Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Lawyer: Shaver's shooting offense was self defense

Cases are won or lost before you ever walk into the
- Clarence Darrow

When veteran criminal defense attorney Dick DeGuerin stood
up to address the panel of veniremen going through voir dire
examination in the trial of Billy Joe Shaver after lunch, he
did it for free.

Cool as a cucumber and as blithe as April showers, he told
the prospective jurors that the State of Texas will have to
prove that Mr. Shaver did not fire his gun in self defense
after an extended series of threats from the alleged victim.

They had already gone through a grueling morning of
examination by lead prosecutor Mark Parker - three hours of
questions regarding their attitudes about the law and the
offense in which the assistant district attorney lectured
them about the elements of criminal prosecution for
aggravated assault - that the assailant never retreated, if
the violent act was justified and if there is evidence that
it was "immediately necessary to protect one self against
unlawful abuse."

Mr. Shaver shot TXU employee Billy Coker in the face at a
local Lorena night spot, Papa Joe's Texas Saloon, according
to the indictment for aggravated assault with a firearm, a
weapon he exhibited at the time of the offense.

Earlier, he had persuaded 54th State District Judge Matt
Johnson to sever the second count, that of carrying a
firearm on premises licensed to sell alcoholic beverages
while under a concealed carry handgun license, from the

Mr. Shaver will have to face that charge following the
conclusion of the case in chief.

Mr. DeGuerin explained that he and two members of his law
firm, Mr. and Mrs. Matt Hennesy, and a highly effective
best-selling author on the art and science of jury
selection, Lewisville attorney Robert Hirschhorn, are
working for free.

They aren't charging Mr. Shaver a dime to come to his legal

"I didn't want y'all thinking Billy Joe Shaver is a high-
powered show business type with all the money it takes to
hire a big defense team from out of town...We're doing this
without a fee. We're all volunteers."

He explained that the Hennesys and Mr. Hirschhorn assisted
with the defense of Kay Bailey Hutchison when he represented
her in court.

By the end of the day, the judge seated a jury panel of
eight men and four women after eliminating the rest of a
venire of 45 prospective jurors.

Many of those eliminated said they would not be able to
render a fair and impartial verdict if the offense involved
drinking alcohol. One man who was most adamant about that
matter said he has in-laws who are recovering alcoholics.

Wearing an empty hand-tooled holster designed for a
revolver, the man, who walks with a cane and said his
occupation is as an insurance broker, said, "I don't approve
of drinking alcohol. I do not allow it in my home."

Others voiced concerns about violence, bullying and the kind
of mean spirit often displayed by certain types of drunks.

More than a dozen women said they had been molested, raped
or assaulted in their lives and no one was arrested or
prosecuted for the offenses. The judge and the attorneys
questioned most of them further in the privacy of the
judge's chambers before striking them from the panel.

Mr. Hirschhorn crafted a questionnaire for prospective
jurors that covered such items as personal attitudes about
mean drunks, firearms ownership, and offenses against the
person. Six of the veniremen had previously been accused of
assault against others.

The judge also approved a "motion in limine" sought by the
state that will prevent the defense from eliciting testimony
from witnesses regarding "previous acts of violence" during
the presentation of the evidence and testimony.

Said Mr. DeGuerin, "The concern is whether there has been
full disclosure of previous acts of violence...Violence is
material to a self defense case."

Both he and the prosecutor made objections to the other side
making references to alleged past violent acts by the victim
and witnesses.

Mr. DeGuerin asked if anyone is familiar with the kind of
knife you can open with a flick of the thumb. "You know,
the kind with a little clip so you can carry it here," he
said, gesturing to where a blue jean pocket would fit on a
man's hip.

"It's not about what you could have done or what you should
have done. It's about what you would have done," he
explained to veniremen as he described the state of the law.

"There is a limited duty to retreat."

A person is justified in using deadly force when he has a
reasonable fear that his life is under a credible threat
from an assailant wielding a weapon, he said.

Mr. Shaver is accused of shooting Billy Coker after the man
had repeatedly displayed a knife unfolded and ready for use.

"The state has the burden of disproving it was done in self

Look for sparks and heat during his opening statement. He
told the judge he wishes to have a gun and knife admitted
into evidence for his use during his remarks.

An unorthodox procedure, the judge balked at giving his
permission right away.

"If you can reach an agreement with the state, then I'll
probably grant the motion," he said.

After seating the jurors and telling them to be ready for
duty at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, he made the remark, "Mark
Twain said there is no worse death than being talked to

Mr. Shaver has made an application for probation, something
he is required by law to do, since he has never before been
convicted of a felony.

He wrote such country hits as "I'm Just An Old Chunk Of Coal"
and "Fast Train To Georgia." Many of his tunes have been
covered by Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Waylon
Jennings and John Anderson. He left his Corsicana home for
Nashiville many years ago and hitched a ride to Music City
on a cantaloupe truck.

He now lives in Waco.

If convicted, he could face imprisonment of not less than 2
and not more than 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

He is 71 years of age.

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