Crime

Accident or murder? Jury will decide if Columbus man meant to kill disabled stepson

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Daniel Kennedy was having a heated argument with his wife when he fatally shot her disabled son in the neck with a 9-millimeter pistol.

Jurors will decide if Kennedy meant to shoot 25-year-old Shawn Gentle, or if it was an accident. Closing arguments wrapped up Thursday in Kennedy’s murder trial.

The shooting happened about 4:45 a.m. Sept. 2, 2016, at the home Kennedy shared with his stepson and wife, Judy Kennedy, at 4913 20th Avenue.

Kennedy initially told Columbus police he dropped the Ruger semi-automatic, which fired as it hit the floor. The bullet struck Gentle in the neck.

That could not be true, prosecutor Robin King told jurors Thursday, because the Ruger had a safety feature that prevented its discharging from such an impact.

Firing the gun required 12½ pounds of pressure on the trigger if the pistol’s hammer was not cocked back. Were it cocked, pulling the trigger took 5½ pounds of pressure, King said.

The bullet’s trajectory showed it could not have hit Gentle from below. The bullet was traveling from left to right at a downward angle before it lodged in Gentle’s left side, King said.

Blood splatter on a nearby door showed Gentle, who was 4-foot-11, was standing up when he was shot, and his wound had “stipling,” or gunshot residue indicating the gun barrel was only 18 inches to 2 feet away, the prosecutor added.

A recording of Kennedy’s 911 call was played for the jury.

“You heard a man that was in self-preservation mode,” King said in her closing argument, later adding, “It was about getting the stink of murder off of him.”

His story changed, prosecutor said

When police later informed him his account didn’t match the evidence, he changed his story. Then changed it again and again, seven or eight times, King said.

At one point, he told investigators his wife had got her pistol, a Bersa .380, and pointed it at him during the dispute, so he got his gun to point at her, but was startled when Gentle bumped into him and accidentally fired, King said.

The man he shot was no threat, the prosecutor noted, describing Gentle as “a buck-thirty wet,” meaning 130 pounds.

“He needed help bathing. He needed help feeding,” she said. Showing a photo of Gentle’s bedroom, she added, “He has teddy bears because he has the mentality of a 10-year-old.”

She theorized that Kennedy, then 43, was furious at his wife for accusing him of masturbating, an act considered a serious sin in his strict religion. He was angry also because another woman was suing him for child support, claiming he fathered her child, King said.

During their fight, his wife nagged him until he became so angry he left the house barefoot to cool off, and Gentle came to find him, catching the attention of a neighbor who noticed an older man and younger man walking down the street together before one said, “We need to go home,” King told jurors.

When they got back, Judy Kennedy resumed the argument, further infuriating him, the prosecutor said, so he retrieved his pistol from a dresser drawer in the master bedroom, removing it from a holster, and went looking for her.

In one account, Kennedy told police he wasn’t sure whether he was going to shoot his wife or shoot at her. In a recorded interview with detectives, after hours of questioning that day, he broke down crying and said, “Yes, I was upset, very upset…. But I did not expect Shawn. I didn’t expect it.”

The detective questioning him suggested he retrieved the pistol “to show her you meant business.”

Weeping, Kennedy replied, “She kept pushing and pushing and pushing, kept pushing, kept pushing.” His voice trailed off.

He was so on edge that when he saw Gentle, his urge to kill shifted to shooting the stepson, said King, calling it “transferred intent.”

“He was going to show her, and he did show her” by killing her son, King said.

The defense

Defense attorney Stacey Jackson countered that none of the physical evidence disproves Kennedy’s claim that the shooting was an accident, and Kennedy’s actions afterward showed he had no intent to kill Gentle.

Kennedy had served in the Army, and used his training to treat Gentle’s wound, Jackson said, recalling the defendant’s words on his 911 call: “I laid him down on the floor. I’ve applied pressure with a towel.”

When police arrived, Kennedy was cooperative, answered their questions directly and surrendered the gun and bullet casing, Jackson said.

He acknowledged Kennedy later gave police multiple accounts of what happened, but in none of those did he say the shooting wasn’t accidental.

Jackson noted that when the fatal shot was fired, Judy Kennedy was not in the room, so her husband could not have transferred an intent to kill from an intended target who wasn’t present.

The prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting was not an accident, and King had no evidence to prove that.

“You have to decide the case based on the evidence presented, Jackson said.

That evidence is circumstantial, and to convict on circumstantial evidence, the prosecution’s case must “exclude every other reasonable theory, other than the guilt of the accused,” Jackson said, adding Kennedy can’t be convicted of murder for a misfortune involving no criminal undertaking.

Besides murder, Kennedy is charged with aggravated assault and using a firearm to commit a felony, but the jury has the option of finding him guilty of the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter.

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