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09 Apr 10 Texas Music Star Found Not Guilty of Assault

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story is courtesy of KWTX-TV, Waco TX.

Jurors returned a not guilty verdict Friday evening in the aggravated assault of Central Texas singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, 70, who was accused of shooting Billy Bryant Coker in 2007 outside of Papa Joe’s Saloon in Lorena.

Shaver, however, still faces a charge for unlawfully carrying a firearm in a licensed premises, which is a third-degree felony.

The judge required him to post a $7,500 bond by next week and told him he was free to go.
Shaver left the courthouse to head to Houston, where he was scheduled to perform Friday night.

Coker’s family declined comment, although Coker’s son said he didn’t want Shaver to go to prison, but wanted him held accountable.  He said he was not happy with the verdict.

Final arguments started at around 2:30 p.m. and jurors left the courtroom at about 4:30 to begin to deliberate.
They returned the not guilty verdict at about 6:30 p.m.

Both sides rested just after 2 p.m. Friday after prosecutors called their only rebuttal witness, Coker’s mother, whom they asked if Shaver had called her after her son was shot.

She said Shaver called two days afterward and said, “I want to apologize, I shot your son and I don’t know what made me do it.”

Just before the trial recessed for lunch Friday, two people were removed from the courtroom.  One man interrupted proceedings with a loud, exasperated outburst as the prosecution was crossing-examining Shaver, a deputy said.
An unnamed journalist was also escorted out of the courtroom, but the reason for the removal wasn’t clear, the deputy said.

Shaver took the stand in his own defense Friday morning, saying he felt threatened by the knife that Coker used to stir his drink as he, Shaver and Shaver’s then-wife Wanda talked.  Wanda Shaver was once married to Coker’s cousin.

He said there was tension between Coker and his former wife and he said when he told Wanda, “let’s go,” Coker shouted “shut the f**k up,” and then said, “let’s take it outside.”

“I felt like I was fixin’ to be dead,” Shaver said Friday.  “I was gonna have to take it for Wanda,” he said.  “I wanted to beat him to the punch.”  Shaver said he didn’t want to kill Coker, but instead, “I wanted to scare him.”

Shaver testified he wasn’t holding the gun when Coker walked outside and said he reached for it with his left hand—not his right as prosecution witnesses said—when he saw Coker raise his hand.  He said he thought Coker was reaching for a gun.

“I thought he was going to shoot me. He already had a knife,” Shaver said.  Shaver said after he shot Coker, the victim said, “I’m, sorry.”

Under cross-examination, Shaver testified he didn’t want to leave the bar because his ex-wife was there and he wanted to protect her.

“I’m from Texas. If I were chicken s***, I would have left, but I’m not.”

He said Coker eventually called him out to the parking lot, where the shooting occurred.  Wanda Shaver testified Thursday that as the three talked, Coker became angry as he continued to stir his drink with his knife.  Papa Joe’s Saloon owner Gloria Tambling earlier testified she asked Coker not to use the knife because it intimidated other customers.

While Wanda Shaver testified Thursday, country music legend Willie Nelson and Academy Award winning actor Robert Duvall were standing by to appear as character witnesses.  Nelson, who arrived Thursday morning to support his longtime friend, was served with a prosecution subpoena while he in was in a courthouse restroom.
He was exempted, however, from a rule that usually bars witnesses from being in the courtroom while others are testifying.  Nelson was told to be available to testify and he remained in the courtroom until deliberations began late Friday afternoon. 

He never took the stand.  He did confirm Thursday afternoon that he talked to Shaver on the night of the shooting, but provided no other details.  Duvall was subpoenaed to appear as a character witness for the defense.  He didn’t testify Thursday and won’t return Friday, Shaver’s attorney, Dick Deguerin said.

Coker told investigators that before the shooting on March 31 2007, he and Shaver were talking in the bar and discovered that she was the widow of Coker’s cousin.   He testified Wednesday that he didn’t notice any tension during his conversation with Shaver in the bar, but said the singer seemed annoyed that he stirred his drink with his knife.
Later in the parking lot, he said, Shaver tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “Where do you want it?” before pulling the trigger and shooting him in the cheek.

Earlier Thursday, an attorney who’s an expert on the state’s concealed carry law testified for the prosecution, telling jurors that it was a felony for Shaver, who had a handgun permit at the time of the shooting, to have taken a gun inside a business that makes more than half of its money from alcohol sales.  But the defense countered that the bar didn’t display the proper signage, advising patrons that guns were not allowed.

Shaver’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin of Houston has represented such high-visibility clients as Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land,
Shaver rose to musical fame in the 1970s.  He wrote “Georgia on a Fast Train” and “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)” and has recorded more than 20 albums.   He was nominated for a Grammy Award this year in the best Southern, country or bluegrass gospel album category, but lost out to Ricky Skaggs and The Whites, whose “Salt of the Earth” won the honors.

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