The Johnson County prosecutor has determined no crime was committed when a man shot the former president of a Whiteland social club and accidentally shot a woman standing nearby.
Prosecutor Brad Cooper declined to file criminal charges against a Greenwood man who said he acted in self-defense when he shot an unarmed man in the parking lot of the Johnson County Eagles lodge during an incident July 8. A ricocheted round also struck the man’s girlfriend in the upper leg. Police said none of the gunshot wounds was life-threatening.
Cooper said he also considered filing a criminal charge against the former club president, who was shot, because of oral threats he made but ultimately decided not to.
In July, Whiteland police arrested William Doug Rees on two charges of criminal recklessness with a firearm after the shooting at the lodge at 564 Front St. Police said Rees shot former club president Paul “Rusty” Martin in the leg and accidentally shot Greenwood resident Janet Caraboa after Martin asked Rees to leave.
The problem was that multiple witnesses were too unreliable and gave conflicting accounts of what happened, Cooper said. He said investigators couldn’t sort out exactly what transpired and that he didn’t think he could prove criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt. He recently notified the Whiteland Police Department that he didn’t have enough evidence to refute Rees’ claim of self-defense.
Rees, who hired a private investigator to help defend himself, said he appreciated the prosecutor’s decision.
“He realized my innocence after reviewing some of our evidence,” he said. “It relieves me somewhat.”
Martin could not be reached for comment.
After the shooting, Martin had told police that Rees shot him in the lower leg after he asked him to leave and followed him out of the club to make sure he did, according to a police report. He told investigators that Rees shot him after he turned around to go back in, but Cooper said evidence contradicted that account.
A medical report showed that Martin had been shot in the front of his leg, Cooper said.
One of the bullets that hit Martin also ricocheted off the ground, confirming Rees’ account that he had fired at the ground and not with an intent to kill, Cooper said.
He said that Rees was trying to defend himself when Martin was coming at him and had the legal right to do so.
“The investigation into the shooting that occurred in the Eagles’ parking lot in Whiteland on July 8, 2012, has been frustrating to investigators, prosecutors and the parties involved,” Cooper wrote in a letter to police. “There were literally dozens of witnesses who, with varying degrees of personal bias and levels of intoxication, gave conflicting accounts of what occurred. Some of these statements were somewhat corroborated by the physical evidence.
“One thing is clear, and that is the shooter, Douglas Rees, has maintained a claim of self-defense.”
A blood-alcohol test showed that Rees had not been drinking, Cooper said. None of the other witnesses, including Martin, were tested for their blood-alcohol levels, Cooper said.
Rees and his attorney, Dan Vandivier of Franklin, hired a private investigator to interview witnesses because of the differing accounts of what happened. Cooper said he considered that evidence along with the police report and interviews he did personally with key witnesses.
Cooper found that an argument erupted at the lodge, that Rees left after he was asked to leave, but that he returned a short time later to pay his tab or get his girlfriend’s purse. He then left again and walked toward his vehicle in the parking lot.
Martin followed Rees out to confront him, according to the letter. Martin had told police he wanted to make sure Rees was leaving the property, according to the report.
More than one witness heard Martin say he intended to put Rees in a grave, Cooper said. He said Rees’ private investigator first found that information and that he asked witnesses about it himself while interviewing them to see if he had enough evidence to pursue any charges.
“It makes no difference who gathered the evidence, and I’m responsible for considering all the evidence,” Cooper said. “More than one said they heard it, but there were various versions of the facts, including varying distances between Rees and Martin.”
Rees fired when Martin was 5 to 15 feet away, Cooper said. Accounts of the distance varied widely, with some saying he was 5 feet away and others saying he was 15 to 20 feet away, he said.
“Medical records and physical evidence suggest that Martin was facing Rees when Rees fired at the area of Martin’s feet,” Cooper wrote in the letter. “The entry wounds on Martin’s leg indicate that Martin was facing Rees when first struck and that at least one round bounced up from the concrete and into Martin’s leg.”
A ricochet also hit Caraboa, but she did not make any criminal complaint against Rees, Cooper said.
Cooper said he didn’t believe that Rees intended to shoot either of them, since he aimed toward the ground instead of at their torsos. He said that Rees was shooting at Martin’s feet to protect himself and that he didn’t have enough evidence to prove otherwise.
As prosecutor, Cooper said, he had an ethical obligation not to file criminal charges that he didn’t think he could prove in court.
He said that many of the most incriminating statements in this case came from witnesses who were friends with and biased toward Martin and that a defense attorney could question their credibility.
He said he considered the police report, interviews that Rees’ private investigator did with the same witnesses and interviews he did himself.
He said he personally interviewed about a half-dozen witnesses, including Rees and Martin, to fill in gaps such as how far apart they were and if they heard Martin make threats.
“In this case, the credible admissible evidence necessary to negate Rees’ claim of self-defense is simply lacking,” he wrote in the letter. “Further, there are simply too many conflicting accounts for the state to carry its burden in proving felony intimidation against Martin. Accordingly, the state has a legal and ethical obligation not to place Rees, nor Martin, in legal jeopardy for their actions on July 8, 2012.”