Witnesses Describe Grinning Gunman; Prosecutor Seeks Death Penalty
May. 11, 1988
OZARK, Ark. (AP) _ A man accused of killing 16 people, including 14 family members, grinned as he squeezed off shots during a 45-minute rampage at four businesses, according to people he allegedly shot or tried to shoot.
R. Gene Simmons, a 47-year-old retired Air Force master sergeant, is being tried in the fatal shootings of former co-worker Kathy C. Kendrick, 24, and James D. Chaffin, 33, Dec. 28 in Russellville. Four people were wounded.
Simmons is scheduled to face a separate trial July 18 in the slayings of 14 relatives.
Prosecutor John Bynum, who told the jury he would ask for the death penalty, said in his opening statement that Miss Kendrick, a legal secretary, was shot at least four times in the head as she sat at her desk.
Officials have said she had spurned Simmons' advances a year earlier.
Police have said Chaffin was a chance victim of shooting several minutes later at Taylor Oil Co., several blocks from the law office. Simmons had once worked at the oil company and had been the boss of Russell Taylor, whom he allegedly wounded there.
David Salyer, shot in the forehead at a small market he owned and where Simmons had once worked, said that when Simmons ''squeezed the first shot, he was grinning.''
A witness in the convenience store shooting, Tony Carta, said he saw Simmons lean over a counter of the market and shoot cashier Roberta Woolery in the face. The bullet went in her mouth and out her jaw.
Both Salyer and Taylor, who showed their scars to the jury, identified Simmons as the man who shot them.
Simmons surrendered after another shooting at a motor freight company, where he allegedly wounded a woman who once had been his boss.
Earlier, Juli Money, who worked with Chaffin at the oil company, testified that she saw Chaffin shot on what was her first day at work. She said she heard shots, then saw a door fly open as Chaffin reached for it.
''I saw an arm raise up through a window in the door. It shot and Jim went down,'' she testified.
Ms. Money said she was trying to see what was going on and ''wondering whether it was a practical joke'' when ''Simmons stepped over his body, took a stance, and pointed the gun at me. I screamed, 'No,' and dived behind some boxes.
''He was grinning. He had a horrid grin - it looked like he had false teeth - and his eyes were wide open.''
She said she grabbed her head because ''I thought I had been shot because I felt the heat from the bullet'' as it whizzed past. She was uninjured.
After Simmons surrendered, the bodies of his wife and 13 other relatives were found on his property in Dover, 47 miles east of Ozark.
If convicted of murder, Simmons could be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
Bynum asked for the maximum penalty on all charges, while Simmons' attorney, Robert E. ''Doc'' Irwin, urged that the jurors ''not be bullied by public opinion, by what the press may say or by what the public may say.''
Irwin asked jurors to consider conflicting statements given by witnesses in describing the gunman.
Brenda Jones of Atkins testified Tuesday that she was in the law office on business when Simmons came in and stood in front of Miss Kendrick's desk.
The man had his hands in his pockets but jerked his right arm up and started firing a pistol, she testified. ''He missed her at first,'' she said. ''She just stood there. He kept shooting. Finally, he hit her.''
Mrs. Jones said she was afraid to move and put her head down. When she looked up, Simmons glanced at her and walked out, she said.
Asked by Irwin why she had not identified Simmons when she saw him at the police department on Dec. 28, Mrs. Jones said Simmons had kept his head down. She identified Simmons on Jan. 13 from photographs.
About 60 spectators were in the courtoom, including relatives of some of Simmons' family members.
Pat McNulty, 36, of Bryant, whose brother was among the dead family members, said, ''We've got our grief to deal with and Gene Simmons has got God to deal with.''
Viola O'Shields, 51, sister of Simmons' late wife, Becky, and Roger O'Shields, 53, both of Fort Payne, Ala., said they sat in the front row because they wanted to make certain that Simmons saw them.
''It's hard for us not to have some hate,'' he said.