POTOSI — After a four-day trial, Jimmie Perko was able to leave the Washington County Courthouse on Thursday a free man for the first time in 27 months.
Perko, 49, had been charged with first-degree murder, armed criminal action, and unlawful use of a weapon in connection with the Jan. 17, 2010 shooting death of Eugene Hilleman in Indian Creek near Potosi. After deliberating about 40 minutes, the Washington County jury found him not guilty of all the charges.
Afterward, about 20 of his supporters, including one of Hilleman’s daughters, came up to the defense attorney’s table and hugged him.
Perko was taken to the county jail across the street from the courthouse to have his security leg brace removed and then was greeted again with celebrating supporters in the parking lot who presented him with a shirt that read “Freed Jim.”
“We aren’t just friends of Jimmie,” one man said, “we are friends of Eugene, too.”
Perko thanked his friends, most of whom were from Indian Creek, for standing by him. He said he couldn’t have done this without them.
On the prosecutor’s side of the courtroom, there were a few family members of Hilleman and a couple friends including Sherry Page, the woman who alleged she saw Perko with a gun walking away after Hilleman was shot. One woman cried softly after the verdict was read.
Circuit Judge Gael Wood had told the audience that anyone who made an outburst after the verdict was read would be taken to jail.
Perko did not testify during his trial. Four witnesses were called on his behalf Wednesday. The Attorney General’s Office had called several witnesses Tuesday and Wednesday in hopes of getting a conviction. However, some of the Attorney General’s Office witnesses did more to aid the defense’s case.
On Tuesday, Page was questioned by Scott Rosenblum, one of Perko’s three attorneys, for almost two hours. She admitted to telling numerous lies including some while she was under oath. She said some of the lies were told to keep her from getting into trouble with her probation officer.
Assistant Attorney General Susan Boresi told jurors that while Page lied about a lot of things, Page never once changed her story about seeing Perko sitting Indian style across from Hilleman’s mobile home and then seeing him walk away after the shot was fired holding a long gun and wearing some type of tan overalls or jumpsuit.
She pointed out the bullet that killed Hilleman was fired from a high-velocity rifle and likely in the area Page pointed out.
She reminded jurors of testimony that Perko was upset one of his dogs had been killed or was missing. Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Dave Bauer said neighbor, David O’Brien, told him Perko had been to his house and told him that Perko would shoot the person who has been shooting his dogs. On Wednesday, however, O’Brien said he never said that.
Rosenblum said there was nothing to indicate one of Perko’s dogs was missing. A neighbor, Tanya Bates, said she briefly took care of Perko’s dogs after he was arrested and she didn’t notice that any were missing.
Rosenblum called Page a “pathological liar.” He asked jurors if they would loan her anything or rely on her in making any important decision.
He said the police’s attempts to corroborate her story did nothing but exonerate Perko and the prosecutor tried to make evidence fit. Why wouldn’t a shooter have shot Page if she was an eyewitness? he asked.
”There’s no question on this evidence, you have to have all sorts of questions,” he told jurors.
Boresi, however, asked the jurors to think about what happened to Perko’s guns that day. She said O’Brien had seen him with a pistol and she believes Perko had fired several bullets of two different types into a telephone pole near his home.
“Innocent people don’t need to hide their guns,” she said.
She asked jurors to think about why Perko’s current supporters didn’t come forward to law enforcement or prosecutors with information they now say they have about Page the days before and after the murder and about one hearing Perko work on his home seconds before two gunshots were fired. She said some of their statements are ridiculous.
Teresa Ressel is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 179 or at firstname.lastname@example.org