Paschall guilty of dou­ble homi­cide

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - FRONT PAGE - JEFF LEHR jlehr@joplin­

NEOSHO, Mo. — “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” a mem­ber of the ex­tended fam­ily of

Casey Brace and

Herb Townsend de­clared with ob­vi­ous ela­tion Thurs­day as she emerged from the court­room af­ter the read­ing of the ver­dicts in the trial of Christo­pher Paschall.

A jury of 10 women and two men took about four hours to find the 39-year-old de­fen­dant from Spring­dale, Ark., guilty of all six counts that he was fac­ing in the dou­ble homi­cide of Brace, 28, and Townsend, her 76-year-old grand­fa­ther.

The ver­dicts re­turned at the end of the four-day trial — moved to New­ton County on a change of venue from Barry County — in­clude two con­vic­tions for first-de­gree mur­der, which carry manda­tory terms of life with­out pa­role in Mis­souri. Paschall, the fa­ther of two of Brace’s three chil­dren, also was found guilty of three counts of armed crim­i­nal ac­tion and a sin­gle count of parental kid­nap­ping.

Af­ter dis­miss­ing the jury, Cir­cuit Judge Jack Good­man set Paschall’s sen­tenc­ing hear­ing for Dec. 19.

“Two an­gels got their jus­tice to­day,” Brace’s mother, Cathy Townsend, said af­ter the ver­dicts.

She lost her fa­ther as well as her daugh­ter in the fa­tal shoot­ings Jan. 5, 2015, at Herb Townsend’s res­i­dence on Farm Road 1055 north­west of Wash­burn. Cathy Townsend said she was hap­pi­est for her daugh­ter’s chil­dren.

“They don’t have their mother,” she said. “They don’t have their great-grand­fa­ther. But jus­tice was done.”

Herb Townsend is be­lieved to have placed a 911 call from the res­i­dence af­ter be­ing shot mul­ti­ple times. The first deputy on the scene found Brace’s body ly­ing just in­side the back door of her grand­fa­ther’s house. He heard a moan and spot­ted Townsend ly­ing on his back in the liv­ing room and point­ing a ri­fle at him. The deputy ducked down, heard the

ri­fle drop to the floor and re­al­ized Townsend had been shot and se­verely wounded.

Deputy Billy Watkins went to the older vic­tim and asked who shot them.

Steven Kret­zer, an as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral act­ing as spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor in the case, told ju­rors dur­ing clos­ing ar­gu­ments Thurs­day that “the most im­por­tant piece of ev­i­dence” the state had pre­sented was the dy­ing dec­la­ra­tion the grand­fa­ther made to Watkins and later re­peated to an emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cian. Both tes­ti­fied that Townsend spoke Paschall’s name.

De­fense at­tor­ney An­drew Miller called Watkins back to the wit­ness stand Thurs­day to try to cast doubt on what the deputy may have heard. Watkins ac­knowl­edged that he had been given Paschall’s name ear­lier that day when he went to Cathy Townsend’s home to field her com­plaint that Paschall had vi­o­lated a pro­tec­tion or­der she had taken out on him. Miller’s line of ques­tion­ing sug­gested that the deputy may have had the name on his mind to the ex­tent that he sim­ply imag­ined that was what he heard Townsend say.

Kret­zer asked ju­rors to take the grand­fa­ther’s dy­ing dec­la­ra­tion and other pieces of cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence in the state’s case and put them to­gether to form a clear pic­ture of the de­fen­dant’s guilt.

He ar­gued that Cathy Townsend’s spot­ting of him in Wash­burn that day and pho­tos taken by a mo­tion-de­tec­tion cam­era out­side her home show­ing the same make and model of ve­hi­cle that he owned driv­ing past her house place the de­fen­dant in the vicin­ity of the crime. The tes­ti­mony of a neigh­bor of the grand­fa­ther, who saw Paschall that af­ter­noon at a rail­road cross­ing near his home on Farm Road 1050 driv­ing a blue Nis­san, fur­ther con­firms his pres­ence in the area, Kret­zer said.

The pros­e­cu­tor pointed out that yet another piece was Cathy Townsend’s knowl­edge that her grand­daugh­ter, Alli, had gone with her mother to Herb Townsend’s home. She later was found at the home of the de­fen­dant’s par­ents in Spring­dale, where in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve he fled with the girl af­ter killing Brace and her grand­fa­ther.

“It’s not your job to put pieces to­gether for (the prose­cu­tion),” Miller told ju­rors.

He said there was no ev­i­dence of any prior vi­o­lence be­tween Paschall and Brace. He em­pha­sized the to­tal lack of phys­i­cal ev­i­dence in the state’s case. There was no blood found on the de­fen­dant or his daugh­ter, Alli, and no dirt on his ve­hi­cle like one might ex­pect had he been driv­ing on dirt roads in the area. Nei­ther did po­lice in Arkansas find any ev­i­dence in­side his car that would have sug­gested his in­volve­ment in the shoot­ing when they went to his par­ents’ home to lo­cate him and the girl for in­ves­ti­ga­tors in Mis­souri, Miller said.

“If some­body was at this crime scene when this hap­pened, there would be ev­i­dence on those peo­ple’s bod­ies,” Miller said.

The de­fense at­tacked the in­tegrity of the Barry County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion through­out the trial. In­ves­ti­ga­tors did noth­ing to look for a .38-cal­iber hand­gun re­ported miss­ing from the grand­fa­ther’s res­i­dence in the af­ter­math of the crime de­spite the fact that it may well have been the gun used in the shoot­ing, Miller said.

While the sher­iff’s of­fice had a foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tion per­formed on Casey Brace’s cell­phone, they failed to have four other cell­phones seized in the case ex­am­ined in the same man­ner, in­clud­ing a phone found in the grass out­side the grand­fa­ther’s res­i­dence. A crime lab de­tected the DNA of two males on that phone. But in­ves­ti­ga­tors may have “missed the big­gest piece of ev­i­dence in this case” by fail­ing to sub­mit sam­ples from any­one in­volved for com­par­i­son with those two DNA pro­files, Miller said.

“There’s more than rea­son­able doubt,” Miller said. “There’s to­tal un­cer­tainty.”

Kret­zer told the jury in re­but­tal that the pres­ence of two males’ DNA on the phone — be­lieved to be­long to the grand­fa­ther — was not sur­pris­ing since Herb Townsend’s son lived with him. Kret­zer said the miss­ing .38-cal­iber gun may well be the mur­der weapon and sug­gested it is prob­a­bly some­where be­tween Herb Townsend’s house and Spring­dale, where the de­fen­dant fled af­ter the shoot­ing. The lack of dust on Paschall’s ve­hi­cle proves noth­ing since he could eas­ily have had the car washed, he said.

“Casey chose to leave the de­fen­dant,” Kret­zer told the jury in clos­ing. “She chose to make a bet­ter life for her and her chil­dren.”

The de­fen­dant chose to kill her, he said. But Paschall did not count on Brace’s grand­fa­ther be­ing able to crawl to the phone and call 911, he said. He did not count on him be­ing able to name their killer be­fore dy­ing. And he did not count on in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­ing able to come af­ter him so quickly, Kret­zer said.

“And now he’s not count­ing on you to do the right thing and find him guilty,” he told ju­rors.

Cus­tody bat­tle

The two chil­dren of Chris Paschall and Casey Brace were the sub­ject of a two-state cus­tody bat­tle af­ter their mother’s mur­der. They cur­rently re­side with the fam­ily of their fa­ther’s brother.


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