COLUMBIA — William Clinch was found guilty Saturday night of first-degree murder in the September 2007 shooting death of his former brother-in-law. The charge carries a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The verdict was read at about 10 p.m. after a Lafayette County jury of seven women and five men deliberated for more than four hours.
Clinch stared at Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler as he read the verdict. After a short time Clinch looked down, and a public defender, Paul Hood, put his hand on Clinch's shoulder.
The parents of the victim, Jeremy Bohannon, attended the trial every day, but were absent for the verdict. Clinch's family displayed no emotion and declined to comment.
Clinch, 39, shot Bohannon four times on Sept. 2, 2007, in the parking lot of the McDonald’s on Clark Lane. The trial centered on whether the shooting was a matter of defending Bohannon's children, their mother and Clinch.
Clinch testified at length during the trial that he feared Bohannon might kill members of his family. Bohannon and Clinch's sister, Amanda Clinch, had been separated for about a year before the shooting.
But in order for the jury to have found that Clinch acted in defense of others, Boone County Public Defender Jennifer Bukowsky had to prove that the threat from Bohannon was “imminent.”
Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight said in his closing argument that the imminence requirement meant that the threat must happen “right here and now.” As an example, he said Bohannon would had to have had a knife to one of the children’s throats at the time of the shooting to justify the act.
Without the imminence requirement, Knight said in his closing argument, people could take the law into their own hands. “It would be the end of society, the end of civilization as we know it.”
He asked the jury to “follow the law.”
“Don’t let this defendant get away with this crime,” Knight told the jury. “… Otherwise it will send the wrong message to the community.”
After the verdict, Knight said he was pleased with the jury's decision and the fact that they followed the law. He said it was a challenging and sometimes unusual case.
"It was very odd to have the defendant admit to the crime in a murder case," Knight said. He added that the trial involved more hearsay evidence than he's ever seen in a case.
The jury also had the option of finding Clinch guilty of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 10 to 30 years or life in prison. The difference between first- and second-degree murder is that first-degree murder requires deliberation before the crime.
In her closing argument, Bukowsky told the jury that Clinch could not have “coolly reflected” before the crime because of his “diminished mental state.” She said he was living in a constant state of fear, and his anxiety affected his ability to function.
Clinch’s trial was first scheduled to begin on Jan. 27, 2009. Knight asked Boone County Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton whether he would include the word “imminent” with the word “threat” in the jury instructions, a statement the judge gives about the laws pertaining to the case.
When Hamilton said he would not, Knight dropped the charges against Clinch and filed them again the same day, and Oxenhandler was assigned to the case. The jury instructions in this trial included the word "imminence."
The defense rested at about 3:25 p.m. Saturday after calling its last witness, Amanda Clinch, who said Bohannon had beaten their children. The state presented evidence for the first day-and-a-half of the trial, focusing mostly on the details of the crime itself. The defense then called a series of witnesses, starting with William Clinch, who testified for 14 hours in the middle of the week.
Much of the evidence for the defense focused on Bohannon’s alleged violent and erratic behavior. In her closing argument, Bukowsky called Bohannon a “mentally unstable, dangerous child abuser.”
Several witnesses testified throughout the trial that Bohannon beat his children and threatened to kill them and Amanda and William Clinch. To emphasize the abuse to the jury Saturday, Bukowsky violently slammed against the podium a window blind rod that she said was similar to the one Bohannon used to hit the children.
“(Clinch) was living in terror," Bukowsky said. "He didn’t know the moment Jeremy would snap again.”
But Knight said in his closing argument that the defense had been dragging Bohannon through the mud throughout the trial with little evidence. He asked the jury to consider why no members of the Clinch family took photos of alleged injuries to the children or reported the abuse to authorities.
Bukowsky said the defense plans to file an appeal.
Clinch's final sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 14.