A prosecutor said Wednesday he is inclined to seek the death penalty for a southeast Missouri man accused of slaying a state trooper with a shotgun and a rifle in an ambush outside the officer’s home.
Carter County Prosecutor Michael Ligons charged Lance Shockley, 28, of Van Buren with first-degree murder and armed criminal action on Tuesday.
Authorities allege that Shockley ambushed Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Carl Dewayne Graham Jr., 37, on March 20 near Van Buren as Graham had been continually focusing on him as a suspect in a deadly hit-and-run wreck months earlier.
When it comes to pursuing a possible death sentence, “this is the kind of case where I most definitely will make that kind of determination,” Ligons said.
That call would be based on whether the killing included at least one legally required “aggravating circumstance” that could qualify Shockley for a death sentence, Ligons said. In Missouri, those factors include the slaying of a law enforcer — what Ligons said “sticks out like a sore thumb” in Shockley’s case.
Ligons offered no time frame for deciding the matter, saying it depended on when he received all the investigative reports.
Earlier Wednesday, Ligons said, “It’s not too early to say that I will seek the death penalty. I will.” He was less definitive later.
Graham was killed in uniform, just after he had completed his daily shift. The patrol ruled that the 12-year veteran of the force was the 24th state trooper to die on the job in Missouri.
Shockley was arrested March 23 and charged with leaving the scene of the fatal Nov. 26 accident that Graham investigated in Carter County. Investigators sought a possible link between the investigation and Graham’s death.
A probable cause affidavit filed with the criminal complaint alleged that on the day of Graham’s death, Shockley asked for directions to the officer’s home. That afternoon, Shockley allegedly borrowed his grandmother’s red Pontiac Grand Am, a car matching the description of one that several witnesses said they saw parked on a secluded gravel road about three-tenths of a mile from Graham’s house.
Graham was shot multiple times, according to evidence from the scene and an autopsy. A bullet from Graham’s body was .22-caliber, and the trooper received additional wounds from either a 10- or 12-gauge shotgun, according to the complaint.
Interviews during the investigation found that Shockley owns multiple firearms, including at least one 12-gauge shotgun. Authorities said they found a .22-caliber bullet at Shockley’s home. Ballistic testing of that round with one recovered from Graham’s body “conclusively revealed that both were fired from the same firearm,” the affidavit said.
An investigator said Wednesday that authorities have not ruled out the prospect that another person had a role in Graham’s death.
“There are other people of interest involved in this case,” patrol Sgt. Jason Clark said. “We’re not excluding anybody right now.”
Graham, the patrol’s zone supervisor for Carter and Reynolds counties, was the divorced father of a 4-year-old son and was engaged to be married.
Shockley, who remains jailed without bond, has had previous run-ins with authorities, including one confrontation that produced four misdemeanors and eventual probation that authorities now seek to revoke.
In July 2003, Ligons accused Shockley of threatening and trying to assault a park ranger, making physical contact with a Carter County deputy and resisting arrest.