CLAYTON — Investigators decided early on that a 13-year-old boy shot his neighbor, but don't have the evidence to back that up, a defense attorney said during opening statements in Owen Welty's murder trial.
But the prosecutor pointed to accounts given by Welty and others that he said would show the boy committed the crime.
Welty is charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of his 64-year-old neighbor, Don McCollough. McCollough was found shot to death on his property near Bloomfield in Stoddard County. The trial was moved to St. Louis County on a change of venue.
Welty, now 15, has been jailed since his arrest in late 2006. He was originally charged with first-degree murder before the charge was amended Monday. Welty is one of the youngest people in Missouri ever charged with murder as an adult.
The shooting happened on Nov. 14, 2006. Stoddard County Prosecutor Briney Welborn told jurors that Welty and his parents were hunting separately near their home that day.
Welborn said Welty told investigators he shot at a turkey that afternoon, but missed. He allegedly told police he heard a shot a short time later and heard McCollough say, "ouch." Welty said he notified a neighbor and his parents about what he heard, Welborn said.
But investigators doubted Welty's story.
"There were no turkeys, no turkey feathers, found," Welborn said.
"Chat notes" found by investigators on the family computer from that day raised concerns. In those online notes, Welborn said Welty wrote that he heard a shot and heard McCollough yell, but also detailed how McCollough thought Welty had previously shot a bull owned by McCollough.
Welborn told jurors that they would later hear testimony from another neighbor who will tell them that Welty pointed a rifle at him that same day, while the man was fixing a fence post.
The doctor who performed the autopsy said the bullet to McCollough's neck and head would have made it impossible for the victim to say "ouch," Welborn said.
But defense attorney Mike Mettes said the defense will provide testimony from the St. Louis medical examiner who disagrees and said McCollough would have been able to yell after being shot.
Mettes cited several other problems with the case. Among them, he said, was the failure of investigators to record the statements they attributed to Welty.
Mettes spoke of other hunters who had been in the area during deer season, which raised the possibility that the shooting could have been accidental.
He said an analysis of a bullet fragment from the scene first excluded Welty's hunting rifle as the weapon, but said the finding was later upgraded from "excluded to inconclusive."
"Ladies and gentlemen, this was not a rush to judgment. This was an express train to judgment," Mettes said.
Outside the courtroom, McCollough's son said the family wouldn't comment until the end of the trial.
Welty's parents, Ronnie and Lori, said the boy is innocent. They also sought to clear up what they called misinformation about the child's mental health. Contrary to earlier media reports, the couple said Owen is not schizophrenic and that a mental health evaluation had shown "all good results."