The father of Justin King, a 28-year-old Black man gunned down by a white neighbor in a rural Missouri trailer park in November, blasted a local prosecutor on Wednesday for deciding not to charge the shooter with any crimes.
Specifically, the grieving dad argued the failure to pursue a criminal prosecution was the result of a “one-sided” presentation of evidence to a shoddy jury: a coroner’s inquest that took place a day earlier in Crawford County, where his son lived and was killed.
“It was decided before they walked in, what was going to happen,” John King, Justin’s father, told The Daily Beast. “It was a farce.”
Crawford County Sheriff Darin Layman, whose office investigated King’s shooting, told The Daily Beast the inquest process was reserved for “sensitive cases” like King’s or shootings of civilians by police officers. The procedure was initiated by the county coroner and, Layman said, he chose a jury of six “good and lawful” citizens to appear to listen to evidence presented by the county coroner and the county prosecuting attorney.
After seeing evidence in King’s shooting, the jury on Tuesday concluded the shooting was a justified use of force.
In doing so, jurors agreed with the version of events initially offered up by local police. And when the local prosecutor reached the same conclusion Wednesday, friends and family were newly outraged, painting a picture of a justice system prizing white safety over Black lives.
“I think we’ll have to seek the Attorney General, perhaps petition the governor asking for a federal investigation,” Nimrod Chapel Jr., the president of the Missouri NAACP who is working with the King family, told NBC News.
In its account of the Nov. 3 shooting, the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office stated that King was shot after “forcing entry” into his neighbor’s home, where an “altercation took place,” according to a Nov. 8 news release from the agency.
“The homeowner stated that he feared for his life and shot King,” police said.
But local prosecutors did not have to agree with the jury. They could have gone ahead and charged the shooter—who has not been identified by police—anyway. Instead, on Wednesday, David Smith, the prosecuting attorney for Crawford County, announced he would not be filing any charges at all.
In a news release, Smith said King and his neighbor had known each other for over a year and “frequently socialized.” On the morning of Nov. 3, Smith said, King was accused of letting the dogs of another neighbor off their leash, an accusation that King denied and that “angered” him, according to Smith.
Smith said the neighbor who fatally shot King assisted in resolving the issue with the dog owner, but that King remained “agitated.” Eventually, the prosecutor said, the shooter visited King’s trailer. Citing audio and video footage from an interior security camera in the trailer, Smith said the shooter tried to calm King. The footage showed the shooter leaving King’s home as King said to him, “Love you, bro,” the prosecutor added.
However, 50 minutes later, according to Smith, King’s video footage showed him running out of his home while “yelling incoherently” and going to the shooter’s residence and “beating” on the door—and later entering the trailer. About a minute after that, Smith said, video footage showed the two men struggle and topple over a covered porch.
King then collapsed to the ground as he’d been shot.
According to Smith, the shooter said in a statement to investigators that King yelled, “I’m going to fucking kill you” while beating on his door. He also claimed King threw a television across the room inside the trailer, and damaged another television. During the struggle between the two, the shooter said, he fired three shots at King. He told investigators he had “no idea” what caused King’s behavior to change since they’d last seen each other in King’s trailer that same day.
Smith said that after conferring with the county coroner, Darren Dake—who did not respond to a request for comment—and Sheriff Layman, they agreed the inquest would be helpful to provide an “independent” review of the incident, especially in light of those who had been “critical” of the investigation.
But King’s father said the inquest seemed like an “archaic” procedure—one he believes was used to only provide the appearance of objectivity and absolve authorities of having to make a decision like the one that became official on Wednesday.
“Instead of putting it on one man, you go get six people that the sheriff personally selects to corroborate his viewpoint,” he told The Daily Beast, claiming that the jury was made up of five white people and only one Black person.
Sheriff Layman refuted King’s claim that he stacked the jury.
“My criteria for the selection was that each of the jurors were free from any criminal history, they were good and lawful and of good moral turpitude and that they did not have any connection to or know either the decedent or shooter,” he told The Daily Beast. “I did my best to make the selection as fair and impartial as I possibly could.”
When asked about the racial makeup of the jury, Layman said the selection was “far from racially biased.” Crawford County has a population of around 25,000 and more than 98 percent of residents are white, according to recent census data. Black residents make up less than one percent of the county.
In addition to slamming Layman’s process, King also accused Smith, the county prosecutor, of giving a “one-sided… presentation” of the evidence. “He basically lured them exactly where he wanted them to go.”
Catherine Bosek, who identified herself as the neighbor who initially believed King had let out her dogs, likewise was harshly critical of Smith and Tuesday’s inquest—despite, she said, testifying in it herself. She called Smith “rude” and said she believed he was “against” her during testimony.
“Justin was the victim and [Smith] acted like he was the initiator,” she told The Daily Beast.
Smith declined to comment for this story.
Bosek told The Daily Beast that on the day of the shooting, she was sleeping on her couch when a friend told her King had let her two dogs off their leash. She said she was upset and went to confront King, who denied unleashing the dogs and jumped in his car to help her find them. She said after they found one dog and she brought the animal home, her car wouldn’t start, and King and the neighbor who would later shoot him came to help her out. Around the same time, her second dog was found and she said she was no longer upset at King.
She also reported King and the man who killed him joking and walking off together. “That’s the last time I saw Justin alive,” Bosek said.
About 45 minutes later, Bosek continued, she heard three gunshots and came outside to see King lying dead on the ground.
Bosek said she doesn’t buy the shooter’s story. She told The Daily Beast the neighbor was an odd man, and that a month before the shooting took place, King told her he had threatened to shoot him, an account Sheriff Layman said jurors heard on Tuesday, but that he claimed was previously unknown to investigators.
“I think it’s all a bunch of bullshit,” she said. “He should have been charged.”
She admitted that she also didn’t know why King’s demeanor changed in the time span after the neighbor left his house and King went to confront the neighbor at his home. She did say that during the testimony on Tuesday, it was revealed that King was given a joint by the neighbor and that investigators asked the man if he had laced it, which he denied.
According to a local CBS affiliate, testimony during the inquest on Tuesday revealed King had weed and meth in his system at the time of his death. The testimony also revealed that authorities and the shooter said he gave King a joint. But Smith told King’s family that no evidence of weed was ever found.
“I don’t know what happened,” Bosek said. “I wish I could know. I don’t see where the madness came from.”
The man John King and Bosek have identified as the shooter—whose name cops say they have not released because he has not been charged with any crimes, and whose identity authorities would not confirm Wednesday—did not respond to requests for comment.
King’s father said that he was not shocked to hear that there would be no charges against his son’s killer. He sat through the inquest on Tuesday, and added that, in addition to his frustration at Smith’s presentation of the evidence that was shown, he was shocked video evidence from outside the shooter’s trailer was never produced, period.
King said that although his son’s case seems to be wrapping up locally, he was appealing for help from the FBI for a possible federal case; he previously expressed hope the feds might get involved back in December.
“It really doesn’t surprise me,” King said of the lack of charges. “What does surprise me is that they really think that we’re really going to accept that.”
“Justin is going to have justice.”