The man charged with the 2015 vehicular assault of St. Francois Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Clark was found guilty of second-degree assault of a law enforcement officer and armed criminal action at the end of a two-day jury trial before Circuit Judge Wendy Wexler Horn.
Donald Curtis Hornsey, 50, of Valles Mines, was charged Oct. 28, 2015 with the Class A felony of first-degree assault of a law enforcement officer and armed criminal action, just a day after an altercation that left deputy Clark injured.
Hornsey’s two-day trial began Wednesday with opening statements from St. Francois County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Patrick King and Defense Attorney Chad Oliver, who each laid out where he believed the evidence in the case would lead the jury.
The prosecution and defense largely agreed on the events leading up to the altercation near Cedar Falls Road, but differed greatly on their interpretation of how things went once Clark arrived.
Both said the facts of the case began with Hornsey’s agreeing to give a friend, Fallon Thomas, a ride to the unemployment office on the morning of Oct. 27, 2015 in a red Ford Ranger that had been in the possession of a friend of Hornsey who lived in De Soto.
For reasons that no one seemed to agree on, King and Oliver said Hornsey and Thomas took a detour that morning and ended up on a sand bar on Big River off Cedar Falls Road, where the Ford Ranger became stuck. Hornsey then called a friend, Larry Heniser, for help. Heniser arrived with a red Ford F-150 and successfully pulled the Ranger onto the dirt road leading to the sand bar.
The Ranger had apparently overheated, however, and the three could not get the vehicle to start. While they were working to get the Ranger running, Deputy Clark observed the vehicles from the road and went to investigate.
Clark asked for identification, which Hornsey was unable to provide. Hornsey and the deputy then began walking back to the deputy’s vehicle.
At this point in the series of events, the defense and prosecution’s opening statements diverged.
King said the evidence would show the jury that on the way back to the patrol car, Hornsey turned and ran to the already-running F-150, despite orders from Clark to stop. Hornsey got behind the wheel of the truck, revved the engine, and at that point Clark fired several shots into the hood and windshield.
King said the jury would hear testimony that there was no evidence of Hornsey swerving to avoid striking the deputy, but that the man accelerated the truck's engine, striking the deputy and throwing him into the grass beside the road. The deputy then fired one final shot into the bumper of the truck as it left the scene.
Oliver, however, said the evidence paints a different picture of what took place once Hornsey and the deputy were walking toward the patrol car. According to the defense, Hornsey indeed ran for the F-150. However, Oliver said, the evidence indicated that the first shot was fired before Hornsey engaged the truck.
Oliver said that Hornsey, after being fired upon by the deputy, put his head down and began driving with no intention of striking the officer.
Both the prosecution and defense agreed that the reason Hornsey ran from the deputy was because he was aware, or at least suspected, that he had an active federal warrant and did not want to go back to prison.
After giving their opening statements, the defense and prosecution formally stipulated, or agreed, that Clark’s 2016 death was the result of “natural causes.”
The first witness called by the prosecution was Dr. John Hunt, who was the attending physician in the emergency room of Mercy Hospital-Jefferson when Clark arrived via ambulance for treatment on Oct. 27.
King questioned Hunt about the nature of the symptoms presented by Clark upon his arrival, which Hunt said included leg and lower back pain on his left side. King asked the doctor if the injuries displayed by Clark were consistent with what one would expect from a patient who had been struck by a car, which Hunt affirmed.
Oliver asked Hunt if the injuries present on Clark’s body, while theoretically consistent with being struck by a vehicle, might be consistent with any other type of injury and not strictly that of being struck by a vehicle. Hunt said yes, the injuries could be consistent with other sources of trauma. Oliver also asked if Hunt had visibly seen the contusions, or bruises, but the doctor said the injuries were too fresh to see the visible bruising.
The prosecution next called Larry Heniser, who Hornsey had called the morning of Oct. 27 to pull the Ford Ranger from the Big River gravel bar. Heniser, who lived in Illinois at the time, had been staying at the Bonneville Motel in Bonne Terre and was there on the morning of Oct. 27 when he received the call from Hornsey asking for help.
Heniser testified that he helped get the Ranger unstuck using his F-150. He was sitting in the driver's seat of his truck when Deputy Clark arrived, though he did not see the patrol car pull up. He saw Clark walk past his truck in the direction of Hornsey and Thomas, who were near the Ford Ranger.
When asked about his observation of the moment Hornsey went for the F-150, Heniser testified that he heard Clark yell “Stop” several times, then he heard shots being fired, then he saw Hornsey get into the F-150 and drive. He said he did not see Hornsey swerve at all, but drive straight forward toward Cedar Falls Road, seeing Clark “flying” through the air seconds later.
When asked to clarify the order of events, Heniser did not seem able to recall exactly whether the shots had been fired before or after he saw Hornsey get into the vehicle.
Heniser additionally testified that he had been advised by a third party that he should avoid being served a subpoena to appear in court in order to help Hornsey.
Oliver asked Heniser about his vantage point during the altercation and to then describe the damage to his truck after he had received it from authorities three days after the event.
The prosecution next called Thomas to the stand, who confirmed under questioning that she was currently on probation, and as a condition of that probation she was testifying in the trial.
Thomas presented the same events leading up to the altercation, but testified that she had heard shots being fired before she saw Hornsey get into the F-150. During questioning, King referred to a recorded interview that Thomas had taken part in with Detective Sgt. Matt Wampler, a transcript of which King had.
