Austin Shane Bonner pleads not guilty connection with 2015 shooting death of Josh Bearden

Austin Shane Bonner (left) was found guilty of capital murder Friday in connection with the shooting death of Josh Bearden. 

TALLADEGA -- The capital murder case against Austin Shane Bonner, 21, of Goodwater, will be the hands of the jury Friday.

Both sides finished presenting their evidence Thursday afternoon.

Closing arguments will begin Friday starting at 8:30 a.m., followed by jury instruction by Circuit Judge Chad Woodruff. The jury of eight men and five women (including an alternate) will begin deliberating after that.

Bonner is accused of killing Joshuwah Ira Bearden, 35, by shooting him twice while Bearden was inside his truck on Settlement Road near Sylacauga on Oct. 1, 2015.

The state is not seeking the death penalty, so if he is convicted, Bonner faces a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Woodruff said Thursday he would also instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of manslaughter.

The state closed out its portion of the case Thursday by presenting the taped statement Bonner gave to the Talladega County Sheriff’s Office in the wake of the shooting, followed by testimony from two state forensics experts.

Bearden had previously been married to Bonner’s aunt, according to all of the testimony taken during the course of the trial.

The relationship had become stormy at best, and they divorced, only to try and reconcile a short time later. The reconciliation ended with an alleged domestic violence incident in front of their house on Settlement Road in April 2015 that led to Bearden being arrested on a charge of misdemeanor assault.

After the separation, Bearden moved into a house behind the one on Settlement Road where he had lived with Lindsey Bonner, his ex-wife. Lindsey Bonner had moved into another house with her current boyfriend and was preparing to rent out the Settlement Road house.

On the night he died, Bearden had recently purchased a new truck, which he spent much of the day showing off to family and friends. After dropping off his girlfriend, he had gone back to his house to pick up his dog and take the dog for a ride.

As it happened, the defendant, Lindsey Bonner and her mother, Lori Bonner, were at the Settlement Road house with a female dog that Lindsey had custody of. When Bearden drove by in his new truck with his dog, Lindsey Bonner’s dog jumped out of the car she was in and began chasing the truck.

In his statement to law enforcement after the shooting, Bonner said he and his grandmother had initially gone to the Settlement Road house that night to bring Lindsey a new runner for her dog. His aunt had recently had a fight with her boyfriend and decided to move the dog, he said.

When they arrived, Lindsey, the defendant’s aunt, and Lori, his grandmother, got into an argument about something, and he went into the garage, he said. His mother had been present up to this point, but she left during the course the argument between Lori and Lindsey.

After the dog ran down the street after the truck, the defendant said he, his aunt and his grandmother took off down the street after it.

Bearden stopped the truck, got out and opened a door on the truck; the dog jumped in.

Lindsey then tried to get into the truck to get the dog but was initially unable to do so. Lori at first tried to pull her out, then apparently tried to get into the truck on the passenger side herself.

Austin Bonner said Bearden gunned the truck, dragging his grandmother’s feet along the road.

Bonner said he told Bearden that he had a gun, but Bearden only gunned the truck again, he said. So Bonner took out his Glock .40 caliber and fired a shot into a rear tire on the new truck.

At this point, he said his aunt and grandmother were wrestling inside the truck; he told investigators he heard Bearden saying “You know what” or words to that effect, then reach for the console.

Bearden never actually opened the console, which in any case contained only some change, according to testimony taken throughout the trial.

Bonner said he was concerned about hitting a house across the street at first, so he went from the passenger side of the truck to the driver’s side of the truck and fired two shots into Bearden’s back.

One of the shots passed all the way through Bearden’s body and hit the grandmother on the right side of her chest, causing bruising and a superficial injury.

After he shot Bearden, Bonner said the truck rolled again, so he jumped up and stomped on the brake, then put it in park so it would not roll any further.

Bonner told investigators he had “not cared for” Bearden since the divorce, although they had been close at one time. He added he tried to avoid both him and his aunt whenever he could. Relations between Bearden and Lori Bonner had also been bad.

After the shooting, Bonner called 911 and originally told the dispatcher Bearden was trying to run over him and his aunt, and that he had run over Bonner’s foot. Bonner did not say anything about this to investigators, and there was no evidence of any injury to his foot.

Although there was no gun in the truck, defense attorney Jon Adams pointed out that a .22 magnum bullet was recovered inside the cup holder. Bearden did own a .22 magnum revolver, but the gun was apparently in his house at the time.

According to the medical evidence presented Thursday, Bearden was shot twice in the lower left side of his back.

Both bullets tracked left to right, back to front and bottom to top. One bullet punctured a lung and exited his body, striking Lori Bonner. The other bullet collapsed his other lung before going through his heart, exiting his body and then lodging in his right arm. This wound would have been fatal very quickly, according to the medical examiner. The other wound would also have been fatal on its own without immediate medical attention.

Three shell casings, a projectile and some bullet fragments were recovered at the scene.

According to a state ballistics expert, all three shells were fired through Bonner’s gun. There was not enough evidence on the projectile or the fragments to match them to the gun or to each other. However, a DNA expert who testified Wednesday said the projectile had genetic material from Bearden and a second person, consistent with being the bullet that hit Bearden and the grandmother.

 

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