A Blue Springs man was found not guilty of murder Friday in the shooting deaths of two people.
Howard Ray Stephenson, 44, was accused of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of armed criminal action in the fatal shooting of a Blue Springs couple, Jaron Syrus and Qwentelia Vanzant, in May 2013 as their young children sat nearby in a car.
Syrus told police before he died that Howard Ray Stephenson was the shooter, according to court records.
But Stephenson argued self defense in a violent confrontation between a family with middle-aged parents against two younger people, one of whom came to the conflict armed with a gun. The Jackson County jury issued not-guilty verdicts on all counts.
Stephenson’s attorney, Patrick Peters, said Syrus and Vanzant, both 25, were angry over a game console and a pair of tennis shoes they thought were stolen by one of Stephenson’s sons.
They confronted the Stephenson family while Howard Stephenson was driving with his wife and children and the younger couple had their 3-year-old son and Vanzant’s 7-year-old daughter in their car.
Vehicles carrying both families groups eventually pulled into a convenience store parking lot at 5401 Blue Parkway, where the argument escalated.
Peters said a fight broke out between Stephenson’s family and Syrus and Vanzant. Syrus ultimately pulled out a semi-automatic handgun that fell to the ground. At one point, the lawyer said, Stephenson’s son held the gun while his father urged him to shoot. Then Stephenson took the gun and shot both Syrus and Vanzant.
Although surveillance video showed the gunman shooting Syrus several times while he was on the ground and then turning toward Vanzant and shooting her several times, Peters said Stephenson was protecting himself and his family from imminent danger.
Police found 13 shell casings from the gun in the parking lot.