at 11:47 p.m., when Shawgo reportedly arrived at Hideaway Tavern to when Shawgo was pulled off of Welty after knocking the larger man to the floor with the stated one punch during the brief fistfight.

"This is one of the greatest things in trial," Walker said of the fight in his opening statement to the jury. "You get to see it."

The jury of nine women and five men - including two female alternates who were dismissed prior to deliberations - also heard from Welty's son, Adam, bar patron Bill Renner and Randolph County Sheriff's Office Det. Donnie Krull on the trial's first day.

Adam Welty testified he arrived at the Hideaway around 7 p.m. and had either seven or eight beers in the four hours prior to the arrival of Shawgo, who was his half-brother at the time.

Both Krull and Adam testified that Shawgo arrived in his vehicle with some speed, sliding into the parking lot near where Adam was sitting outside with his father while smoking a cigarette.

Shawgo's actions apparently upset the pair, with Shawgo reportedly laughing it off and going inside the bar with a friend, Derek Luers, who was in the car with him.

Adam then went inside the bar to confront Shawgo.

"I told dad to stay here and calm down and I'll go talk to Beau," Adam testified. "I was just trying to be a peacemaker because him and I got along at the time."

Adam said he walked up to Shawgo, who was sitting at the far end of the L-shaped bar, when Shawgo allegedly made some scornful remarks about J.R. and bringing up a past incident between Adam and Shawgo's biological father, Dave Shawgo.

"You're lucky I don't do to your dad the way you did mine," Adam testified Shawgo said to him.

After that, Adam said he threw up his hands and walked back outside, where his father asked him what Shawgo said to him.

Adam testified he told his father to calm down, but to no avail as J.R. and another man, Brandon Phelps, went looking for Shawgo. Adam and his girlfriend at the time, Katie Hill, also followed the pair back inside the bar.

During cross-examination, Kuehn brought up Adam's statement to police in which Adam described Phelps as more of an instigator.

On redirect, Walker clarified that Adam thought the confrontation would be verbal, not physical.

"I didn't think there was going to be a fight by any means," Adam said.

For his second witness, Walker called Bill Renner, who was enjoying a beer at the Hideaway that night after getting off his shift at Spartan Light Metals.

Renner testified he was more interested in watching "American Pickers" on the bar television than what was going on between Shawgo and the others in the bar. But once J.R. confronted Shawgo, the intensity of the conversation became too much to ignore.

"It was very vulgar, more or less getting heated," he said.

Renner said J.R. made several comments questioning how tough Shawgo was, including referring to him as "Billy Badass," and asked him to come outside to settle their differences.

As the parties prepare to leave the bar, the video shows a physical altercation between Shawgo and Phelps, with Shawgo appearing to pull Phelps to the floor after the initial exchange and throwing several punches.

As J.R. walks up to the pair, Shawgo turns his attention to J.R. and takes almost two full steps toward him while delivering the fateful punch.

In his videotaped interview with Krull, which was conducted the day after the incident and played for the jury on Monday, Shawgo stated he didn't know if he hit J.R. and thought J.R. had fell and hit his head.

"You hit J.R. hard," Krull told Shawgo in the video. "There is no way you don't know you hit J.R. hard."

Shawgo stated those involved "were all getting pissy toward me for no reason" and he started to walk away to leave when he was attacked.

During cross-examination of Krull, Kuehn brought up the fact that Shawgo had a black eye at the time of the interview and the black eye also appears in Shawgo's Randolph County Jail mugshot.

"I asked them to go away several times and to leave me alone," Shawgo said in the interview.

On Tuesday, Dr. Erin Ely, assistant medical examiner for the City of St. Louis's Medical Examiner's Office, testified that the cause of Welty's death was cranial cerebral brain trauma.

Welty had skull fractures - including the orbital bone between his eyes - hemorrhaging on both sides of his brain and contusions on both temporal lobes.

The jury also heard from Tricia Kiefer, who was the bartender on duty at the Hideaway on the night the incident occurred.

During her time on the witness stand, Walker honed in on discrepancies between the written statement she gave police after the incident and her video interview with law enforcement.

In the written statement, Kiefer stated that J.R. was the one who suggested Shawgo and himself "take it outside" to settle their differences. In the video interview, which was played for the jury, Kiefer made the statement "They're mouthing and Beau says if you want to be a man, let's take it outside."

Kiefer also testified that Shawgo said for the others involved to leave him alone, but later admitted she had her back turned to part of the confrontation.

In his closing statement, Walker spoke on the "consciousness of guilt" in stating Shawgo attempted to minimize his actions during his video interview.

"Do you really think that was reasonable?" Walker asked the jury. "The way he acted?"

As part of his statement, C.J. Baricevic stated "life doesn't come with a pause button" and "sometimes when you pick a fight, you lose."

"This was a bar fight gone all wrong," he said.