Falls City, Nebraska

From the Lincoln Journal Star of April 21, 2007

Jury finds Stella man not guilty in shooting death

Richardson County District Court jurors found Dennis L. Lockard not guilty of second-degree murder Saturday morning in the Aug. 18 death of James Nutile, 32, of Humboldt.

Lockard embraced his attorney, James Martin Davis, of Omaha, after the verdict was read at 10:53 but then left the courthouse without comment.

The case went to the jury of seven men and five women on Friday, after a week-long trial. Lockard, 39, of Stella, faced charges of second-degree murder and use of a firearm to commit a felony. He was found not guilty on both.

In closing arguments, defense attorney James Martin Davis said his client obeyed one of the oldest laws in human history: the law of self-preservation. Lockard testified during the trial that after he fired a warning shot meant to stop a fight between Nutile and another man, Nutile rushed Lockard, grabbing him with one hand while “slashing” him with the other. As Lockard fell, he felt he was being stabbed, Davis said.

Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Corey O’Brien, who helped prosecute the case, said Lockard could have chosen many options that would have left Nutile alive. Instead, he introduced a gun into a fistfight, making a volatile situation worse.

What was not disputed was that Nutile was partying with friends outside a house on Main Street in Stella while Lockard was visiting his parents next door. Nutile got in a fight with one of his friends, and Lockard tried to break it up by firing a warning shot with a .40-caliber handgun.

After the warning shot, Nutile rushed Lockard and knocked him down. Lockard fired two more shots from the gun, both of which struck Nutile in the chest.

One major dispute involves Nutile’s position after he pushed Lockard. Four eyewitnesses to the shooting, who testified for the prosecution, said Nutile was standing when the bullets hit him. Lockard and his 19-year-old son, who also witnessed the shooting, both testified that Nutile was on top of Lockard.

A pathologist’s testimony seemed to support Lockard’s version because gunpowder residue recovered from Nutile’s shirt showed that one of the fatal shots was fired from no farther than a foot away. Tests couldn’t determine the distance from the other shot.

Jurors also heard from Terry Davis, a forensic psychiatrist from Omaha, who said enough methamphetamine was present in Nutile’s blood to say with certainty the drug was having an effect on him. People on meth can be violent, aggressive, psychotic, anxious and delusional, among other behaviors, the psychiatrist said.

(More about the trial)

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