By Patti Weaver
(Stillwater, Okla.) — A gunman, who was badly beaten by a group of men inside Headliners Barber Shop, maintains he acted in self-defense during a fatal shooting outside the business at 12th and Main Street in downtown Stillwater during rush hour traffic, according to his lawyer.
But the prosecution contends that the defendant, Darrin Joseph Bacchus Jr., 25, who had recently moved back to Stillwater, was acting “more from revenge” when he fired multiple shots at the victim, Landon Ray Aufleger, 25, of Stillwater, as he was fleeing in his car from Headliners parking lot at 5:30 pm on April 14.
In ordering Bacchus to stand trial on a charge of first-degree murder or in the alternative first-degree manslaughter in Aufleger’s killing, Payne County Special District Judge Katherine Thomas noted that “self-defense is a trial court issue,” denied bail again for Bacchus, and set his trial court arraignment for Aug. 16.
Security was extremely tight in the small courtroom during the Aug. 4 preliminary hearing — with the victim’s family and friends sitting on one side while the defendant’s relatives from Alabama were sitting on the other side.
At the preliminary hearing, a woman, who was in a parking lot caddy-corner from the barber shop during the fatal shooting, testified, “I heard a loud pop. I saw a man with a gun. He was shooting east. I got my kids into a building because he had a gun…I saw the gun raised,” and heard shots four or five times after the first pop. The woman, who identified the defendant as the gunman, said that she called 911.
Stillwater Police Sgt. Kurt Merrill testified that he was flagged down at 12th and Lewis Street where the victim’s Toyota had hit a Jeep. He said that the victim was unresponsive and sitting upright in the driver’s seat with an entry wound on his right side. Merrill said that he was unable to find a pulse on the victim. He saw a bullet hole on the passenger side and also under the front passenger handle. He testified that a semi-automatic gun was found in the victim’s locked Toyota a block from Headliners Barber Shop.
Stillwater Police Detective Sgt. Sherae LeJeune testified that when she first saw Bacchus in the city jail to give him a gunshot residue test, “He was cooperative with me.” She said it appeared he had been in a fight and some of his clothing had blood on it.
During an interview with Bacchus, “He did not appear under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” she testified. She said that Bacchus told her he went to the barber shop to get a haircut and recognized someone that he thought was texting. Then Bacchus said that a group of other men, including the victim, walked in, she testified.
She testified that Bacchus told her one of the men was squeezing his neck and when he was let go, “he heard someone say get the gun.” She testified that Bacchus told her that “he was punched as he walked out the door.”
She testified that he was going to his car where he had a gun. “He believed someone was going to get a gun. He said he saw a group of people outside the barber shop. He said a car backed toward him. He said he fired at the car.”
The detective sergeant testified that when she asked Bacchus why he didn’t leave, “He became agitated. He said he wasn’t capable of defending himself. He never said he saw a gun.” She testified that Bacchus’ story did not match physical evidence at the scene.
She testified that Bacchus admitted he shot at the vehicle. She said he went inside, put the gun down, and said he would wait inside until police arrived.
The defense attorney noted that 31 rounds were left in Bacchus’ gun, a 9 mm semi-automatic, and there was no video of the shooting. When told that there was only one way in and one way out of the parking lot, the detective sergeant testified, “Bacchus could have backed out or turned to the right and drove over the grass.”
The detective sergeant said that when she saw Bacchus in the city jail at 6:08 pm on April 14, he was not wearing a shirt and had “obvious injuries to his face, bruising in his right eye, blood coming from his nose, a large abrasion on his right shoulder, a scrape on his back, blood on his hands and forearms.” She said he was in pain, but not evaluated for a concussion.
She testified that when she saw Bacchus the next morning at 8:14 am, he said his nose hurt, but “he was still compliant and cooperative.” Asked if Bacchus had been subjected to a pretty violent beating by multiple people, the detective sergeant said yes. She said that his tee shirt was torn and had blood all over it.
The detective sergeant emphasized that “the shell casings are inconsistent with the car backing toward Mr. Bacchus.”
In unsuccessfully arguing that Bacchus should not be tried on a first-degree murder charge and should be granted bail, defense attorney Andrew Casey of Oklahoma City said, “This was a very violent beating of someone who did not attack. After being beaten violently and choked out and losing a large amount of blood, he heard someone talk about getting a gun. He did retrieve a gun and did shoot. There was a gun in the seat of the decedent’s car floorboard.”
But prosecutor Kevin Etherington successfully argued, “A vehicle is backing up. An unknown subject is being shot at. This is at 5:30 pm with a lot of traffic. The evidence shows that the altercation was over with in the shop. He recklessly fired a gun down a street. This was more from revenge. There is no indication that the person in the vehicle (Aufleger) was involved in the altercation.”
The defense attorney countered, “This is on Main Street at 5:30pm. He left his gun in his car. The fight came to him. This is a question of stand your ground or self-defense. He had just been violently assaulted. Somebody had tried to kill him by strangling him.”