Crime

Self-defense question goes to jury in Granite City murder trial

Caleb Bailey faces three counts of first-degree murder in shooting death of Travis Mayes.
Caleb Bailey faces three counts of first-degree murder in shooting death of Travis Mayes.

Closing arguments in Caleb Bailey’s murder trial centered on the question of self-defense: was Bailey truly in fear of his life when he shot Travis Mayes?

The jury began deliberating late Thursday afternoon and was meeting into the evening.

Bailey faces three counts of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Travis Mayes. Mayes was found dead in a Granite City parking lot on May 18, 2014, lying astride his tipped-over motorcycle. It was determined that he died of a single gunshot wound to the head.

The prosecution has alleged that Bailey shot Mayes out of jealous fury in a long-running feud over Brittney Bess, whom both men had dated. The defense has alleged that Bailey was afraid for his life and reacted instinctively to Mayes as a threat.

The prosecution’s closing argument began with the three statements Bailey made after shooting Mayes, according to testimony. He told Bess that he “shot your (expletive) boyfriend,” he told his father that Mayes had taunted him about his daughter, and told police, “We talked, the conversation ended, I went home.”

Jones said if the confrontation really was life or death and he was defending himself, he would have said that instead of taunting Bess about it.

“What happened on May 18, 2014 was not self-defense,” Jones said. “It was first-degree murder.”

Self-defense would require that the defendant believed it was the only way to prevent great bodily harm to himself or others, Jones said. And nothing Bailey did after the shooting indicated that was the case, he said.

“After drinking a fifth of a bottle of tequila, he took a loaded gun and put it in his car,” Jones said.

Jones said Bailey’s actions — following Bess, trying to get a friend to beat him up, going home to retrieve the gun, following Mayes — did not indicate a fear for his life. He also pointed out that Bailey left the scene and did not call police or an ambulance or attempt first aid.

“He knows Travis is dead, he wants Travis to be dead and he needs Travis to be dead because he is the obstacle to (Bailey’s) happy family,” Jones said. “Was it a snap decision when he chose to get his gun?”

Jones pointed out that Mayes had no gun on his person or in his home, and was armed only with a knife. “The defense wants you to focus on that last moment,” Jones said. “But we have to consider how he got to (that moment), and what was really going on in his mind.”

But we can get a clue, he said, because minutes after he shot Mayes, Bailey was going through Bess’ phone to see if she’d been texting Mayes.

It wasn’t a coincidence or happenstance that put them on that road that night, Jones said. “He was looking for him, seeking him out,” Jones said.

Jones said Bailey was prodding Mayes in an attempt to get him angry, which belied the “scary Travis” image offered by the defense. He said there was not one text, Facebook post or email that showed Mayes threatening Bailey.

He pointed out that the bullet traveled downward in Mayes’ head. “If he’s standing up, how does the bullet travel downward?” Jones asked. “The laws of physics fly in the face of the defendant’s version.”

In his closing, defense attorney David Fahrenkamp argued that if Bailey hadn’t “had the nerve” to act that night, then the 3-inch knife Mayes was carrying would have been the murder weapon.

He dismissed the texts Bailey sent as tough talk that didn’t reflect the story between Bailey and Mayes.

“He was a sap, manipulated by Brittany,” Fahrenkamp said.

He pointed out that Mayes had had his prison number tattooed on his skin.

“What was he projecting?” Fahrenkamp said. He said the jury now has the luxury of second-guessing each of Bailey’s actions that night, but at the time, Bailey had a second to make his judgment call.

“Self-defense means something,” he said. Things that Bailey said days or weeks earlier don’t matter as much as that moment, he said.

“He is a good man, a man who protects his family, who protects his country,” he said. “He’s an honest man and he should walk out of here.”

But Jones replied that self-defense is not “an olly-olly-oxen-free.”

“You don’t get to get drunk, blow somebody’s brains out and walk free,” he said. He said that the only evidence that Mayes ever threatened Bailey or sought him out came from Bailey himself. “He killed him on May 18, 2014 and now they’re trying to kill him again, to assassinate his character.”

Jones reiterated the importance of the text messages, many of which were harsh toward Bess or Mayes and some were pornographic in nature.

“We reveal who we truly are when nobody’s watching,” he said. “The defendant showed us who he really was when he sent those messages.”

Defense opened with woman at center of feud

The first to take the stand Thursday was Brittany Bess. Bailey and Bess had been living together and have a young daughter. A series of texts recovered from Bailey’s phone indicated that during a separation, Bess had dated Mayes, and Bailey felt betrayed as Mayes was a friend.

Bess was called as a witness for the defense, and defense attorney David Fahrenkamp asked her questions about Mayes’ reputation.

Bess said in her opinion, Mayes was a violent person. She said when she and Mayes got into an argument, he punched a wall next to her face and that he had threatened Bailey.

Prosecutor Jennifer Mudge asked Bess if she had ever told any of the police or other investigators about Mayes’ alleged violent tendencies. Bess said she “was in shock” and did not tell anyone other than friends and family.

