Clinch takes witness stand in own defense Wednesday

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 | 10:46 p.m. CDT
During the Wednesday afternoon session of his trial at the Boone County Courthouse, William Clinch shows the prosecutor, Dan Knight, how he used a gun to kill his former brother-in-law. Clinch is charged with shooting Jeremy Bohannon in a McDonald's parking lot on Sept 2, 2007, in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — Three months after fatally shooting Jeremy Bohannon, William Clinch called home from the Boone County Jail to talk to Joey Bohannon, his nephew and the victim’s 4-year-old son.

Joey refused to speak to him. “I don’t want to talk to Uncle Bill,” Joey could be heard saying on a recording played for the jury Wednesday afternoon in Clinch’s murder trial. “I want to talk to daddy.”

When Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight asked the defendant if hearing his nephew saying those things hurt him, Clinch said it did not hurt him at all.

The phone conversation seemed to contradict Clinch’s earlier testimony that Joey was so afraid of his father that he “bolted out of the library doors” trying to get away during a supervised visit.

Clinch, 39, of Hallsville, is on trial in the 13th Circuit Court for Boone County for first-degree murder and armed criminal action. He is accused of fatally shooting Bohannon, his former brother-in-law, in September 2007 in the parking lot of the McDonald’s restaurant on Clark Lane.

Clinch, composed and speaking clearly, was on the witness stand for about 10 hours Wednesday. From time to time during his testimony, members of the Bohannon family shook their heads at what Clinch was saying.

Earlier Wednesday, Clinch told the Lafayette County jury that his reason for shooting Bohannon was to protect his nieces and nephew.

“I killed Jeremy Bohannon in order to save the lives of Joey, Makiyah and Kiyanah,” Clinch responded, referring to his sister’s young children.

Public defender Jennifer Bukowsky then asked, “When did you think that Jeremy could kill his children?”

“Oh, any time,” Clinch said. “I lived in constant fear.”

But Knight questioned the validity of those fears. Clinch had a gun for more than a year before he killed Bohannon, but he had never learned to use it.

His father gave it to him for protection, “just in case Jeremy (Bohannon) would try to break into the house,” Clinch said.

“If you thought Jeremy was such a maniac and monstrous threat and you really thought the kids were in danger, why didn’t you carry the gun to the supervised visit?” Knight asked. Clinch had earlier said he was nervous during visits that Bohannon may “snap their little necks.”

Clinch told the jury he decided to kill Bohannon on Aug. 30, 2007, when he learned Bohannon might be permitted unsupervised visits with the children. At the time, Bohannon was allowed two supervised visits a week.

On the day of the shooting, Sept. 2, 2007, Clinch told his family he was going on a date and arrived at the McDonald’s at about 4 p.m. Bohannon, who was going to meet his children at the McDonald’s for a supervised visit, arrived at about 5:15 p.m.

When Bohannon got out of his car, Clinch walked quickly toward him and shot at him twice before his gun jammed, hitting Bohannon once in the buttocks. Bohannon then fled across the parking lot and ducked behind a truck.

Clinch said he shot him one more time, which made Bohannon fall to the ground.

“I stood over him, he was looking right at me. I didn’t hear him saying anything, just gurgling noises,” Clinch said.

As Bohannon was lying on the ground, Clinch shot him two more times in the head.

Clinch teared up as he described the entire shooting as “an out-of-body experience.” He said the only thing going through his mind at the time was that he had to protect his nieces and nephew.

Clinch said he was not happy that Bohannon was dead, but relieved.

“Dead people can’t brutalize babies, and dead people can’t kill babies,” he said.

Clinch testified he regretted killing Bohannon almost immediately after it happened.

Knight, however, played a series of phone conversations Clinch had with family members from the jail that conflicted with that statement. His family asked how he was doing and said they appreciated what he did; his aunt and uncle called him a hero. Clinch told them he was doing fine and thanked them for their support.

Knight then had Clinch read from a letter he sent to his mother months after the shooting.

It read in part, “Knowing I’ve fulfilled my duties as the guardian of our family is fulfilling.”

The trial is scheduled to continue at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in the Boone County Courthouse.

Tram Whitehurst, a Missourian reporter, contributed to this story.

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