LIVINGSTON, TX (KTRE) - A jury has found a Livingston man guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in the shooting death of his mother's boyfriend.
Following the verdict for Richard Alan Gagnon, 21, he accepted a 15-year prison sentence and waived his right to appeal the verdict.
Prosecuting attorney Joe Martin said the jury felt Gagnon did not intentionally murder his mother's boyfriend, Brent Ryter, but that he did intentionally cause bodily injury to him by shooting him.
"The ultimate result is about the same. If he had been found guilty of murder then he would have been eligible for what's called a sudden passion deduction to a second degree felony," Martin said.
Gagnon had pending charges from other instances in Polk County, including a burglary of habitation charge, a possession of a controlled substance charge, and a burglary of a building charge that he was on probation for at the time that he committed the assault.
"We could've had another trial that would've lasted another week and the most punishment in those cases was 20 years so we plead him to 15. He could've requested another trial, spent all that time, asked the judge to do what we call stack the sentences. But that is discretionary with the judge and not much future in spending more time on a trial when you are not guaranteed you are going to get any more time than that," Martin said.
Gagnon was accused of shooting and killing Ryter, in November of 2013. The arrest affidavit claims Gagnon shot Ryter in the chest with a 12-gauge shotgun. He was charged with one count of murder and a second count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The jury found him guilty of a lesser-included offense.
Ryter's family said they are unhappy with the decision.
"I feel like he should've got more and I hope he gets at least the most he possibly can with the aggravated assault," said Ryter's cousin, Leslie Beane. "We have his memories. I feel like everybody tries to make him this bad person and he wasn't the bad person everyone is trying to make him out to be."
Closing arguments began with Joe Martin, the prosecuting attorney, who spoke about his opinion that Ryter was not a pillar of the society.
"Just because he is a bad guy doesn't mean we excuse the murder. That act stands on its own whether it's me, you or another bad guy he kills," Martin said.
He said that he believes in redemption for Gagnon and believes that the death penalty should only be saved for those that do the most heinous crimes. However, he said that he believes Ryter did not deserve his death penalty despite all of the things he might have done in the past.
"How long does it take to form intent? Not very long," Martin said. "[Gagnon] formed that intent when he pulled that trigger."
He related the speed of forming intent to someone killing a mosquito. He says in those few seconds that someone lifts their hand up to kill a mosquito that person is able to form a full thought on intent to kill the mosquito. He says that's how long it can take someone to intend to pull the trigger and shoot someone.
Martin said Ryter had a cigarette and cigarette lighter in his right hand, and a towel in his left hand.
"If you are beating somebody with that cigarette in your hand, that cigarette is going to disintegrate," Martin said.
He said that when Ryter was shot he had a death grip on the cigarette. He said they had to pry his fingers off of the cigarette. He said if Ryter was going to assault someone, he would've thrown that cigarette and cigarette lighter to the ground.
"If you're fixing to assault somebody, you're going to have a lighter in your hand and a towel in the other one? No. That was what the situation was," Martin said.
He said that Gagnon was manipulative when he was in the back of a patrol car and said, "I did this for you, momma and daddy."
"It reminds me a lot of Cane's explanations when he was caught killing his brother Abel," Gagnon said. "He knows there are cameras in there, and he knows what he is doing."
He said Deborah Gagnon didn't want Ryter out when they were smoking meth together, or when they were partying hard. He said it all comes down to the relationship between mother and son.
"The combination of things and when [Ryter] began to pressure her about getting Richard out of the house," Martin said. "That was when it was time for [Ryter] to go."
He said he doesn't believe Gagnon's story that he didn't aim the gun. He said Gagnon would never aim the gun blindly with his mother in the room. He said he believes Gagnon and his mother have a very dysfunctional relationship.
"[Ryter] was not advancing on them. He turned and got shot, and that's murder," Martin said.
Defense attorney Tom Brown started his closing arguments by complimenting Martin. He said Martin did a good job of using emotional elements in this case to prove a point despite his case not being there.
"They went to a lot of trouble to prove to you that they were no more than seven feet, six feet, or five feet apart," Brown said. "Yet, he talks about that he came into the room and he stepped over to the side and he's standing over between the door and the closet and…Ryter is standing over by the far door? That's what he just told you. You see how you can take things and twist it around?"
Brown said it is normal for witnesses to forget details in a traumatic situation. He said that Brown knows that Gagnon might have been lying to law enforcement because he has been in trouble with the law before. But, he said that does not change the law. He said that cigarette and cigarette lighter in Ryter's hand could've been used as a weapon.
"I'm not going to say it was an intentional weapon. But, that's the same as holding a roll of quarters in your hand when you go into a fight. It's a heck of a weapon," Brown said.
"Mr. Ryter is entitled protection of the law. The law applies to him just like it does to everybody else. But don't get lost in the fact that it also applies to Richard Gagnon."
Brown said he has made no effort in hiding the fact that Gagnon "continuously screws up." He said Gagnon uses illegal drugs, and steals to buy illegal drugs.
"But, the law applies to him just like it does anybody else," Brown said. "There's one thing that really ought to be bothering you. These distances that they are talking about as it works in the room do not fit. It just doesn't."
In response, Martin turned to the jury and said, "Folks, I think I've just been insulted."
Martin said that the distances match perfectly. He said from the physical evidence they know where Ryter was in the bedroom when he got shot. He said Gagnon had to be by the door of the bedroom with the barrel of the gun aimed across the bed. He said this is not self-defense because of the physical evidence of where the blood was dropped.
He said that it is "ridiculous," to compare a Bic lighter to a roll of quarters. He said if you are to use a Bic lighter as a weapon you are going to get lighter fluid everywhere.
"He has killed a human being. That changes him. He is no longer a petty criminal. He is your worst nightmare," Martin said.