UPDATE: Charges dropped just before start of Clinch trial

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 | 5:08 p.m. CST; updated 9:57 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 16, 2009

COLUMBIA – Potential jurors were awaiting the selection process. Witnesses were prepared to give testimony. The lawyers were ready to make their cases.

William P. Clinch of Hallsville was set to go on trial Tuesday morning on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in connection with the 2007 shooting death of his brother-in-law, Jeremy Bohannon, 32, in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant on Clark Lane.

Then the state’s case received a blow: Boone County Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton said he would not include the word “imminent” with the word “threat” in his instructions to the jury. As he had indicated at a pre-trial hearing on Monday afternoon, Hamilton said he would instruct the jury to broadly interpret Missouri's self-defense statute.

And so Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight decided to drop the charges against Clinch and re-file, taking a case that has been 16 months in the making all the way back to the beginning.

"I've never done this before in my 16 years as a prosecutor," Knight said in an interview later Tuesday, referring to his decision to drop and re-file the same charges against Clinch.

Hamilton's ruling came as a surprise to Knight. He said that he was prepared to go to trial but that the judge’s interpretation of the self-defense statute significantly damaged his case.

Hamilton's ruling had implications for the self-defense argument Clinch's lawyers would have been allowed to make and the evidence they would have presented. Clinch and Bohannon’s turbulent history stretched across several years. Clinch’s sister divorced Bohannon the month before the shooting. She accused estranged husband Bohannon of abusing their three young children and threatening to kill her.

Several members of the Clinch family filed orders of protection against Bohannon, who lived in Rocheport. In an order of protection filed in Boone County Circuit Court in June 2007, William Clinch alleged that Bohannon “threatened to rip (Clinch’s) head off.”

Knight and Clinch's attorney, Boone County Public Defender Michael Byrne, had debated the inclusion of the word "imminent" in a motion hearing on Monday. That was the argument that Knight ultimately lost.

“With all due respect, I disagree with the court’s interpretation of the law with respect to self-defense,” Knight said. “I am not in any way criticizing the judge personally. I have the utmost respect for Judge Hamilton, I just disagree with the ruling.”

I strongly believe an imminent threat must be present in order to use deadly force,” he said.

On the day of the shooting, Bohannon was scheduled to meet his ex-wife — Clinch’s sister, Amanda Clinch — for a supervised visit of their children at McDonald’s. According to court documents and previous Missourian reporting, when Bohannon arrived at the restaurant, Clinch shot him several times in the parking lot.

Now, the prosecutor's office will decide whether to take the charges against Clinch to a grand jury, or through the preliminary hearing process.

In any case, Knight said it would be months before a new trial date would be set.

Meanwhile, Clinch remained in custody in the Boone County Jail. Byrne said he was disappointed by the dismissal. “We were ready to go to trial today,” Byrne said. “We look forward to giving Mr. Clinch his day in court.”

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