Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Knife v. Gun: Who won? Jury's Still OUT! We'll See.

Houston attorney says that "Nothing Happens In A Vacuum"

"There is nothing will take the fight out of a man like
shooting him in the face."
- a remark from an old cow-
boy, made on the streets of Waco, "Six Shooter Junction"

When Billy Coker brought his lock-blade Kershaw gravity
knife to the gun fight out behind a Lorena beer joint, he at
first thought it was a joke.

"I didn't even know I was shot at first," he recalled in
direct testimony.

After he repeatedly stirred his Weller's and water with the
blade of the fancy cutlery, then stirred Billy Joe Shaver's beer
with it, he wiped its blade on the sleeve of Mr. Shaver's

He told jurors in the 54th District Court Wednesday that the
"Old Five and Dimer" who wrote "Fast Train To Georgia" and
"Old Chunk of Coal" appeared to be "kind of annoyed" with

Mr. Shaver, a Corsicana native who is credited with touching
off a Texas outlaw music movement that brought such
luminaries as Willis Alan Ramsey, David Allen Coe, Jerry
Jeff Walker, Michael Martin Murphy, Townes Van Zandt and
B.W. Stevenson to the forefront of a national craze that
eventually featured such old timers as Willie and Waylon,
Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, invited him
to go outside where numerous witnesses said in his trial for
aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, he asked Mr. Coker
where wanted to be shot.

"As soon as I turned around, he said, 'Where do you want

"I said where do I want what?" recalled Mr. Coker, a middle-
aged supervisor for Oncor Delivery Systems, formerly TXU.

That's when the seasoned singer-songwriter shot him in the
mouth with a small single-action .22 revolver.

"At first, I thought it was some kind of joke."

Most witnesses said Mr. Shaver told him "Nobody tells me to
shut up. You're going to tell me you're sorry."

Nonplussed, Mr. Coker testified, "All I did was try to get
back in the back door cause I didn't know if he was going to
shoot me again."

Crime scene photos depict a series of small puddles of blood
that terminated at a table inside Papa Joe's where women who
work at the establishment stanched the blood spurting from
his cheek. A photo shows a large pool of coagulated blood
at the table where he waited for paramedics to pick him up
and take him to an area hospital where he spent three days
flat on his back.

The bullet entered his face just above his mustache on the
left side of his face, shattered a tooth, knocked a cap off
another, plowed through tissue and wound up lodged in the
muscles of his neck too near his carotid artery for surgeons
to risk its removal.

"He carries it around like a badge of honor," Mr. Shaver's
defense lawyer, Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin said in his
opening statement while he explained to the 8 man, 4 woman
jury that "Nothing happens in a vacuum."

As testimony unfolded from prosecutorial witnesses, the
story of how the altercation took place becomes very clear.

The older Mr. Shaver, who is now 71 and was 68 on March 31,
2007, when the shooting took place, was trying to defend the
honor of his wife Wanda. She was once married to a man who
was related to Mr. Coker. He committed suicide long before
she and Mr. Shaver were married and there were words between
her and Mr. Coker about the matter. The story is that many
people in the family somehow blame her because of the man's
depressive condition.

When she and Mr. Coker discovered they knew each other, they
became engrossed in conversation about the matter and when
Mr. Shaver tried to intervene, some say, he was rebuffed by
a remark from Mr. Coker, who allegedly said, "Shut the f___
up. We're trying to talk, here." It's something Mr. Coker

He does not deny that he stirred the drinks with the pocket

In fact, he had been asked repeatedly not to do so, but he
had persisted in doing it, though patrons and the bar's
owner objected. He did it because, he said, "They don't have
any swizzle sticks or spoons to use."

The knife is designed to come open with the slightest
pressure on the lock-back mechanism, which is spring-loaded,
by only the slightest push on a tab on the blade.

It springs open, its serrated edge honed to an intensely
sharp edge, with frightening speed and a sinister click.

Mr. DeGuerin repeatedly flicked it open with his thumb,
closing it and opening it to emphasize its sinister nature
as he elicited testimony from Mr. Coker.

At one point he asked him why he always carries a knife
clipped outside his right hand jeans pocket, "right next to
my phone."

Mr. Coker said he uses it to cut the strings on round bales
he feeds cattle on his family's 91.5 acre farm outside

"So you use it for cutting the strings on round bales and
stirring drinks?" asked the veteran trial attorney, once an
associate of famed and flamboyant advocate Percy Foreman.

That's when Mark Parker, lead prosecutor on the case,
objected to Judge Matt Johnson with a derisive tone, saying
it was irrelevant and a prejudicial distraction to jurors.

The judge took Mr. DeGuerin and all other attorneys into his
chambers for an in camera conference. When he emerged, he
ordered Mr. DeGuerin to put the knife away and seek his
permission to use it only for purposes of demonstration.

"May I use the knife?" Mr. DeGuerin asked immediately.

"For what purpose?" Judge Johnson replied in an icy tone.

"For demonstrative purposes."

"You may not. You have already done that numerous times."

It is all part of a consistent style of advocacy he uses, one
of challenging prosecutors, the judge, the witnesses and every-
one else to remain focused through barrages of objections that
interrupt the flow of questions and answers from witnesses.

