Pineville, MO – A career criminal and self-proclaimed drug dealer who confessed to having shot a Jasper County sheriff’s deputy in the chest during a drug raid was acquitted by a jury on Tuesday.
Convicted felon E.F. Fitchpatrick, 46, said he thought he was shooting at gang members who he believed were trying to rob him, and that he didn’t realize it was the Ozarks Drug Enforcement Team outside his hotel room door, The Joplin Globe reported.
“I’m saying I felt justified in shooting someone who was out to harm me,” Fitchpatrick testified.
Prosecutor Jake Skouby adamantly disputed the defense’s allegations that the specialized drug task force team failed to announce themselves as law enforcement.
If the jury was to believe Fitchpatrick, they would also have to believe that every single one of the officers involved in the raid had lied to the court, Skouby said.
After just one hour and 45 minutes of deliberation, the jury found the armed convict not guilty of armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon, according to KOAM.
The near-fatal altercation occurred at the Econo Lodge Inn & Suites on South Range Line Road on March 1, 2017, The Joplin Globe reported.
Fitchpatrick, a self-proclaimed addict and drug dealer who spent his entire life bouncing in and out of prison, said he had been living in hotels while peddling methamphetamine when the incident occurred.
About two weeks before the shooting, he teamed up with an old prison buddy and two women to sell the meth more quickly, but one of the women became upset after she believed she wasn’t getting her fair share, according to his attorney.
When she stormed out of the hotel, she threatened that there would be “repercussions” doled out by the Joplin Honkies gang, Fitchpatrick claimed.
He testified that when he heard a knock on his door later in the day, he figured the woman had followed through with her threat and that the gang members had come to rob him.
Fitchpatrick claimed that the person on the other side of the door identified himself as a hotel maintenance worker, so he stuffed his drugs and a bag of approximately $9,000 cash into the bathroom and grabbed his gun.
He had two bullets.
When the room key the hotel had given the narcotics officers failed to work, Jasper County Sheriff’s Deputy Nolan Murray broke out a window to gain entry to the room, The Joplin Globe reported.
But as the glass shattered, the armed felon fired his weapon, striking Deputy Murray, 29, in the chest.
Although the deputy was wearing a ballistic vest, the bullet passed through his lung, then lodged in his back.
“I just fired blindly,” Fitchpatrick testified.
He claimed he “would have opened the door” if he knew narcotics officers were on the other side, The Joplin Globe reported.
The officers had tried to take the door down with a ramming device at one point, but the convicted felon claimed he never heard the officers announce that they were law enforcement.
He said he didn’t realize who the men were until they fired a “flash bang” and deployed tear gas into the room.
Once he knew he was dealing with the police, Fitchpatrick went into the bathroom and flushed the rest of his methamphetamine down the toilet.
The then jumped into the shower to try to get the chemical agent from the tear gas off of him, then sat on the toilet and shot himself under his chin.
The round passed through his mouth and out his face, and he eventually stumbled out of the hotel room and was taken into custody.
Fitchpatrick told the jury that he remained in a coma for 15 days, and that he was released from the hospital about a month after he shot Deputy Murray.
His attorney, William Fleischaker, said that the officers were unable to recall which of them announced that they were law enforcement during the raid, and noted that they said they had done it as a group, just as they always did.
Surveillance footage captured portions of the raid, but the officers couldn’t be heard announcing themselves in those clips, The Joplin Globe reported.
"If they didn't [identify themselves], everything [the defendant] told you makes sense," Fleischaker alleged.
The defense attorney further claimed that Fitchpatrick had taken responsibility for the situation because he pleaded guilty to an additional count of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.
"He's not taking responsibility," Skouby argued. "That's a minor charge compared to what he's being tried on."
But the jurors were aware that Fitchpatrick faced up to 10 years in prison on the charge he pleaded guilty to, which may have worked in his favor, the prosecutor later said.
Fitchpatrick was on both federal probation and state parole at the time of the shooting, according to the Devils Lake Journal.
He was previously convicted of vehicle tampering, forgery, and weapons and drug-related offenses, and his probation has been revoked in the past.
Fitchpatrick is due to be sentenced for unlawful possession of a firearm on Aug. 26, according to KOAM.