Someone is about to kill you, your wife, and your daughter — and he’s a member of your family.
Sometimes the attack comes from an unexpected quarter — and the dynamics of violent encounters often have to be explained to those who would judge you in the aftermath.
It is October 7, 2009, in the small community of Noel, Mo. Marty Reece and his wife Jindy have been slowly ending a marriage that has degenerated into drug-fueled wife abuse. Jindy and her parents, Jim and Kimberly Patterson, are trying to keep things copasetic for her sake, and the sake of her and her estranged husband’s little boy, 3-year-old Wyatt.
That’s why today, after playing football with his three adopted kids, Jim goes golfing with his son-in-law. It’s a pleasant day; they are getting along well. Jim has a few beers on the golf course, and at a bar where they stop on the way home to shoot some pool. Marty is outpacing him considerably in the beer department, and showing it. When they get to Jim and Kimberly’s house, Jindy is there, and with Marty obviously too drunk to drive, Jindy drives him to the place where he now lives. Jim grabs some dinner while Kimberly takes care of an errand.
In the car with Marty and their little boy, Jindy’s evening is less routine. Marty is in an ugly mood, accusing her of being a “psycho-bitch.” When they arrive at his place, he announces he’s not getting out of the car. Jindy has been through this before; she flips open her cell phone, calls her mom’s mobile number, and asks if Kimberly can pick her and Wyatt up there. Jindy is planning to simply leave the car at Marty’s and pick it up tomorrow when he has sobered up.
Marty rips the phone from her hand and snaps it in half.
Kimberly hurries home to get Jim. Meanwhile, in front of Marty’s home, things are escalating. When Jindy attempts to get out of the car, Marty grabs her by the hair and pulls her back in. He rips the handle off the car’s gearshift, snatches up Jindy’s digital camera, and flings both away.
By now, Kimberly has rushed into the Patterson house and told Jim Jindy is in trouble. At that moment, the phone rings. On the other end is Jindy, who has retrieved the bottom half of her flip phone, and can speak but not hear on the device. Jim hears his daughter cry urgently, “If you can hear me, come now!” Jim quickly puts on some shoes. Kimberly says, “You’d better grab your gun.” Jim hastily makes his way to the bedroom and grabs the Ruger P90 DC .45 he keeps on the top shelf of the closet in an Uncle Mike’s holster. Then he and his wife hurry to the family van and, with Jim at the wheel, head in the direction of their embattled daughter.
By now, Marty has done the hair-pulling thing again, and punched his estranged wife in the head. Jindy has screamed, “Wyatt, wake up, wake up, look what Daddy’s doing!” Perhaps the guilt intrinsic in the thought of his little boy seeing him beat his mother is what does the trick, but now Marty turns his attention from Jindy to the car to vent his rage. He begins pounding on the vehicle and trying to rip the rear door off its hinges.
Jindy sees her parents’ familiar van coming up the hill toward them in the gathering darkness.
As their van comes up the hill, their headlights sweep the other vehicle and Jim and Kimberly see Marty whaling savagely on the car. Jim pulls over, throws the van in Park, and quickly makes his way to his daughter’s side. As he goes past Marty, the son-in-law he has been golfing and playing pool with all day nails him with a solid, full-power sucker punch to the face. Stunned by the blow, Jim grabs Marty in a clinch, and Jindy grabs her estranged husband from behind, trying to pull him off her father.
In moments, all three are in the roadside ditch. Jindy is on her back, and her father is down also, partly on top of her. Marty is above him doing a “ground and pound,” raining punches onto Jim.
Only Kimberly is still standing. She has no idea how to fight. She remembers that Jim’s gun is in the van, and she sprints back to get it. Snatching the Ruger from its holster, she dashes back to the scene. By now, Marty is still on top, and appears to be hammering both her husband and her daughter unconscious.
She hits Marty on the back of the head with the gun. He shows no reaction and keeps punching. She hits him again, and a third time. He ignores the blows and continues hitting Jim.
Desperate to stop him, she points the gun at his lower body, hoping to fire a shot that will wound and disable Marty, and not miss or pass through and hit her loved ones.
Kimberly Patterson pulls the trigger.
Click! Jim has always kept the pistol Condition Three, the 7-round magazine fully filled, and the chamber empty. But the “click” has done what three blows of the aluminum-framed pistol did not. It has gotten Marty Reece’s attention.
He turns toward her savagely. Kimberly sees him rise and come at her, his face a mask of absolute rage. Marty Reece reaches aggressively for the gun as he snarls, “Pistol whip me, bitch?!?”
And at that moment, it hits her that her son-in-law is going to take the gun she doesn’t know how to shoot away from her, and kill her and her husband and her daughter with it.
On his back in the ditch, half on top of his daughter, Jim Patterson sees and feels his assailant spring upward and turn on Jim’s wife of more than 20 years. He sees him move toward her, reaching for the gun, and the adrenaline pushes past the pain and the injury and propels him to his feet. He can see that only a matter of inches separate Marty and Kimberly, and the raging younger man is about to take the gun.
