COLUMBIA — Jurors had just settled into their seats Wednesday morning when public defender Jennifer Bukowsky jarred the courtroom with her first question.
“Why did you kill Jeremy Bohannon?” she asked her client, William Clinch.
“I killed Jeremy Bohannon in order to save the lives of Joey, Makiyah and Kiyanah,” Clinch responded, referring to his sister’s young children.
Bukowsky then asked, “When did you think that Jeremy could kill his children?”
“Oh, any time,” Clinch said. “I lived in constant fear.”
Clinch, 39, of Hallsville, is accused of fatally shooting his former brother-in-law in September 2007 in the parking lot of the McDonald’s on Clark Lane. He’s on trial in the 13th Circuit Court for Boone County for first-degree murder and armed criminal action.
Clinch testified for four hours Wednesday morning about the events that led to the shooting of Bohannon, 32. His testimony was frequently interrupted by objections from Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight, most of which were sustained by Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler.
Clinch told the Lafayette County jury that he was convinced Bohannon would try to kill the three children after Bohannon had the family cat put to sleep in September 2006. He said Bohannon brought the dead cat back to Amanda Clinch’s residence, placed it on the ground next to a shovel and left a note saying he'd had it killed.
“I just viewed it as a death threat,” Clinch said. “'I killed your cat. Watch out, the children may be next.'”
Clinch was composed on the witness stand. He spoke in a clear voice and did not show much emotion. But, as he spoke, members of the Bohannon family shook their heads from time to time, appearing to express disbelief at what Clinch was saying.
Clinch said that another important event occurred on the night before Halloween in 2005, when he said he first had a glimpse of the danger Bohannon posed to his family.
During a visit to his parents’ home in Rocheport, they got a panicked call from Amanda Clinch, whom he calls Mandy.
“Mandy said three words: ‘I need help,’” Clinch said. He and his father, Dennis Clinch Sr., ran over to her house, which was nearby, to see what was going on. They found Bohannon standing in the middle of the yard screaming.
“He looked like he had become completely unhinged,” Clinch said. “I had never heard someone scream that loud in my life.”
Clinch compared Bohannon’s demeanor that night to that of Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” He said it was a side of Bohannon he had never seen before, and it scared him.
In the almost two years between that night and the shooting, Bohannon’s behavior became increasingly erratic and troubling to Clinch and his family, he said. They learned of Bohannon’s abusive behavior toward Amanda and the children, and Bohannon constantly harassed the family, Clinch said. Eventually Clinch, his father and his sister all filed orders of protection against Bohannon.
“I felt (Bohannon) was a real threat and that he was a dangerous, psychotic individual,” Clinch said.
By the beginning of 2007, Clinch was supervising visits between Bohannon and the three children. Bohannon and Amanda Clinch were separated and Bohannon was only permitted to see the children twice a week in a supervised setting. Clinch eventually hired someone else to supervise the visits.
On one such visit in May 2007 at the Columbia Public Library, Clinch witnessed what he said was more unstable behavior by Bohannon. Clinch went with his sister to pick up the children, and when he started to gather up their things, Bohannon started to yell at him.
“He threatened to rip my head off,” Clinch said. He said Bohannon also yelled at Amanda Clinch at the library.
Clinch's testimony was expected to continue Wednesday afternoon.