Cape Girardeau man sentenced to 50 years for shooting

Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Jimmy Ray Bell

Several people in the courtroom gasped Monday as a circuit court judge sentenced Jimmy Ray Bell to five decades in prison for his involvement in a 2011 Cape Girardeau County shooting that cost another man an eye.

Circuit Court Judge William Syler sentenced Bell, 29, to two 25-year prison sentences, to be served consecutively, for convictions on first-degree assault and armed criminal action. On June 21, a Cape Girardeau County jury found Bell guilty of the charges in the shooting of Joshua Abernathie near Neelys Landing.

Cape Girardeau County assistant prosecutor Jack Koester said the assault charge falls under Missouri's dangerous-felony statutes, meaning guilty verdicts translate into serving 85 percent of the sentences. Armed criminal action carries a minimum three-year prison sentence with no upper limit, Koester said.

Bell, Abernathie and Seth Summers had been drinking Aug. 28 when they drove a Chevrolet Lumina into rural parts of Cape Girardeau County, Abernathie testified at Bell's trial. Between 2 and 3 a.m., they stopped near Neelys Landing, where they got out of the vehicle and continued to drink.

At some point Summers grabbed Abernathie from behind and said, "We're doing this," Abernathie said during the two-day trial. Then Summers sprayed Abernathie in the face with Mace or bug killer, he said.

Abernathie saw a flash, heard a "pow" and felt something strike him in the head. He fled until Summers and Bell left, then found a farmhouse, where he pounded on the door and screamed for help. Emergency room doctors said the bullet traveled through Abernathie's face and lodged in a cheekbone, where it remains.

As Monday's hearing commenced, Koester asked Syler for a 30-year sentence on the assault.

"This was just a horrible and senseless act of violence," he told Syler. "We're fortunate we're not here on a murder case."

Bell's attorney, Chris Davis, argued that he didn't agree that the shooting was intentional.

"Bell is sorry for any harm to Mr. Abernathie," he pleaded with Syler.

Syler asked Bell if he'd like to say anything to the court, but he declined, and Syler pronounced the sentence.

"I'm still a little bit in shock about that," Davis said moments later. "You always have to respect Syler's decisions."

Koester said he thought the sentence was fair and just, but couldn't comment further because Summers, Bell's co-defendant, goes on trial Wednesday. Syler will preside over the two-day trial. Summers is charged as an accomplice in Abernathie's shooting and also faces first-degree assault and armed criminal action charges.

Summers' attorney, Al Lowes, told the Southeast Missourian last week he plans to put Summers on the stand. Lowes said he plans to argue that Summers didn't know Bell would shoot Abernathie.


Pertinent address:

100 Court St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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