LIBERTY — The 2005 shooting death of George Green resulted in convictions for two people but no jail time for either one.
That was the end result Monday when Casey Circuit Judge James Weddle found Ronnie D. Evans guilty of reckless homicide in Green’s death but then probated his six-year sentence. Weddle had similarly probated the jail sentence of Evans’ daughter, Gina Lee, after a jury found her guilty of burglary last year.
The judge’s ruling caused celebratory tears among Evans’ family but angry words from Diane Salyers, who has a son with Green and followed both cases in the courtroom.
“Hell no, I’m not surprised,” Salyers blurted after Weddle announced he was probating Evans. And later, outside the courtroom, she said, “I’ve not been happy with none of it. They shot a man in the back.”
According to testimony during Lee’s trial, Green pulled a pistol from the chest pocket of his overalls when Lee and Evans came inside his trailer after Green had run Evans’ other daughter off the road. Green and Evans began to fight. During the struggle, the gun discharged once inside the trailer and then again out on the back deck. The second shot struck Green in the side, killing him.
Evans and Lee told police the gun was in Green’s hand when it discharged as the men were wrestling. In 2005, a grand jury declined to indict either Evans or Lee in Green’s death. But four years later, Greg Martin, who was also on the scene that day, came forward with a new version of the shooting, which led Lee to be indicted for murder and Evans for manslaughter.
During Lee’s trial, Martin testified Green dropped the gun during the battle and Martin tossed it aside. Lee then retrieved it, put it to Green’s side and pulled the trigger, Martin testified.
In her turn on the witness stand, however, Lee said she heard her father call out for help as he was struggling with Green for the gun. Lee testified the gun discharged as she was trying to knock it out of Green’s hand.
The jury acquitted Lee of the murder charge but found her guilty of burglary with the intent to do harm. One juror said afterward that jurors did not believe the testimony of either Lee or Martin, and that shoddy police work made it impossible to sort out the facts of the case. Still, jurors felt someone should be held responsible for Green’s death and convicted Lee on the burglary charge, recommending she serve seven years in prison.
Judge Weddle, however, decided to probate her sentence. Lee, the wife of the Rev. Bruce Lee, former pastor of Liberty United Methodist Church, was well-known in the community and had performed good works, the judge said in explaining his ruling. Weddle referenced Lee’s probation when he sentenced Evans on Monday.
Evans did not testify during his daughter’s trial. He was scheduled to go on trial last month on the manslaughter charge but entered into a deal with prosecutors just as jury selection was about to begin. He agreed to plead guilty to reduced charges of reckless homicide and third-degree burglary with a recommended sentence of six years and Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Wright opposing probation.
Lebanon attorney Philip George, who represented both Evans and Lee, said after Monday’s sentencing that his client decided it was better to enter a guilty plea and hope that Weddle would probate the sentence like he did with Lee than take a chance with a jury.
“There are risks involved when you go to trial,” George said.
Wright said he was disappointed that no one would spend time in prison for Green’s death “but still we got two convictions out of it.”
“We don’t think (Evans) went out there with intentions of killing George Green,” Wright said. “The plea was a good outcome, but still, a human life was taken.”
In explaining his decision to probate Evans’ sentence, Weddle noted the four years it took prosecutors to get indictments in the case and said many people familiar with it did not believe charges should have been brought. The judge said he has known Evans, 63, for a long time and did not believe he was prone to violence. Evans had no previous criminal record.
“We’re not close, but I’ve known him for many years,” Weddle said. “I know his family, know his people as citizens of Casey County.”
Weddle gave Evans the opportunity to address the court. He didn’t say much.
“It’s been a nightmare since that day back in March 2005,” he said. “It just don’t end.”