“Give me that son of a bitch,” Jim cries, meaning the .45. Kim tosses the gun to him across the short distance separating them, and he catches it awkwardly in his right hand. He quickly shifts to a firing grasp, his fingers wrapping around the Pachmayr grips, as his left hand grabs the slide and racks it. Marty has seen the gun changing hands, and is now reaching toward Jim to grab the Ruger, and Jim knows there is only one thing he can do to stop this man from killing him and his wife and his daughter.
Jim Patterson pulls the trigger as fast as he can.
The muzzle flashes illuminate the night with a stroboscopic effect. He can see Marty turn away. He stops shooting. Marty falls and says, “Oh, my God, I’m gonna die!”
Jindy tries to give Marty first aid. Kimberly manages to find a cell phone and calls 9-1-1 for paramedics. Jim makes his way back to the van, shoves the still-cocked Ruger P90 into the holster that’s still in the van, and sets it on the front seat — and then begins to weep.
Marty Reece had one thing right that night: he was going to die. Autopsy showed he had sustained five through-and-through gunshot wounds. He had been hit once in the right upper arm, with the bullet reentering the chest and piercing lung, liver and diaphragm, exiting the lower chest on the opposite side. Another bullet had gone side-to-side through the intestines. One slug had gone back to front, cutting a major vessel that brings blood back to the heart, the inferior vena cava. Two more 230-grain FMJ projectiles had entered the back, cutting the spinal cord and exiting through the front of the torso. Gunshot residue on the body was indicative of close-range shooting.
Father, mother and daughter waived their Miranda rights and, still badly shaken, gave video interviews to detectives that night. Sheriff’s department personnel were familiar with Marty Reece’s history of physical violence. Jim Patterson voluntarily submitted to a blood/alcohol test, which in the words of one investigator, showed he “had been drinking a little bit but not enough to be concerned.” The toxicology screen that accompanied the autopsy of Marty Reece showed a blood alcohol content which constituted nearly twice the Missouri standard of too drunk to drive. Though Jindy told investigators Marty had a long history with methamphetamines, and despite the fact she thought meth might have influenced his behavior that night, Marty Reece’s tox screen was clear for drugs.
It appears in the aftermath the Sheriff’s Department determined it was a justifiable homicide. However, the town marshal’s office in Noel, Missouri requested the investigation be turned over to them. This was done.
And soon, Jim Patterson was charged with manslaughter. Not long after, the charge was upped to murder in the second degree.
Jim Patterson hired Duane Cooper of Pineville, Missouri as defense counsel. Cooper had come to Pineville as a prosecutor, 2 years out of law school. He had done a number of homicide cases in that role, and in 1999 hung out his shingle as a defense attorney. One of the few criminal defense lawyers who could claim an extraordinary 75-percent acquittal record, he knew what it would take to defend Jim Patterson, and that would include solid expert witness testimony. A “gun-guy” in his private life, Cooper asked around for a reference. Someone told him to call Brandon’s Gun Shop in Joplin, Mo. And, the folks at Brandon’s said, “Call Roy Huntington.”
If the name sounds familiar, Roy Huntington is the editor of American Handgunner magazine, who came to that job after retiring from a 20-year career as a San Diego street cop. He had worked closely with the late, great forensic firearms master Gene Wolberg of the same department, and had testified as an expert witness in Superior Court in the San Diego area — for the prosecution. When he looked at the evidence, he told me he was horrified.
Huntington took the case, and Cooper got a “two-fer” because with Roy came his wife Suzi Huntington, a retired investigator from SDPD and now editor of FMG’s own American COP magazine. Suzi worked behind the scenes, analyzing the investigation elements used by the prosecution and showing they had holes in them large enough to drive a paddy wagon through.
Roy focused on reconstruction of the shooting. Because several of Patterson’s bullets had entered behind lateral midline, the prosecution was basing much of its case on the theory Reece had been “shot in the back,” so it couldn’t be self-defense.
The wheels of justice grind slowly, and the case did not come to trial until February of 2012. When it did, it lasted only 3 days. The case had been brought originally by a prosecutor who was seen by some as not friendly to armed citizens. By time of trial, the case had been inherited by her successor, a young prosecutor named Jonathan Pierce. On the defense side, Duane Cooper held no animosity toward Pierce; he saw his opponent as someone duty-bound to try to make the best of what his predecessor had started.
In Pierce’s pre-trial deposition of Roy Huntington, he had asked, “And that’s your opinion, that it was justified, or was self-defense?” Huntington had replied, “Absolutely. Frankly, I was appalled when I heard this was being prosecuted.” Huntington had shown Pierce the handwriting on the wall, but perhaps the momentum of the case could not be denied.
