Jurors acquit shooter in next-door slaying

Police lights are shown in this file photo.
Police lights are shown in this file photo.

HUNTSVILLE -- A jury on Friday found a 56-year-old man not guilty after he shot and killed a man in an argument igniting over laser lights shining in his windows at night.

Dale Wayne Bryant, of Combs, shot 30-year-old Samuel Scott Hicks in the back with a 12-gauge shotgun after an argument Aug. 8, 2018, according to Madison County Circuit Court filings and testimony during the two-day trial.

Hicks died at the scene in Combs. Eight buckshot pellets entered his back and two exited his front, according to a report from the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory. A blood test indicated Hicks had methamphetamine, amphetamine and marijuana in his system at the time of his death.

Bryant was charged with first-degree murder, but the jury also considered the lesser charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide. After about two hours of deliberation, the jury of nine men and three women found Bryant not guilty of any of those charges.

"I am in total shock," said Paula Hays of Pettigrew, a family friend of Hicks. "How can he [Bryant] not even get manslaughter?"

She said Hicks was "a good young man."

"Nothing was brought out in court, anything good about him," Hays said. "He's in heaven. He got himself right."

Bryant's attorney, Terry Harper, said it was the right verdict.

"The jury paid close attention to the witnesses and judged their credibility accurately," Harper said. "I am happy about the outcome, and I am happy there are still good citizens of Madison County that will sit on a jury, pay close attention to the evidence and render a just verdict."

The fact Bryant shot Hicks wasn't in dispute, Prosecutor Matthew Durrett said during closing arguments Friday.

"Dale Bryant got a shotgun, pointed it at Scott Hicks and pulled the trigger -- fired a load of buckshot into his back, causing his death," Durrett said. "So this isn't a whodunit. This is a why. Why did he do it?"

Harper said the shooting was in self-defense.

Hicks threatened to shoot Bryant, then Hicks bent down to pick up something off the ground. Bryant saw something in Hicks' hand and thought it was a shotgun, but Hicks apparently picked up a silver-colored laser pointer, which was found at the scene, Harper said.

"All my mind said is, 'Gun! Gun! Gun!'" Bryant said Thursday. "I pull the trigger. It strikes him."

Bryant told police he had been having "neighbor troubles" for a few months prior to the shooting. He said red, blue and green laser lights were being pointed in his windows at night. He also mentioned loud music, loose dogs and the possibility his neighbors were manufacturing methamphetamine.

Three friends of Hicks -- Dakota Stillwell, Aaron Burnett and Justice Dill -- witnessed the shooting and testified Thursday.

"These four were best friends, life-long friends, meth-smoking friends," Harper told the jury during his closing arguments.

"All three of the state's witnesses were probably all high that day," said Harper, referring to the day of the shooting.

Harper said Bryant was sober the day of the shooting.

"Mr. Bryant is an upstanding member of the Madison County community, a man who worked hard his whole life to finally get to build his dream house," Harper said.

Much of the testimony from Stillwell, Burnett and Dill conflicted with the things Bryant said.

"The defendant tried to make these guys look as bad as possible," Durrett said.

Durrett said the jury heard stories of meth-making, rape and prostitution on the property next door to Bryant.

Harper said the couple didn't report the behavior to police because the Bryants didn't want to see their names in the Madison County Record accusing their next-door neighbor of breaking the law.

Mary Bryant, Dale's wife, testified Thursday she told a reserve deputy about the things going on next door.

"There's been no proof they're doing anything illegal other than hanging out," Durrett said.

In his closing arguments, Durrett noted several things Bryant said during the trial he didn't tell police the day of the shooting, including he thought he saw a shotgun in Hicks' hands.

Bryant said he was suffering from a concussion that day and not thinking clearly. The jury viewed the one-hour video of the police interview twice before reaching a verdict.

"We didn't know what to expect," Durrett said after the verdict. "This was a tough case. We knew that going in. That's why it was best for a jury to decide this. The good folks of Madison County needed to decide whether or not this was legitimate self defense. They heard all the evidence. They listened to it. They came to a decision. And I've got to respect that."

Dale Bryant said his family has been living in the house on Madison County 4322 in Combs for 15 years.

Bryant said the property next door is owned by Raymond Watkins, 89, a former Combs mayor who Bryant described as a good man. Stillwell, who's Watkins' grandson, and Burnett lived on the property at the time of the shooting.

Bryant said he talked to Stillwell about the problems, and Stillwell said he would take care of them.

A few days later, tensions between the neighbors escalated early on the morning of Aug. 8, 2018, when Bryant shot Stillwell's dog, according to court testimony.

"A dog came along and took a dump in his yard, so he'd had enough," Durrett said during closing arguments.

Bryant testified Thursday that he fired a shot meaning to scare the dog, but he heard it yelp.

Stillwell said he found his dog on the front porch with blood on its face and a hole in its ear.

After shooting the dog, but still carrying his pump shotgun, Bryant walked to his neighbor's house to talk to Stillwell. He was met by Stillwell and Burnett, who was holding Watkins' single-shot shotgun.

They talked with Bryant, and at some point everyone calmed down. Burnett took the single-shot shotgun away, but testimony differed on where it went. Stillwell, Burnett and Dill said the gun was taken to Burnett's camper, in full view of Bryant.

Bryant testified Thursday he thought the gun was still outside, on the ground in the vicinity of a Chrysler Pacifica that Dill had driven to Stillwell's home.

While the three men were talking, Hicks walked up the road.

Bryant said Stillwell pointed at Hicks and said, "He's the one who's been causing all these problems."

Bryant started walking toward Hicks.

"I was looking down to make sure of my footing," Bryant said. "But when I looked up, Scott [Hicks] is right on me and gives me a chest bump."

Hicks took the gun away from Bryant and threw it across the road, Bryant said. Testimony differed on whether Bryant struck Hicks with the gun when the two men collided.

Bryant said Hicks hit him six or seven times and Bryant lost consciousness. Stillwell, Burnett and Dill testified Bryant never lost consciousness during the incident.

Bryant said he came to and found his shotgun. He said Stillwell started lecturing him about coming over there with a gun threatening people.

Bryant said he saw Hicks on Stillwell's porch.

"I tell him he is crazy," said Bryant. "I pointed at him with my left hand and said 'That man should be in jail or prison. Same for you two,'" referring to Stillwell and Burnett.

Bryant said Hicks pointed toward the front of a Chrysler, where Bryant thought someone had left the single-shot shotgun.

"He says 'Give me that gun. I'm going to kill that blankety-blank,'" Bryant said.

Bryant said he fired a warning shot that hit a tree near Hicks.

Hicks bent down by the Chrysler. When he raised back up, Bryant said he could see something in Hicks' hand.

Then Bryant fired the shotgun, hitting Hicks.

NW News on 09/14/2019

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