Puckett murder trial begins

Editor's Note: The verdict came in Tuesday afternoon. See Puckett found not guilty for an update.

Drew Puckett killed Caleb Crabtree on Sept. 2, 2011, and then said during a 911 call: “I told you I would (shoot him) and I don’t feel bad about it.”

That was the first comment Cole County Assistant Prosecutor Steven Kretzer made to an eight-man, six-woman jury Monday afternoon, as he made his opening statement about the evidence they will hear during Puckett’s trial on a grand jury’s second-degree murder indictment, issued in December 2011.

Crabtree, 28, died about 5:20 p.m. on that Friday before Labor Day almost two years ago, in the back yard of a rented home on Missouri 17, south of Eugene.

Public Defender Jan King told the jury Monday that Puckett fired the fatal shot after getting in a fight with Crabtree, who had hit Puckett in the head several times.

“Drew Puckett has had several brain operations,” King explained in his opening statement. “The evidence will show that

everyone knew about this, including Caleb Crabtree. ... Drew Puckett perceived this (hitting him on the head) as a serious attempt to injure or kill him.”

If jurors convict Puckett of the second-degree murder charge, he could be sentenced to life in prison, or to a specified term of at least 10 years, and not more than 30 years.

First-day witnesses included Hannah Saucier, who is Puckett’s cousin and Crabtree’s former girlfriend, and the mother of two of his four children.

Saucier testified she had complained to the Cole County Sheriff’s office that summer, after she and Crabtree “got into an argument in my basement; he shoved me into a washer and dryer.”

Sheriff’s Detective Greg Henson testified: “She had injuries consistent with her story.”

But, he added, he was “unable to contact” Crabtree to get his side of the story.

Henson advised Saucier to get an order of protection against Crabtree. She testified she filled out the paperwork, but didn’t go to a hearing required before a judge can issue that order.

Henson said he also had advised Puckett, then 22 — who moved into the basement of Saucier’s home after Crabtree had moved out — and Puckett’s brother, Wyatt, to get their own orders after Crabtree sent threatening text messages and comments about them on Facebook.

Wyatt Puckett agreed he also had sought a protection order, but testified: “I lost track of the date. I was shoeing horses and, by the time I remembered, it was too late to go.”

Henson testified he told Saucier and the Pucketts to call 911 if Crabtree gave them more trouble, and that he declined to tell them they could shoot Crabtree under Missouri’s “Castle Doctrine” law, which allows someone to use deadly force when protecting their home, property or life.

“I told (Wyatt) I wasn’t a lawyer, and that they should call us ‘as soon as you see (Crabtree) coming,’” Henson said, “and let us take care of it.”

Henson denied ever telling Saucier or the Pucketts that, if they felt law officers couldn’t get there in time, they should “definitely make it a kill shot and not have to shoot a second time.”

Drew Puckett said during his 911 call, after Crabtree was killed, that Henson had given that advice, and Wyatt Puckett said the same thing during his testimony Monday afternoon.

Saucier told the jury Crabtree had called that Friday afternoon, saying he “was coming over ... to see the girls,” who then were 2 years old and 7 months old.

She testified Crabtree wanted to see his daughters before he went to prison, and she was “pretty sure” she had told him not to come.

King, in his opening statement, had told jurors that Saucier’s and Crabtree’s separation earlier that year “was a bitter parting,” and Saucier testified that Crabtree had not believed her when she said she was pregnant with their first daughter, Mia — and that “he was cheating on me” when she was pregnant with the second daughter, Starr.

Saucier told jurors she had told Drew Puckett that Crabtree was coming to the house, and that he told her to “go inside,” while he stayed outside, washing his motorcycle.

Saucier said when Crabtree arrived he and Puckett began arguing.

At one point, she said, she stepped on the deck, told Crabtree to leave and poured water on him from a pot that had been sitting on the deck.

She testified that Puckett got a shotgun from the basement and was pointing it at Crabtree, who then moved in close enough to wrestle the weapon away from Puckett and toss it toward a nearby garden.

Saucier said she then got the gun back, gave it back to Drew, and that Crabtree raised his hands but continued arguing.

Drew Puckett eventually shot Crabtree in the face.

“I screamed, I’m pretty sure,” Saucier said.

So she went back inside to check on her daughters, Saucier testified.

A neighbor testified he had heard male and female voices arguing, but he was too far away to understand what they were saying.

Jurors listened to a recording of the 25-minute 911 call between Pucket and the operator.

Boone County Assistant Medical Examiner Edward Adelstein is among the witnesses on tap today.

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