Caldwell held to grand jury

cash bond set

August 31, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

A Boyle County judge on Monday ordered Jack Caldwell Sr. held to a grand jury on a murder charge and kept him in custody under a $250,000 cash bond.

Attorneys for Caldwell, 78, argued that he shot neighbor Jim Trachsel to death in self defense On Aug. 22 after Trachsel came at him on a riding lawn mower while Caldwell was hunting for a skunk on his property on Boone Trail, where the two men had lived side-by-side for years.

"There has been a lot made of the so-called 'skunk defense.' This isn't the 'skunk defense," attorney Ephraim Helton told Boyle District Judge Jeff L. Dotson. "It's a series of innocuous events that converged on each other. Is there probable cause he intentionally committed this murder?... The only rational explanation is self defense."

If anything, Caldwell should be charged with reckless homicide rather that murder, Helton said.

But Boyle County Attorney Richard Campbell countered that several pieces of evidence suggest that Caldwell did intentionally shoot Trachsel, 63, a retired Danville educator with whom police said he had a long-running feud. Foremost among them, Campbell said, is the fact that Caldwell fired five shots at Trachsel, striking him three times in the torso, once in the face and once in the hand.


"The court has to look at the number of wounds Mr. Trachsel suffered and infer intent from that," Campbell said. "We're not talking about someone firing one shot. We're talking five shots - Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! - and hitting him each time."

Caldwell, who suffers from acute respiratory problems, severe hearing loss and with other ailments, offered little reaction as he listened to Monday's testimony from a wheelchair. Breathing tubes ran from each nostril to an oxygen tank on the rear of his chair. He never said a word to his attorneys and spent almost the entire two-hour hearing holding his left ear - he's deaf in his right ear - as if straining to hear what was being said.

Detective testifies

Danville detective Capt. Bob Williamson testified that Trachsel's widow, Bonnie Trachsel, told officers shortly after the shooting that she heard Caldwell say, "That's the last time he'll cut grass on my side of the yard."

A nearby neighbor, Byron Underwood, responded to Bonnie Trachsel's screams and found Caldwell standing nearby with a .22 semiautomatic rifle, Williamson said. After he jerked the gun out of Caldwell's hand, Underwood said Caldwell told him, "The son of a bitch tried to run me over. He was in my yard," the detective said.

Trachsel was still alive when Underwood arrived, but his attempts to revive him were unsuccessful, Williamson said.

Trachsel had just begun to mow when the shooting occurred. Williamson said he had completed only one partial pass around the yard along the boundary the two men shared and apparently had cut briefly into Caldwell's yard while mowing around a bush on the property line.

Though ballistics testing has not been completed, Williamson said evidence at the scene shows that Caldwell was standing from between 6 and 15 feet away from Trachsel when he shot him.

Under cross examination from defense attorney Bill Erwin, Williamson said EMT Jonathan Wesley was present when Caldwell was first interviewed by officers and told the detective that Caldwell said that Trachsel had tried to run him down with his mower under a pear tree a month prior to the shooting.

Williamson also said he interviewed Caldwell as he was being placed on a gurney by EMTs for treatment to cuts on his left arm. The detective said Caldwell told him that he shot in self defense because it was the second time Trachsel had come after him with the mower. Caldwell said he had the gun out in his yard because he had seen a skunk outside his window and was worried it might be rabid, Williamson said.

Erwin called Dan Turcea, director of the Danville-Boyle County Animal Shelter, to testify. Turcea said that he had responded to calls of skunks in the Boone Trail neighborhood in past years, but had no complaints recently from Caldwell or anyone else.

Drainage problems created "an intense dislike"

Williamson said that Jack May, a neighbor, told him that Trachsel and Caldwell had argued over flooding and drainage problems on their properties for years and that "Mr. Caldwell had an intense dislike for Mr. Trachsel over drainage issues."

Erwin said that the two men had settled their difference well before the shooting and that Mr. Caldwell had refocused his beefs toward the city of Danville. The city had settled a claim with Caldwell earlier this year over a leaky pipe that damaged Caldwell's foundation, Erwin said.

Another defense attorney, Matt Walton, took testimony via telephone from Dr. James McCormack of the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Lexington, who has been treating Caldwell for about six years. Caldwell suffers from severe chronic pulmonary disease that can become life-threatening when compounded by asthma attacks.

"At his best, he might be able to walk a half a block, slowly," McCormack said. "When he has asthma attacks, he has trouble showering or getting dressed by himself."

Defense attorneys hoped that Caldwell's medical conditions might convince Dotson to set "a reasonable bond" so that their client could stay with family members in Garrard or Fayette counties while he waited for his case to go to the grand jury, which next meets on Oct. 1. Campbell, however, argued that a substantial cash bond be set and that Caldwell be restricted from visiting with his family like any other jail inmate.

When Dotson announced the bond at $250,000 cash, family members groaned and Helton called it "oppressive," saying Caldwell "is unlikely to meet that amount."

After the hearing, Caldwell was transported back to Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, where he is being kept under around-the-clock guard.

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