A man accused of murdering his nephew following a gathering in Ardmore testified Thursday he could remember only the first of three shots he fired into the victim.
Keith Daniel George, 39, who now lives with his mother in Elkmont, is standing trial this week in Limestone County Circuit Court. He is accused of fatally shooting his nephew, Rusty George, 26, of Ardmore, on March 16, 2009.
Once they receive the case, jurors can acquit Keith or find him guilty of murder or manslaughter.
During testimony today, Keith admitted on the stand that he shot Rusty twice in the right thigh and once in the chest following a barbecue at the home of mutual friends James and Sarah Evans of Ardmore. However, Keith told jurors he shot Rusty in self-defense after Rusty became angry and was hitting him and threatening him with a large stick.
When his defense attorney, Garry Clem, asked Keith if he was grieving over the shooting of his nephew, Keith said, “Yes.”
Keith offered his version of what transpired in the early morning hours of March 16. He said as Rusty and his girlfriend were leaving the Evans home, he and his son, Austin, followed them out. As they stood between Keith’s and Rusty’s pickup trucks, Keith said that after Rusty got behind the wheel he told him he didn’t want him to drink and drive. Keith said he also asked Rusty’s girlfriend to tell him not to drive, which she did.
“I asked him to let her drive, and he said ‘Hell no,’” Keith said.
Keith said at one point “He came out of the truck and started flogging me.”
Keith said Rusty hit him around the left temple with his fist, which caused him “to see stars.”
He said Rusty was drunk and that he got angry suddenly.
Keith said he spun around and took a stick from the back of his own pickup. The stick — a yard-long, 2 1/2-inch diameter branch with saw cuts at both ends — was one Keith said he had harvested while tree trimming and decided to keep “for protection.”
After turning to Rusty, Keith dropped the stick, he said.
When Clem asked why, he said, “I was hoping when he seen the stick he would get off of me.”
Keith also said he told Rusty he didn’t want to fight and asked Rusty why he wanted to fight with him. Earlier in the day, Keith’s son, Austin, testified that before he came inside the Evans home to alert adults to the fight brewing outdoors, he heard Rusty say he didn’t want any trouble.
Keith said Rusty picked up the stick and began striking him and he tried to block the blows.
“I spun around, reached in my truck and grabbed a gun from the console,” he said.
He said the gun was probably holstered because the holster was later found near the truck.
“Rusty was still on me and I kept backing away from the truck, toward the tailgate,” Keith said.
He said Rusty continued to pursue him and that he was fearful and hurting from previous blows.
Clem asked Keith, “Did you think he would beat you to death?”
“Yes, sir,” Keith replied. “He was hitting me in the head and everything with it.”
Keith said he began backing up by crossing the road to an area in front of a metal barn with Rusty still pursuing him with the stick.
That’s when he fired the gun.
He said he could not recall the second and third shots because he was in shock. He said the next thing he remembered was sitting on the ground near an Ardmore Police car.
He said he didn’t remember what he told investigators in the interview following the shooting.
On cross examination, Chief Deputy District Attorney James Ayers Jr. asked Keith where and how many times Rusty struck him. Keith said he didn’t know, other than that he was struck at least once in the head. Ayers noted that if Rusty hit him with the stick, he didn’t hit him hard enough to knock the gun from his hand. He asked Keith why he told investigators that he didn’t know if Rusty had the stick when he shot him the second and third time. Keith said he did not recall anything from the interview except that he was in a small room.
“You told law-enforcement, ‘I went ballistic,’” Ayers told Keith. The prosecutor said Keith also told officers, ‘Have you ever heard the saying, ‘I was seeing red?’”
Ayers said it was not Rusty who went into a rage.
“You’re the one who went into a rage,” Ayers said.
Ayers said Keith’s son, Austin, testified that Rusty may have hit either Keith’s leg or the truck tire with the stick. Ayers also said Austin testified that it was Rusty who had said, “I don’t want any trouble.”
Another witnesses said Rusty threw the stick after he got it from Keith to prevent it from being used as a weapon.
One witness, Jassen Martin, testified that after Austin came inside the home to alert adults to a fight, he rushed outside to find Rusty and Keith near the barn and Rusty holding the stick and coming at Keith. He said he did not see Rusty strike Keith with it. He said he heard the second shot — the second of two shots to Rusty’s right thigh — as well as the third shot, which struck Rusty in the chest. Martin said he did not hear the first shot.
Under questioning from Ayers, Martin maintained that Rusty was coming toward Keith with the stick and that Keith was backing up when the second shot hit Rusty.
Ayers reminded Martin that he told investigators Keith was lying on the ground when he shot Rusty the third time. The prosecutor accused Martin of changing his story to say Keith was moving backward or falling backward when he shot Rusty and that Rusty was limping and coming toward him with the stick at the time.
Ayers said Martin changed his testimony because his initial story did not line up with the trajectory of the bullets.
Testimony continues today.
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