MISSOULA, Montana — A coroner's jury has found a Missoula police officer was justified when he shot a man to death after a high-speed chase through the city early on New Year's Eve.
The jury deliberated for less than an hour Monday after hearing testimony that 20-year-old Kaileb Cole Williams pummeled his mother, backhanded his girlfriend Rita Daniel and told officers to kill him.
The shooter, Cpl. Paul Kelly, testified that he believed Williams was cutting his girlfriend's throat when he shot him in the head.
The incident began when police responded to a 911 call from Williams' mother, who said he had assaulted her and drove away with his girlfriend.
Daniel, 31, testified that as they drove around for about an hour, Williams held her in a stranglehold and beat her before telling her they were going to drive head-on into traffic on Interstate 90. The car stalled on an onramp on the western edge of the city.
Missoula County sheriff's Detective Jonathan Gunter shared a transcript of the conversation between police and Williams in the six minutes before Kelly shot the man.
"I want you to (expletive) kill me right here right now," Williams said.
"OK, well, I can't do that. That would be murder," Kelly replied. "Just talk to me, man, it doesn't have to end poorly."
"It has to end (inaudible) poorly," Williams said.
Jurors also heard recordings in which Williams' mother, Rhenon Williams, told another officer that her son could have access to a knife, scissors or pepper spray in the car.
Kelly said he saw erratic and sudden movement in the car and Daniel began screaming so he fired a shot, hitting Williams in the head.
"I believed he was cutting her throat," Kelly said.
Daniel testified that she believed the officer saved her life and he shouldn't be charged with a crime.
However, she told the Missoulian on Feb. 2 that she wasn't held hostage, wasn't scared and that she and Williams had driven around, talked about their problems and settled them. She said she told a police officer she wasn't in danger.
"And then it was about two minutes after that, he put his hands around my face and he said, 'Rita, I just want to let you know that ... ' and then the bullet came through," Daniel told the newspaper. "And I will never know what was going to be said."