Defense says Christopher Fries was attacked, but state argues premeditation in St. Augustine pub shooting trial | members.jacksonville.com
Attorneys painted a different picture of what led to the fatal shooting of Paul Crookshank in the parking lot of a St. Augustine pub more than two years ago.
While a prosecutor said Christopher Fries intentionally shot Crookshank during a fight in the Giggling Gator parking lot, a defense attorney said Fries was attacked by Crookshank and that the gun went off accidentally. Fries, 43, of the Vilano Beach area, was arrested in September 2011 outside of the Giggling Gator and was charged with first-degree murder with a firearm. Crookshank was a 29-year-old father from the St. Augustine area.
The first day of Fries’ murder trial ended with one of the officers who arrived at the scene. He testified about his role, including packaging the gun that was in Crookshank’s blood.
The state will call more witnesses today, and the state’s case could be finished by Wednesday. Fries, wearing a brown suit and tie, sat in the courtroom Monday with his attorneys Oliver David Barksdale and Brian Coughlin by his side.
Prosecutors called several witnesses, including officers who first arrived at the scene and a convenience store employee who saw Fries and Crookshank arguing outside the pub.
‘I’m going to (expletive) kill you’
The night that ended in the death of Crookshank and the arrest of Fries began in Vilano Beach. They took a cab from Vilano Beach and arrived together at the Giggling Gator. They spent some time together inside before a fight began.
Daniel Garrett testified he was working at a convenience store next to the Giggling Gator that night. While taking out the garbage, he saw Fries and Crookshank arguing in the Giggling Gator parking lot. A short time later, he looked back again and saw Fries reach into his pants, pull out a gun and put the gun under Crookshank’s chin.
“His hands went straight up in the air,” Garrett said about Crookshank.
Fries backed Crookshank up to a fence. He said they had been arguing about a woman, and Fries was screaming at Crookshank at the time he pulled the gun. Garrett went into the convenience store and called 911.
Prosecutor Jacquelyn Roys played the 911, during which Garrett says he saw someone pull a gun on someone else.
“You’ve got to get someone here now,” Garrett said to the dispatcher.
St. Augustine police officer Frank Shipp responded to the call and was the first at the scene.
He didn’t immediately see anything wrong when he got to the parking lot. As he looked around, he heard a voice say, “I’m going to (expletive) kill you.” Then, a gunshot.
Shipp saw legs sticking out near a car.
What he found was Fries on his hands and knees crouched over Crookshank, whose blood was pooling on the ground. Shipp said he told Fries to drop the gun. As Fries was being secured, he said he had been shot.
“Mr. Fries stated that, ‘He shot me,’” Shipp said.
Fries did not have any gunshot wounds, and officers said he did not appear to be injured from the fight.
Other officers testified that they came to the scene that night to collect evidence and statements from people in the bar. Fries was cooperative.
Accident or premeditation?
The bullet that killed Crookshank traveled from behind his left ear and out through the other side of his skull. Evidence will show that there was only one bullet, prosecutor Jacquelyn Roys said during opening statements.
There was some brain activity left even through Crookshank had been shot in the head, and he was taken to a hospital. But he was pronounced dead.
A crime scene analyst, who has yet to testify, found a projectile under Crookshank’s head in blood. The bullet traveled from behind Crookshank’s ear and went straight through his head and through his skull.
“… The evidence will show that Christopher Fries acted with premeditation,” Roys said.
Coughlin said the case would be “hotly contested” and evidence would show Crookshank as the aggressor.
Crookshank initiated a fight with Fries that led to a struggle with both men on the ground, he said. During that struggle Crookshank reached for Fries’ gun, and the gun discharged accidentally, Coughlin said.
While the convenience store employee said he heard the two arguing over a woman, there was no evidence of that being an issue, Coughlin said. He said police “rushed to a judgement” in this case.
“The just verdict will be for Chris Fries. He was attacked, and he is innocent,” Coughlin said.
If you, a friend or a family member find themselves in a situation such as this, please call the Law Office of Scott A. Ferris, P.A. at 305 670-3330 right away. Scott A. Ferris, Esq. is a licensed criminal law attorney who has been practicing law since 1987. He is available whenever you need him to defend your rights. Please learn about our firm at www.FerrisLawFirm.com.