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October 22, 2009

Jury Finds Mutchler Guilty of Involuntary Man Slaughter in 2008 Shooting Death

With the prosecution seeking first degree murder and the defense proclaiming innocence, a Shelby County jury settled somewhere in between on Friday, October 16th in the trial of Michael J. Mutchler of Memphis.

After deliberating most of the afternoon on the third day of the trial, the jury came back with a guilty count on the charge of armed criminal action. They ruled Mutchler was guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the 2008 shooting death of Joseph Alvey in rural Scotland County.

The prosecution had sought a charge of murder in the first degree. However the jury instructions offered a number of lesser offenses, including murder in the second degree, and involuntary manslaughter in the first or second degree.

The jury ultimately settled for the later, indicating they believed the defendant, while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, acted with criminal negligence, and not in self defense, resulting in Alvey’s death.

In order to find Mutchler guilty of murder, the jury would have had to agree that his conduct was practically certain to have caused Alvey’s death.

Involuntary manslaughter in the second degree is a class D felony and is subject to a prison term of up to five years. Armed criminal action is an unclassified felony, punishable by imprisonment by the department of corrections for a term of not less than three years. The punishment is in addition to the manslaughter sentence. No person convicted under this subsection shall be eligible for parole, probation, conditional release or suspended imposition or execution of sentence for a period of three calendar years.

Sentencing in the case will be handed down at 10:00 a.m. December 1st in the Shelby County Court by Judge Gary Wallace.

Joseph Alvey died after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds from a .22 rifle following an altercation at the Russell Heck residence on June 8, 2008.

The owner of the weapon, Michael J. Mutchler, admitted to firing the gun, but claimed it was done in self-defense, as Alvey attempted to take a weapon from Heck and gain access to the home.

On the night of the shooting, Alvey had arrived at the Russell Heck residence near Gorin. Heck shared a home with Angela Graham and their infant child. Mutchler was living with the couple at the time of the shooting.

Another couple had joined the trio for some drinks before Kristy Shaw arrived at the home. After the second couple departed, Joseph Alvey, Shaw’s boyfriend, arrived.

According to testimony by Shaw, Heck and Graham, Alvey and Shaw had an altercation in the yard when Alvey attempted to leave the party and Shaw refused to give him his vehicle keys because he was intoxicated.

Mutchler reportedly witnessed the fight, and sought out Heck, who had gone to bed earlier in the night, to come to Shaw’s aid.

Heck reportedly fired one round from a 9mm pistol into the air to warn Alvey to leave the property.

He and Graham both testified that the pistol was then returned to the home, and exchanged for a “beater stick” a wooden club similar in size to a police baton.

At this time Mutchler exited the home with his .22 rifle and the shooting took place shortly thereafter.

Mutchler took the stand in his own defense, and admitted firing the fatal shots at Alvey. However he claimed the shooting was done in self-defense, as Alvey attempted to take the handgun from Heck.

Prosecution witnesses testified that Mutchler made threatening comments targeting the victim prior to the shooting, a fact the defendant refuted.

They also indicated that Heck, who had taken a 9mm handgun onto the porch and fired a warning shot to scare Alvey away, no longer was holding the gun at the time of the fatal shooting.

The defense pointed out that in their statements given to investigators the following day, both Heck and Graham initially had indicated the shooting was done in self-defense as Alvey reached for Heck’s sidearm.

However both witnesses later changed their statements.

Graham testified that she had tried to help Mutchler, her friend, but had decided that it was more important to tell the truth, ultimately requiring her to recant her initial statement and issue a new statement to investigators roughly a week after the shooting.

Mutchler testified that he fired five or six shots at Alvey, deliberately aiming low, in an effort to scare him and prevent him from charging the porch and taking the weapon from Heck. He indicated he made the split-second decision in an effort to secure the occupants of the home.

The Boone County Medical Examiner testified that Alvey sustained four gunshot wounds, one to the leg, one to the lower back and one to the hand. The fourth struck Alvey in the back of his shoulder. The bullet struck a rib, passed through both lungs and ultimately opened the aorta, which proved fatal. The examiner indicated the fatal wound likely would have incapacitated Alvey within 20 seconds.

The defense highlighted physical evidence, including four bullet holes in an adjacent building, noting the low height of impact. They also pointed out that Mutchler had selected a .22 rifle instead of the shotgun or high-powered rifle he also had in the house.

Prosecutors questioned why Mutchler never called law enforcement or an ambulance following the incident, and instead spoke to family members on his cellular phone immediately following the shooting, while the fatality went 45 minutes to one hour before it was reported by Heck.

Evidence was also presented that appeared to disprove Mutchler’s testimony that he never reloaded the weapon after the shooting.

Investigators testified that a clip for the weapon was recovered containing seven bullets along with an eighth that was ejected from the chamber. With physical evidence indicating five bullets had struck the house and a sixth, the fatal shot was found in Alvey’s body, prosecutor’s pointed out that the testimony was mathematically impossible, since the clip could hold just 10 shells with an 11th chambered in the rifle. With six shots fired and eight in the clip and weapon, the prosecution argued the weapon had to have been reloaded, backing up testimony to that effect and refuting statements made under oath by the defendant.

Mutchler was the lone witness called by the defense. The prosecution called the three witnesses at the home during the shooting, as well as a number of investigators from the Missouri State Highway Patrol Division of Drug and Crime Control (DDCC), the medical examiner, and Scotland County Coroner Ginny Monroe. Testimony was offered Wednesday afternoon following the seating of the jury and concluded with nearly a full-day of testimony on October 15th before the defense rested at around 3:30 p.m.

Jurors received the jury instructions just before lunch on Friday, and returned a verdict that afternoon.


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