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Missouri law on protecting property faces test in river float trip shooting

Updated: 2013-08-18T03:27:28Z

The Associated Press

— James Crocker was protecting himself –– and his property –– when he shot and killed a man who was part of a Meramec River float trip party, Crocker’s attorney said Friday at a preliminary hearing.

Despite defense attorney Michael Bert’s claims, Crawford County Associated Circuit Judge Scott Bernstein ruled that there was probable cause for the second-degree murder trial for Crocker to move forward. Bernstein’s ruling followed more than an hour of testimony in a small courtroom crowded with more than two dozen friends and relatives of the victim.

Crocker, 59, is accused of killing Paul Dart Jr., 48, of Robertsville. Dart was among nearly 50 members of an extended family on a July float trip down the Meramec River.

Crocker lives along the river outside of Steelville. He spotted members of the float trip stopped on a gravel bar that he considered part of his property. Whether that’s true isn’t clear — experts concede Missouri law is vague on where property lines along rivers begin and end.

Crawford County prosecutor William Camm Seay called witnesses who testified that Crocker began shooting without warning or provocation. Bert sought to show that Crocker acted in self-defense and was protecting his property.

The defense is expected to be a test of Missouri’s castle doctrine, which allows for lethal force against threatening intruders.

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