"I don't care whether the person is guilty or not guilty. It's not my business to establish guilt or innocence. It's a Court of Law that does that and a Jury does that, but not me."
- Werner Herzog
It was the 2nd of January 2018. A Tuesday. At 12.50pm, Maypearl Police Department received reports of a shooting in the 100 block of Creekview Circle in Maypearl, Texas, United States. Fifty five year old Sandra Garner called 911 and told the Dispatcher that her forty two year old husband, Jon Kevin Garner, had been shot and needed help:
"I need somebody to come. My husband's been shot.....I think he's still alive, he's making noises. What can I do for him?"
The Dispatcher walked her through CPR and Sandra followed the instructions until the police arrived.
When police arrived at the house, they found a hysterical Sandra. She showed police where Jon was. He was lying unresponsive on the floor in the bedroom and had suffered multiple gunshot wounds, one of which was to his head. Medical personnel arrived and pronounced him dead. Sandra was so distraught that she had to be carried out of the bedroom. Sandra had made police aware that Jon was shot by a masked intruder so they searched the house to see if he was still there. There was nobody else in the house.
Sandra agreed to go to the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office to provide a statement. Sandra told police that she went to bed with Jon sometime between 9.30pm and 10pm that night. She explained that that was normal for them and that most nights they went to bed at 9.30pm. They were tired too that night as they had celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary on New Year's Eve.
She told police that she was asleep when she was awoken by a noise. She heard the sound of two gunshots and saw a man, who was wearing a mask that covered his entire face except for his eyes, holding a gun and flashlight. Jon had been shot. According to Sandra she screamed and asked him not to hurt her. He didn't touch Sandra. He spoke to her and called her by her name and made her aware that he knew both her and Jon from a previous place of employment. Police asked Sandra if she recognized the man but despite seeing his eyes and hearing his voice, she told police she did not recognize him and had no idea who it could be. The only thing she could recall about his appearance was that he was taller than her.
Sandra and Jon Garner
The masked intruder informed Sandra that he was a former employee of Jon’s from WEPAK years earlier. Police discovered that Jon was a hard worker and if anyone wasn't working hard enough, he would fire them. Sandra told police that the man seemed annoyed that even though he had worked hard and had worked his butt off, Jon fired him and that resulted in him losing his home, his wife and his children. He had nothing left. But he assured Sandra that he wasn't there to harm her. When she began screaming, he told her to shut up and said:
"What I came here to do is done. I didn't come here to shoot you."
The man told Sandra that he knew there was money in the house, because Jon bragged about keeping cash there, and he wanted it. Sandra told police that she went into the bathroom where the fire safe was and gave him all the money that was inside it. When asked how much money was inside, Sandra said that she believed it was $18,000 as she had recently counted it and that was what was there at the time of counting it.
Police asked Sandra to outline what happened next and she notified him that he told her to remain in the bathroom and count to 100. He threatened to return and kill her if she called police or if he heard sirens in the background. She did as she was told and started counting and then ran into the bedroom where Jon was and called 911.
Police obtained a search warrant for the house and cars. They found a bullet in a pillowcase inside the bedroom. Another bullet was found in Jon's body at the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office when the Autopsy was carried out. They were both from a .38 caliber. When police searched the house and car, that gun wasn't found. Police discovered that Jon had some forty nine guns including twelve rifles in the house. But one was missing. A .38 caliber.
Police looked into Jon's past, from friends to former colleagues and employees and questioned a number of them but didn't find anyone that they thought could be a suspect. Police decided to search the house and cars a second time and it was during that second search that they found the Taurus .38 Special Revolver and tests carried out on the gun and the projectiles confirmed that it was the gun used to shoot Jon. It was hidden in a paper towel and inside two plastic bags under the seat of Sandra's Ford Mustang car which was parked in a detached garage.
Police believed that it was hidden there after the first search was carried out. Police also discovered that Jon had given that gun to Sandra.
The gun that was used to kill Jon
Sandra was arrested and charged with murder.
Even though in the State of Texas, a Prosecutor doesn't have to prove there was a motive, Jurors like to hear about a possible motive as it puts things into place for them and creates a story that's easy to follow in their mind. In Sandra's case, the Prosecution couldn't find any plausible motive. Sandra was a twice divorced mother of two when she met Jon at a packaging company where they worked in Paris, Texas. She was thirteen years older than him but they got on well and Jon was more than willing to help raise her two children, Wesley and Andrea Miller, with her. They married two years after they met in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve.
Life was good for many years until Sandra was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2014. That made things difficult for them and Sandra was depressed due to the medication she was on. Jon was more than willing to take care of her though as he loved her and he became the sole breadwinner and her caretaker. In 2016 , they moved from Paris to Maypearl to be closer to their families so they could get extra care and support if they needed it. Jon's father and his stepmother lived just across the street from them. Jon got a job in Maypearl as a General Manager at DHL. Sandra relied on him for financial support and care.
The question the Prosecution had to try to answer was, why would Sandra want Jon, the man who provided for her and looked after her, dead? The Prosecution couldn't answer that by the time the Trial began but they believed regardless of that that they had a strong case based on cold, hard facts.
