Charges dropped in concealed weapons case
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Calling it the "appropriate thing to do" in light of the evidence, prosecutors Tuesday dismissed a weapons charge against a Jackson man who stood accused of wielding a gun during a heated argument at a Cape Girardeau gas station last November.
James H. "Junior" Swift was in court Tuesday awaiting a judge's decision about whether he would stand trial for unlawful use of a weapon when word came down that the charges had been dropped. Swift, who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon, had maintained that he had only been trying to protect himself when he reached into his car and put his gun in his waistband following an argument about moving his car at Kidd's on Broadway.
At issue was whether Swift deliberately displayed the weapon in an angry or threatening manner, a legal prerequisite for the charge.
Cape Girardeau County assistant prosecutor Jack Koester began to have doubts about the charges after last month's preliminary hearing, when even the judge called the decision to bind Swift over for trial a "close call" and took 30 days to review the matter.
A preliminary hearing only requires probable cause to send a case to a jury and that's a much lower standard than proof beyond reasonable doubt, Koester said. It became apparent, Koester said, that the chances of a successful conviction had become "extremely remote."
"I felt that attempting to proceed with the case any further would not be an appropriate use of judicial resources," Koester said. "After reviewing the testimony at the preliminary hearing and the reports that were in our possession, I thought that [dismissing the case] was the appropriate thing to do."
Swift's lawyer, Allen Moss, said that the prosecution's decision was a good one.
"This is a victory for Second Amendment rights," Moss said. "It's a victory for those that support the conceal-carry law. This gentleman put his freedom and his reputation and everything on the line to stand up for his rights and we think that's admirable."
It is also important to note, Moss said, that Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle has been a vocal opponent to the state's conceal-carry law, which makes it legal to carry and travel with a concealed handgun. Moss said he believes Swingle's definition of conceal-carry is narrow and that he can't help but think Swingle's mentality on the subject had something to do with how he proceeded with the case.
But Koester said Tuesday that he filed the charges and he was the one who decided to drop them. Koester also voiced his opinion that both sides of the dispute could have handled the situation differently.
"You had two adults screaming obscenities at each other over something as insignificant as a parking space," Koester said. "Whenever you bring a gun into a situation like that, it can have tragic consequences. I'm just glad nobody was hurt in this situation and I hope both sides learned a lesson -- that sometimes it's better to let cooler heads prevail."
At the preliminary hearing March 27, Patricia Cox testified that Swift reached into his car for his gun and tucked it into his waistband in an attempt to threaten her after the two had been in an argument that began when Cox asked Swift to move his car from the gas pumps so she could fuel up.
"He made sure I saw it," Cox told the judge. "To me, my life was in jeopardy."
But Cox also testified that Swift never pointed the gun at her, never waived it around and never told her he intended to use it. Swift has said that he got his gun out only after Cox called some friends on the phone to come to the gas station.
A probable-cause statement alleges that Cox at one point spat on Swift. Koester said he never considered filing charges against her and noted that Cox has repeatedly denied it. Attempts to reach Cox were unsuccessful.
After Swift heard that the charges had been dropped, he expressed relief, but not regret.
"I just wanted to protect myself," Swift said.
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