The trial lasted 3 days, almost all of it consisting of the State’s case. Duane Cooper’s strategy was to win in cross-examination. Armed with Suzi Huntington’s analysis of the flaws in the prosecution theory and his own trial experience, he dismantled the prosecution’s argument like a wrecking ball. Cop after cop — though called by the prosecution — turned into defense witnesses when they honestly answered the cross-examination questions and showed there was simply no reason to believe it was anything other than defense of self and family.
When the State closed its case on the third and last day of trial, Duane Cooper called only two witnesses for the defense. One was a policeman recalled to the stand to clarify a point of evidence. The other was Roy Huntington. For some 2 hours of direct testimony, Huntington explained the work he had done with Wolberg, and his study of research by Dr. Bill Lewinski at Force Science Institute, by me at Lethal Force Institute and others. He made it clear to the jury, with a pistol with short trigger reset such as the Ruger P90 in question, five shots could easily be fired in under a second. All ear-witness and eyewitness testimony had confirmed this rapidity of fire. And, he stressed, an attacker can turn so quickly away from the defender when the tables are turned against him that several shots can be fired before the shooter can mentally process the fact the threat has stopped — and they can cease pulling the trigger. The jury nodded as he spoke, understanding the final piece of the puzzle.
Cross-examination was brief; there was, after all, nothing in Huntington’s testimony that could be effectively challenged. Shortly thereafter, final arguments were made and the case went to the jury. Before that happened, an attempted murder charge (against Kimberly Patterson for clicking on an empty chamber when she tried to disable the man attacking her husband and daughter) was dismissed by Judge Tim Perigo. The charge against James Patterson went to the jury at last.
It took the jurors only 3 hours to find him not guilty on all counts, and the long nightmare was over.
The next time someone tells you, “A good shoot is a good shoot,” feel free to laugh. A change in investigating agencies may well have turned a finding of justifiable homicide into a murder charge in this case. Roy Huntington’s explanation of action/reaction paradigms that lit the light bulb for the jury and explained the shots in the back in that fast-breaking moment in the dark, covered things which are not taught in law school and are not common knowledge among the jury pool.
Ditto the fact that “Yes, you can shoot unarmed people who are trying to take your gun and murder you and yours with it, as surely as you could do it if they were reaching for their own gun.”
The traditional advice of “Say nothing to the cops!” is not written in stone. While Duane Cooper, as a defense lawyer, still gives this advice, he’s the first to tell you talking to the cops was helpful to the Patterson family. Jim Patterson’s heartfelt account of what happened, taped hours after the shooting — when he sat in an interrogation room, bare-chested because his blood-soaked shirt had been removed — was so obviously sincere it resonated with the jury. Since there was nothing to add, Duane didn’t even have to put him on the stand.
One deputy testified at trial during Cooper’s cross-examination the statements in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, bearing in mind the three of them had been separated as soon as police arrived on the scene minutes after the incident, “provided a large indicia of truthfulness.”
From the hardware side of things, be sure your loved ones know how to use your gun if they ever need to, and don’t load the damn thing with hardball! Both Kimberly and Jim came within an instant of being disarmed and possibly murdered because the wife didn’t understand how the husband’s gun worked. Every single 230-grain Winchester full metal jacket “.45 hardball” bullet went through-and-through in this case. The circumstances were such that no one was behind Marty trying to pull him away, as had happened with both wife and daughter during the moments before the shots were fired. If they had been there, invisible to the shooter in the dark, the results might have been much more tragic than they were.
It isn’t always “Good Guys 1, Bad Guys 0.” Little Wyatt was in the Reece vehicle in his carseat when his father was killed by his grandfather. All this has not yet been explained to him. That’s going to be tough, and everyone in the family knows it. This is a question perhaps better asked of “Dear Abby” or “Dr. Phil” than of American Handgunner, but history tells us trying to be nice to members of the family who have a history of violently abusing other members of that family, rarely seems to end well.
Another BS alert is when someone says, “The good guy got acquitted in the end, so it’s all just fine.” That’s a little like saying, “After two and a half years of facing death by cancer and the agony and expense of chemotherapy, this patient is cancer free for now, so cancer is nothing to worry about.” James Patterson spent tens of thousands of dollars for his defense, and take it from someone who has followed these things for 33 years as an expert witness in weapons/shooting cases, it could have cost him even more.
Jim Patterson told me later, “Mr. Cooper did an excellent job, and so did Mr. Huntington. If I’d spent a million dollars, I don’t think I could have got a better defense.” The Pattersons and their daughter today have a good relationship, though Jim dreads the day when he has to explain to his grandson why he killed the boy’s father. It’s not a “happy ending” for the Pattersons, just not so horrible an ending as it might have been.
I personally congratulate Duane Cooper, and Roy and Suzi Huntington, for doing justice in this case. It was Roy’s first call to speak for the wrongfully accused instead of his lifelong role of speaking for the prosecution against guilty criminals, and it’s better you hear his feelings on that from him instead of from me. But all of us want American Handgunner readers to understand just what’s at stake, and what can happen in cases like this, and that’s one reason this corner of the magazine exists in the first place.
By Massad Ayoob