It was their case that Sandra was the only person who could have killed Jon that night and that the evidence indicated she was the only person inside the house when Jon was shot. When the police got there, there was nobody else in the house except for Sandra and Jon. The Court heard that gunshot reside was found on Sandra's hands and the murder weapon was found hidden under the seat in her car.
The Prosecution told the Jury that they believed the murder was planned and they produced into evidence reports which outlined that internet searches were carried out on Sandra's iPad just four days before Jon was shot and the searches included:
“How to kill someone in their sleep.”
“16 steps to kill someone and not get caught.”
The Prosecutors in the case, Lindy Beaty and Ricky Sipes, asked the Jury to think about Sandra's version of events and the evidence found and to establish what makes more sense. The murder weapon was a gun which had been given to Sandra by Jon and it was found in her car. The Prosecution asked the Jury to consider that fact in light of the version of events Sandra gave to the police. She said that a masked intruder was inside their home with a flashlight and a gun and he told her he wouldn't harm her as he already did what he went there to do. The Prosecution asked the Jury to consider if it was likely that a masked intruder, who had a grudge against Jon and wanted him dead, entered Jon's house without his own gun or a weapon of any sort and instead decided to use Sandra's gun?
Lindy asked the Jury to think about how nonsensical it would be for the killer to do that. Lindy also asked them to question why the killer would wear a mask to conceal their face but decide to have a conversation with Sandra and tell her why they were there and that they used to work for Jon. Lindy said:
"Dammit! I forgot the gun! I wore my trusty mask so no one would know who I was. But I'm gonna have a 10-minute conversation with Sandra about who I am and why I'm doing this."
The Prosecution told the Jury that the only explanation was that Sandra shot her husband dead.
It was the Defense case that despite the evidence the Prosecution presented, there were a number of gaps that meant that there was reasonable doubt in the case. The Court heard that Sandra loved Jon and didn't want him dead and that she was set up. It was their case that the police mishandled the investigation from the very outset and that resulted in contamination and evidence not being collected properly. The Court heard that the house wasn't sealed off and people were allowed to enter and exit as they pleased. Footage from police cameras that night revealed that the lead investigator took multiple photos of the inside of the house to use as evidence but those photos went missing, something that the police acknowledged but had no explanation for.
The Defense Attorney, Thomas Pappas, told the Jury that he believed that the police overlooked a possible suspect in the case. They believed that Sandra's own son Wesley may have shot Jon. They even argued that he had a motive. Wesley needed money and they believed that he mistakenly thought that he was in Jon's will and he wanted the money. They told the Court about his actions in the immediate aftermath. When police spoke to Wesley, he seemed almost keen to blame Sandra for the murder. He told police he didn't buy her story and asked them if an intruder entered, then why didn't the dogs bark:
"The dogs … Why didn't they bark? How did so and so know how to get in? And for somebody to sneak up on him like that, I don't buy it."
It was Wesley who told police that Sandra often kept a gun under the driver's seat in her car which was what prompted the second search of the car. They argued that due to the police mishandling the case, proper tests and checks weren't carried out which could have showed that Sandra was innocent. The handle of the car door was not tested for fingerprints.
The Court heard that Wesley was in Jon's home on the 1st of January, just hours before he was shot, and that he didn't have a solid alibi for the time of the murder. The Court heard he was the last person, apart from Sandra, who spoke to Jon and he left his house at 7pm. Police initially believed he had an alibi as he told them that he purchased beer and went home to watch Netflix on his phone. When they checked his Netflix account usage on his phone, police believed that it looked as though he was watching it at the time of Jon's murder but that was a mistake. The records weren't recorded in Central Standard Time so there was nothing to suggest he was watching Netflix at the time Jon was shot.
The Defense also argued that Wesley may have been the person who carried out the internet searches on the iPad a few days before Jon was shot. The Court heard that the iPad wasn't locked and there was no password required to use it. Wesley had access to it and was in Jon's house the night that the searches were conducted. They were carried out four days before the murder between 11.30pm and midnight and Sandra and Jon nearly always went to bed at 9.30pm.
The Defense acknowledged that gunshot residue was found on Sandra's hands but they claimed there was an innocent explanation for it. Sandra's Attorney Tom Pappas told the Jury that Sandra was in bed with Jon when he was shot and did chest compressions when she was on the 911 call as per the Dispatcher's instructions so it was inevitable there would be some gunshot residue on her. There were three specks found on her left arm and they argued that that was not consistent with her firing the weapon.
It was their case that the Prosecution didn't prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and they asked the Jury to find Sandra not guilty.
The Prosecution in their closing told the Jury that if Wesley killed Jon, that version didn't make sense as Sandra told police that she didn't recognize the masked man even though she saw his eyes and spoke to him.
The police acknowledged that things were not conducted as they should have been. They acknowledged that perhaps Sandra's hands should have been bagged immediately and more gunshot residue may have been found on her if that had been done.
The Jury deliberated for just three hours and found Sandra not guilty.
Wesley was never charged with any crime in relation to Jon's death.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
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