Under cross-examination, Bess confirmed that Bailey had told Mayes that he had raped her in order to anger him. Bess had told police at the time that she was “tired of (Bailey) threatening me,” but she has also visited Bailey more than 40 times while he was in jail and spoken by phone, including during the course of the trial.

“Everything you have testified to today, you have never told anyone else before today, is that correct?” Mudge asked. Bess said that was true.

Fahrenkamp said that Bess would not cooperate with the defense until only a few weeks ago, and alleged that no one was interested in Bess’ story until now.

Bailey’s brother, Joshua Bailey, also took the stand, testifying that his brother was a peaceful person who loved his daughter.

Defendant takes the stand

Bailey testified in his own defense, beginning with his military service, including a deployment overseas to Egypt that happened to coincide with the “Arab Spring.” He said he was trained in the military to assess whether someone has a weapon or is making a motion for one.

Once returned, he began working at U.S. Steel and became friends with Mayes. Bailey said that Mayes wanted to trade a motorcycle for a gun, and Bailey declined because he knew Mayes was a felon.

However, the prosecution later called Mayes’ niece, Amberley Duke, on rebuttal. As executor of Mayes’ estate, she confirmed that she cleaned out Mayes’ house and found no guns in the residence.

When he found out about Mayes and Bess’ relationship, he said he decided to sue for full custody, believing that Bess was not fit to care for their daughter and he was concerned about Mayes being around his daughter. He ceased that attempt when he and Bess reconciled, he said.

He said Mayes called him at one point and threatened him, and said his daughter would someday be calling him daddy.

On the day in question, Bailey said he went to the bar with the idea of talking to Bess and Mayes, but changed his mind when he actually reached the bar.

When he and Mayes faced each other in the parking lot, Bailey said they were arguing and Mayes’ hand went down to his belt. At that point, he said, he was afraid Mayes was going for a weapon. Bailey said he grabbed his handgun from his lap and fired a single shot.

“He was standing up and going for whatever he had, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant,” Bailey said.

After the shooting, Bailey said he tried to call Bess, and then called his father’s house to get them to bring his daughter to his house.

“I did a lot of pacing, I drank some tea and smoked,” he said of waiting for the police. He admitted to using some profanity, but said he was upset.

He said he had no intention to fight with Mayes or hurt him, but was afraid for his life and felt he had no other option to get out of the parking lot.

On cross-examination, prosecutors produced text messages that Bailey had sent to Mayes, taunting him with sexual images.

“Those photographs you sent to this person you were scared of were pictures of you having sex with the woman he’s with,” said prosecutor Josh Jones. “It’s a good idea to make this big, scary guy mad?”

“It wasn’t a good idea,” Bailey said.

And yet, Jones pointed out, when Mayes threatened his life, Bailey never reported it to the police. Jones also showed Mayes’ text messages saying he was wrong and apologized, hoping Bess and Bailey got back together.

“With intense sarcasm,” Bailey said. He said he believed Mayes was taunting and mocking him, not sincerely apologizing. He also said when Bess reconciled with him, she was just playing nice so that he wouldn’t go to court for custody.

Jones brought out Bailey’s text messages to Bess, depicting Mayes as an older man who was weak, not a “big scary man” that he feared.

“I didn’t send those text messages,” Bailey said.

Jones pointed out that after his first trip to the bar that night, Bailey went home, drank most of a bottle of tequila, and retrieved his gun, putting it in the center console of his car.

Once Mayes left, Bailey pulled out after him, but maintained that he was not intentionally following him. They drove for about a mile, and Bailey pulled up beside him and flipped him off.

“This man you were scared of… you flipped him off,” Jones asked.

“Yes,” Bailey replied, and said Mayes indicated that they should pull off the road.

“Nothing required you to pull over to the side of the road, right?” Jones asked.

Bailey said it was “poor judgment,” that he thought he was safe.

Jones pointed out that Bailey could have driven away. “I didn’t think of it,” Bailey said. “Hindsight. It probably would have been the best course of action.”

Bailey confirmed he never saw a gun or any other weapon in Mayes’ hand, and he was inside his truck with the motor running the whole time. He didn’t know if Mayes was dead after the shooting, he said, but he knew he’d hit him because Mayes fell down.

Bailey confirmed that when he came home, he went through Bess’ phone while waiting for the police and told Bess, “I shot your (expletive) boyfriend.”

“At no point did you say, ‘He could have killed me,’?” Jones said.

“Telling her that would not have changed the situation,” Bailey said.

Jones pointed out that Bailey was 20 minutes into his police interrogation before he said anything about being scared and never mentioned being threatened.

Mayes’ boss, Sarah Niesporek, also testified that she hired Mayes as “peacekeeper” at the Rust Bucket because he was good at making the peace among quarrelsome patrons. “Any trouble we had, by the end of the night, everyone would be drinking beer and laughing together,” she said.

The jury now has the choice of finding Bailey guilty of first-degree murder, which means he intended to kill Mayes; downgrade it to second-degree murder, meaning he thought he was in danger but his belief was unreasonable; or not guilty by reason of self-defense.

The jury received the case shortly before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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