ISP troopers and GCSD deputies provide security when jury returns verdict of not guilty in murder trial
Aaron L. Schaffer was found not guilty of murder and not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Michael Shan Bowers last April.
Schaffer was found guilty of carrying a firearm without a concealed carry permit, a class A misdemeanor.
Tension was high in the crowded courtroom on Friday evening when the verdicts were announced, with family and friends of the victim on one side of the room and family and friends of the defendant on the other.
At least five Indiana State Police Troopers were positioned in the courtroom along with at least six deputies from the Greene County Sheriff's Department in addition to courthouse security personnel in the building.
Clearly shaken and stunned by the decisions, the victim's family and friends exited the courtroom abruptly as soon as the first two verdicts were read by Greene Circuit Court Judge Erik C. Allen.
While some officers remained in the courtroom, troopers and deputies moved to hallways and areas surrounding the courthouse to provide security to jurors as they left the building and walked to their vehicles, as well as all others leaving the courthouse.
Defense Attorney Katharine Liell requested an immediate sentencing on the misdemeanor charge and Greene County Prosecutor Jarrod Holtsclaw agreed. Schaffer was sentenced to one year in jail and since he has been incarcerated without bond since his arrest at the time of the shooting, he has more than served his time. His sentencing included a $1 fine and court costs.
Following the sentencing, Schaffer was to return to the Greene County Jail to be processed out to be reunited with his family and supporters, a free man.
Every seat was also taken in Greene Circuit Court on Friday morning when attorneys presented their closing arguments to jurors seated in Schaffer's trial.
When Schaffer was interviewed by detectives the night of the shooting, he admitted he did not have a license to carry a gun, and he admitted he shot and killed Bowers, his brother-in-law, but said he shot Bowers in self-defense.
The trial began early Monday morning with jury selection. Twelve individuals were seated along with two alternates. Both the prosecution and defense made their opening statements Monday afternoon. Witness testimony began on Tuesday morning and continued through Thursday. When court reconvened on Friday morning, closing arguments were presented and the judge gave lengthy instructions to members of the jury, then sent them back to the jury room to begin their deliberations around noon.
At approximately 6:30 p.m. Friday, they returned to the courtroom with their verdicts.
During his closing argument, Greene County Prosecutor Jarrod Holtsclaw told the jury there should be no doubt that Schaffer was guilty of the misdemeanor -- he admitted he carried a handgun away from his home and admitted he did not have a permit.
There was also no doubt that Schaffer shot and killed Bowers but the jury had to decide if Schaffer acted in self-defense.
Holtsclaw said to claim self-defense, Schaffer should be in a place where he was supposed to be, did not provoke a fight, was in fear of death and did not use excessive force.
Answering the question of whether or not Schaffer was justified in shooting Bowers, Holtsclaw said Schaffer was not in a place he had a right to be, Schaffer was told to leave, and told again. Holtsclaw said the defendant was at fault by instigating the incident -- he went to the Bowers home unannounced, and brought a gun.
Holtsclaw said Schaffer did not have a reasonable fear -- he and Bowers had been on friendly terms earlier in the day, Schaffer chose to go to the Bowers home, and the defendant said he never saw Bowers with a weapon, yet Schaffer continued to shoot after Bowers was down.
Holtsclaw said Shan Bowers did not go seeking out this confrontation, the defendant did. He said Shan Bowers was minding his own business in his own home. Schaffer was trespassing, in possession of a gun.
Holtsclaw argued that Schaffer used more force than was necessary to eliminate any threat.
"When the danger ceases, so does the right of self-defense," said Holtsclaw. "Multiple shots undercuts a claim of self-defense."
Holtsclaw said Schaffer fired the first shot based on a verbal threat, but words are not enough for a claim of self-defense, and Schaffer did not see Bowers with a weapon.
"You must justify all of the shots," said Holtsclaw. "Shan turned away, but the defendant kept firing, marching toward him, while Shan had his hands up." Holtsclaw said Schaffer continued to fire the gun even after it was empty.
In her closing argument, Liell told the jury this case was all about walking in another man's shoes. She said Schaffer knew Shan Bowers had killed another man out of jealousy, had beaten his wife, did drugs and drank alcohol, and had become increasingly unstable in the weeks prior to the shooting.
Liell told the jury to look at this through Schaffer's eyes and ask if it was reasonable to assume Bowers would shoot Schaffer if he turned around. She said Schaffer had a split second to make a decision and it was reasonable to think Bowers would kill him because he'd killed a man before.
The defense claimed Schaffer had an invitation from Stacy to go to the Bowers home because she had asked for help and wanted someone to go with her to smooth things over with her husband.
"Aaron honorably took the dirty job, he stepped up to the plate and was going to take her home and help her," she said.
Liell said Schaffer left Stacy at the station to minimize risk -- he left her there as a precaution. She told the jury Schaffer tried to be a peacemaker and was a man of reason that night. She said Shan Bowers put Aaron Schaffer in a darned if you do and darned if you don't position and Schaffer protected himself.
She explained the calmness shown by Schaffer in the hours following the shooting as the calmness of a combat veteran.
Liell argued it was reasonable to take Bowers at his word, that he would shoot Schaffer, that it was reasonable to assume Bowers had a gun, and the threat was an arm's length away when Schaffer turned and fired. She said he was in a kill or be killed situation.
After quoting Scripture, Liell told the jury Schaffer was standing righteous by turning himself in and telling the truth.
During Holtsclaw's rebuttal, he asked what choice Schaffer had but to turn himself in -- Stacy knew, his wife knew, the store clerk knew, his whole family knew he'd been out to the Bowers home, and Schaffer knew Shan Bowers was dead in the driveway.
Holtsclaw told the jury that had Schaffer simply dropped Stacy Bowers off, Shan Bowers would still be alive. He said Shan Bowers wasn't looking for a fight that night and he had every right to tell Schaffer to get off his property.
"He (Shan Bowers) was doing something each and every homeowner has a right to do, and for that he got shot five times," said Holtsclaw.
Holtsclaw ended by reminding the jury that Schaffer had told the detective that he was in a black rage during the shooting.
Holtsclaw said when Schaffer was interviewed, Schaffer said, "Once I finally came out of the black rage or whatever it was that I was in," he realized Shan Bowers didn't have a weapon and his hands were over his head.
"He (Aaron Schaffer) was taking advantage of an opportunity to get rid of a problem," said Holtsclaw.
When the jury went into deliberations they could find Schaffer guilty of murder, or not guilty. If they found him not guilty of the murder, then they could find him guilty or not guilty of voluntary manslaughter, a class B felony. They also needed to determine the verdict of guilty or not guilty on the misdemeanor charge.