In the transcript, Thomas seemed to make statements inferring that Clark had been struck by the F-150, but on the stand she said she could not recall actually seeing him being struck.
Oliver clarified Thomas’ vantage point, which she said was in the Ford Ranger, with the hood of the vehicle being open and largely obscuring her view.
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Clardy was called to the stand next and testified to the events surrounding Hornsey’s apprehension from a trailer on Lake Park Trail in De Soto. Clardy described the procedure followed and the number of officers present, ending with Hornsey’s surrender following the announcement from officers outside the trailer that a K9 unit would be deployed if he did not comply.
Day two of the trial began Thursday with the prosecution calling Brad Weiss of the St. Francois County Ambulance District to the stand.
King asked Weiss about the circumstances surrounding his response to the scene of the incident off Cedar Falls Road. Weiss testified that when he arrived, Clark was lying on his right side, complaining of pain in his left upper leg and hip, which the deputy said had been caused by being struck by a vehicle, according to Weiss.
Oliver showed Weiss several photos of the scene and asked the paramedic if the photos seemed to portray the scene as it was when he responded to the scene, which Weiss affirmed.
Jason Crafton of the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab testified regarding the ballistic evidence obtained by the highway patrol during the investigation. Crafton said he had received seven expended cartridges from the investigation. After performing microscopic comparison to casings test-fired through Clark’s weapon, Crafton testified that only five of the seven casings could be confirmed to have been fired and ejected from Clark’s weapon.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Master Sgt. Perry Smith, who handled the investigation of the officer-involved shooting, also testified regarding the evidence he collected and observed at the scene of the altercation. Smith said he obtained Clark’s firearm from Det. Sgt. Wampler and noted there were seven cartridges missing from the pistol’s magazine.
Smith also testified that seven cartridge casings had been retrieved from the scene of the crime, all of which were sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab and eventually examined by Crafton.
The jury was then shown a recording of an interview that took place at the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department office two days after the altercation near Cedar Falls Road.
In the interview, which Wampler was also present for, Hornsey said that he had no intention of hurting anyone, and that he was certain he had not struck Clark while driving away from the scene. He admitted that he had run because he knew he had a warrant and did not want to go back to prison.
Hornsey states in the recording that “… as soon as I put that truck in drive, [Clark] pulled the pistol.”
Hornsey expressed confusion as to why Clark would have felt it necessary to draw his weapon, as he was only running away from the officer and not threatening any kind of violence. He said that he saw Clark get out of the way of the truck and that he himself had steered the truck away from the deputy. Smith pointed out that there would have been very little room in the narrow road for Hornsey to steer around him, but Hornsey insisted that Clark had been able to get out of the way.
The final witness of the trial was Hornsey himself, taking the stand to explain events.
Oliver asked Hornsey to explain the events which began on the morning of Oct. 27, 2015. Hornsey’s testimony matched that already laid out by the prosecution and defense, up to the point where they had previously diverged — the moment he ran from Clark’s side toward the F-150.
Hornsey admitted that he ran because, while he did not know for sure, he suspected that he might have a warrant out for his arrest. He said he turned and ran with no real plan, but decided to get into the F-150. At the same time as he put the truck into drive, Hornsey said, the first shot struck the windshield.
Ducking his head in fear as Clark continued to fire, Hornsey said he continued driving. He testified that he steered to the right to avoid the deputy and had Clark in his vision until the point the two were essentially side-by-side. Hornsey said that moments later in his rearview mirror he saw Clark “slouching,” but knew that he had not hit him.
Hornsey further testified to the facts of the rest of the evening, leading up to his arrest in De Soto by Jefferson County deputies.
King questioned Hornsey as to why he didn't simply stop the truck once he had been fired upon. Asked if he had considered such a course of action to deescalate the situation, Hornsey said he did, but was scared. King asked if he believed that if he had stopped the vehicle that Clark would simply shoot him on the spot in front of his friends. But Hornsey said everything happened too quickly to consider all possibilities.
Hornsey additionally testified that he had not made statements about a witnesses not appearing in court in order to suppress their testimony, but instead that if the witnesses didn’t want to be a part of the trial then they shouldn’t.
In closing arguments, King presented an argument that Clark was an officer who was simply doing his job. He said both the defendant and Clark had made decisions — Clark to uphold the law, and Hornsey to run.
King said that there was no other explanation offered by the defense to explain Clark’s injuries, and that there was no evidence of Clark diving out of the way of the truck.
In his closing statement, Oliver suggested that the prosecution’s case was built upon “contradictions and assumptions.” He pointed to the fact that the Ford Ranger was apparently moved after the shooting had taken place and that there was no physical evidence proving that events transpired as presented by the prosecution.
Oliver stressed the importance of the prosecution proving that Hornsey had knowingly committed the crime he was accused of committing which, he said, had not been established.
In his final statement, King said that Hornsey had seen only one way to freedom — through deputy Clark, and this had led him to assault the officer with the truck.
After deliberating for nearly three hours, the jury returned unanimous verdicts of guilty for the charge of assault of a law enforcement officer in the second degree and armed criminal action. Judge Wendy Wexler Horn set Hornsey's sentencing for Oct. 19.
Hornsey has prior convictions for charges related to drugs and assault. He was also recently charged with first degree assault stemming from a July 30 fight in the St. Francois County Jail, which resulting in an inmate receiving a closed medial orbital wall fracture, according to a report from jail personnel.