Missouri man's trial uses Castle Doctrine
STEELVILLE, Mo. — James Crocker had grown weary of the partying canoeists and rafters who encroached on his neatly kept property along Missouri's Meramec River. When he caught a man about to relieve himself on a gravel bar by his yard last month, a nasty confrontation ensued that ended with one person dead and Crocker accused of killing him.
The case against Crocker is the latest to put a spotlight on “castle doctrine” laws, which allow the use of deadly force to protect property. Missouri is among at least 30 states that have enacted the statutes, which supporters say protect gun rights but others insist promote vigilantism.
Crocker's attorney, Michael Bert of St. Louis, said that Crocker was defending himself and his property.
“Here's a man in fear for his life and fearful he might suffer bodily injury,” Bert said.
Prosecutors see it differently. Witnesses who testified at a hearing this month said Crocker was angry and raging, shooting into the crowd of people, narrowly missing two others before killing 48-year-old Paul Dart Jr. of Robertsville, Mo. Crocker has been charged with second-degree murder.
Even some supporters of the doctrine say the violence seemed avoidable.
“The smart thing is to back away, and nobody seemed to be willing to do that,” said Kevin Jamison, an attorney who lobbied for Missouri's castle doctrine bill as a member of the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance.
Crocker, a 59-year-old plastics plant worker with long hair and a thick goatee, lives in a small white frame home on a shaded gravel road about eight miles west of Steelville, the self-proclaimed floating capital of the world.
Drinking is sometimes part of the outings, resulting in bawdy behavior that doesn't sit well with owners of land that touches the river. Many have complained for years about loud parties, trash left behind and crude behavior.
Herb Smelser, 77, who lives three houses down from Crocker, said it isn't uncommon to find people using his yard as a restroom. The problem was so bad, he said, that he let his grass grow high to discourage trespassers.
Crocker, though, kept his yard trim and tidy — “like a park,” Smelser said. To keep out the unwanted, Crocker posted “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs along the hill that slopes down to a gravel area along the meandering river.
Crawford County detective Zachary Driskill said he asked Crocker if he could have called police.
“I guess I could have, but it's my property and I was going to protect it,” Crocker responded, according to case documents.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Scientists hope tiny robotic bee’s big dreams take flight
- Utah woman gets 5 years in baby sitter’s overdose death
- Scathing report says college trustees fail in mission
- GPS stations show drought-stricken California — not pushed downward by 63 trillion gallons of water — is rising
- $132.5M ransom asked for Foley
- States can apply for more time before using student scores to evaluate teachers
- $1T cost to sustain fighter jet in cross hairs
- EPA cites risks from air toxics in urban areas, improvements
- Fla. ban on gay marriage upended
- Police say couple wanted Amish girls for slaves
- Don’t eat tuna, Consumer Reports tells mothers-to-be