It's all perfectly legal under the Texas rules of criminal
evidence and the code of criminal procedure.

He forces the other trial participants to adhere to his overall
program of creating a reasonable doubt that his client did any-
thing other than respond in a common sense way to a very tense
situation, one that made him think that the only reasonable ac-
tion was to use deadly force to defend his life from unlawful a-

Needless to say, after a long and successful career of advocacy
of very violent offenders, his style is very, very effective.

The man simply questions every material fact, opinion and percep-
tion as these elements are placed on the trial record.

As simple as that may be, it soon leads to very complicated re-

Mr. DeGuerin made the most out of the fact that Mr. Coker
cannot remember giving the police a statement and picked
the wrong man out of a photo lineup while he was still in
the hospital. Mr. Coker thinks he only gave a statement
after he was released, on the fourth day after the fight.

And yet, there is his dated signature on the photo lineup
form, as plain as day.

"The fact of the business is that you'd had so much to drink
you couldn't ID who shot you. Isn't that right?" the attorney
asked him. Mr. Coker denied that. He also denied that he had
been treated for acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms with a
high-powered blood pressure medicine and other treatments, ac-
cording to hospital records.

Mr. DeGuerin repeatedly asked the same question, asked in
various forms, "Was there a need for you to be treated for
alcohol withdrawal?" Prosecutors objected that the question had
been previously asked and answered. Nevertheless, all this took
place in the presence and the hearing of the jurors.

Judge Johnson sustained their objections.

Testimony that followed saw numerous witnesses all agreeing
that they heard Mr. Shaver ask Mr. Coker where he wished to
be shot. Most had slightly varying memories as to other

One man, Mike Strickland, a welder by trade, who was outside
on the back porch of the Lorena night spot when the shooting
took place, said the pair came out the door and Mr. Shaver
passed Mr. Coker up, circling around him and then
confronted him face to face.

He said he was in fear for his life and the lives of his
children because Mr. Shaver said, "Nobody saw nothing;
nobody sees nothing; nobody says nothing."

He became rather hysterical at times, making jurors and the
gallery respond with laughter at his assertions that on the
night of the attack, he suspected the po-lice might arrest him
for public intoxication, take him to the station and "sweat"
him for his statement.

He assured Mr. DeGuerin on his cross examination that he quit
drinking during the investigation and, as soon as the police
left the scene, he got back right back at it again.

Other witnesses did not see it that way, nor did they hear
Mr. Shaver utter the alleged veiled threat about what they
may have seen or heard.

In fact, another man who was there heard nothing like that.
Both of them said they were afraid and sought the safety of
another location right away, as did Mr. Shaver.

He got his wife in the car and they drove away immediately.

When Mr. Strickland testified that Mr. Shaver had the gun, a
tiny thing that has five cylinders and no trigger guard, in
his right hand, Mr. DeGuerin was standing behind Mr. Shaver's
chair and said, "Which right hand? Do you mean this right

He raised Mr. Shaver's right hand above his head and showed the
jurors that aside from his thumb, he has only one finger, his
pinky, and it's deformed and curved, the other three being
severed near the metacarpal knuckles. It all happened in a
sawmill accident many years ago, long before he hitched a ride
to Nashville on a cantaloupe truck and became a professional
song writer and traveling troubador.

The next witness, Leslie Moss, showed the jurors how Mr. Shaver
held the revolver, a product of North American Arms of Provo,

A highly articulate and dignified youngman, Mr. Moss is a
physical therapist by trade and a foundingmember and lead
guitarist of "Neon Texas," the band that was playing at Papa
Joe's that Saturday night back in 2007.

He showed jurors how Mr. Shaver held the little pistol between
the remains of his index, middle finger and thumb and pulled the
trigger with the stump of his ring finger and paralyzed pinky
finger. There is no trigger guard, he noted for jurors in his

The weapon is designed to be cocked by pulling back the ham-
mer for each discharge, something that for safety requires the
pistolero to carry the weapon with an empty chamber under the
hammer, leaving only four rounds available, in case of a sud-
den bump. It's the only safety device available on this archaic
form of weapon. The revolver is so tiny it may be palmed and
an assailant wouldn't even know his opponent has it until it's
too late and he's been shot.

One may be obtained at Praco Gun and Pawn on 2201 W. Waco Drive
at about $190 the copy. The firm also carries Kershaw lock blade

The sales staff was happy to allow The Legendary to examine both
and cheerfully demonstrated the advantages of each.

On Thursday, the prosecution will rest and Mr. DeGuerin will
begin to elicit testimony from witnesses who are friendly to
the prosecution. His professional goal is to raise a reasonable
doubt in the minds of jurors that the state has not proven that
Mr. Shaver was not in fear for his life and acting under a
reasonable belief that the only thing that would save him was
the use of deadly force.

I been to Georgia on a fast train.
Honey, I wasn't born no yesterday
I got a good Christian raisin' and an eighth grade education;
ain't no need in y'all a'treatin' me this way

- Billy Joe Shaver,
"Georgia On A Fast Train"

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