COLUMBIA – Friends of Jon Spurling, a Howard County resident slain in August, believe the state should be doing more to help find their friend's killer. That's why they have shifted their efforts from fund raising to petitioning the state government.
Spurling, 39, was found, by his father, dead in his home near Harrisburg on Aug. 16. He had been shot twice — once in the abdomen and once in the head.
Since Spurling's death, his friends have hung wanted posters in 11 states, organized fundraising events, including a barbecue and a concert, and sold T-shirts bearing Spurling's photograph. They have also raised $4,000 dollars for a reward fund.
Now, three of Spurling's friends are shifting their efforts to get the state to help.
Bill Spires, Tim Phelen and Martin Carmichael, who founded justiceforjon.com and organized the events, are looking for a sponsor for a bill they've dubbed Jon’s Law. Based on similar laws in California and Alabama, it would allow the governor to post a reward for information that leads to the arrest of someone who has committed a homicide.
Phelen said he hopes a large reward would motivate people to give information leading to an arrest.
“People might be afraid to get hurt by telling something that they know,” Phelen said. “What’s a Missouri resident’s life worth?”
“Money can balance out that fear,” Spires said.
In California, the penal code allows the governor to set a $50,000 reward for unsolved homicides and $100,000 for unsolved homicides of peace officers or firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Phelen also said Jon’s Law would give Missouri residents a sense that the state has their backs.
“They need to know that if someone comes into their house and shoots them, they need to know that the state of Missouri is going to do everything it can to find that person,” Phelen said.
To make sure the bill gets a hearing in the Missouri legislature, Phelen, Spires and Carmichael are collecting signatures for a petition, contacting representatives and publicizing their efforts through radio interviews and the Internet, Phelen said.
Phelen has already spoken to his district’s State Rep. Randy Asbury, R-Higbee, although he declined to sponsor Jon’s Law.
“The funding shortage in Missouri is at a critical level,” Asbury wrote in an email to Phelen. “I am already working to identify monies that are being spent inefficiently and move those to funding programs or efforts that I believe have merit but are underfunded.”
Phelen is undaunted.
“Randy was our representative, and that’s why we went to him first,” he said. “We’ll be talking to all of them now.”
In California, the Governor’s Reward Program has awarded $955,000 since 1967, the equivalent of $21,705 per year over 44 years, according to Gov. Jerry Brown's office. Of 294 rewards posted, 22 have been awarded.
The Howard County Sheriff’s Department has made little progress in the Spurling case, said Sheriff Charlie Polson, who is in charge of the investigation.
“We’re still waiting for some lab results to get back,” Polson said. “No earthshaking leads.”
Polson said he thought Jon’s Law could help his cash-strapped county solve homicide cases.
“If someone had information about a murder, the right thing to do would be to tell the authorities and not to be driven by reward money,” Polson said. “But if that’s what it takes to solve a murder, OK.”
Donations for the reward fund can be made at justiceforjon.com.