Prosecutors drop charges in Kingman shooting death
James Clifton Craft
Chances for conviction of 70-year-old man slim, county attorney's office decides
2/17/2013 6:00:00 AM
By Ahron Sherman
Mohave County prosecutors have dropped the second-degree murder charge against a north Kingman man who shot and killed his neighbor late Jan. 22 outside of a triplex on Dove Lane.
James Clifton Craft, 70, called 911 a little after 10 p.m. Jan. 22 and told dispatchers that he had just shot someone outside of his door. The man he shot, 27 year-old Matthew James Paulson, was declared dead at the scene.
"I shot him in self defense," Craft said.
Craft said he was in his residence that night when he heard a series of loud bangs, which sounded as if someone was pounding on the hood of a car. He said he opened his door to take a look at what was going on and saw his neighbor, Paulson, jumping up and down and pounding his fists into the hoods of the vehicles parked there. He was also screaming racial epithets, but it was unclear whom his rage was directed at, Craft said.
Mohave County Prosecutor Jacob Cote said a witness who also lives at the triplex confirmed that Paulson was shouting and banging on things outside.
The witness told prosecutors that he was able to calm down Paulson and then returned to his home, Cote said. A few moments later, the witness went back outside to check on Craft and together the two began using a flashlight to look for dents in the vehicles.
The witness said that at that point, Paulson reappeared and started yelling at both of them, Cote said.
According to the witness, Paulson put his hands on him and tried to stop him from returning to his home. The witness did not say Paulson struck him, but he was concerned that he was about to, Cote said.
The witness was able to remove himself from Paulson's grip and get inside his residence, where he proceeded to roll a cigarette. He decided to check on Craft again and saw Paulson on Craft's doorstep screaming and waving his hands in his face.
Craft said that Paulson turned his attention to him after his neighbor was able to remove himself from Paulson's grip.
"I turn around and he's coming at me," said Craft, who had already grabbed his firearm. "I fired a warning shot and yelled, 'Hey,'" Craft said.
Craft said Paulson did not heed his warning and continued toward him. When he was right on top of him, Craft pulled the trigger again.
Paulson stopped and immediately turned around and walked away, Craft said. Craft shut his door, locked it and called 911. Within four minutes, deputies were on the scene, he said.
"It happened in two blinks," Craft said
Paulson had returned to his room in the triplex, where deputies later found him dead.
Cote said the witness reported hearing only one shot.
When a person claims to have shot someone in self-defense, Arizona law places the burden on prosecutors to disprove it, Cote said.
"It's very hard to disprove something," Cote explained.
It's unlikely that prosecutors could convince a jury that the shooting was not justified, Cote said. So the charges were dropped.
About 15 minutes prior to Craft's 911 call, another person who lived a block over from Dove called 911 and claimed that Paulson was running down the street chasing a pit bull.
That call combined with Craft and the witness' description of the events surrounding the shooting paint a very similar picture of Paulson, who has "a rap sheet as long as your arm," Cote said.
"But we still don't know exactly what happened," Cote said.
Cote said the County Attorney's Office is still waiting on Paulson's autopsy and toxicology results. The office could re-file charges, depending on those results, but Cote said it's highly unlikely that will happen.
Craft said he never shot someone before that night and added that he had never been in jail either.
Though they lived right next to each other, Craft said: "I didn't know the man at all."
MCSO's investigation into the shooting is closed, and Craft received all of the property deputies confiscated back except for the gun, which Craft said he doesn't want anyway.