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Crime News Black Lives Matter

Family Of Missouri Man Shot By White Neighbor Alleges Racial Bias After Justifiable Homicide Ruling

Justin King, 28, was fatally shot by his neighbor, Eric Barber, on Nov. 3, 2021 in rural Missouri. King’s family are convinced his death was a pre-meditated murder.

By Dorian Geiger
Justin King Harlee Provided

The family of a Black and Filipino man, whose shooting death by a white neighbor in a Missouri trailer park last year was deemed a justifiable homicide this week, is urging the FBI intervene following a county inquest that cleared his killer.

Justin King, 28, was fatally shot by his neighbor, Eric Barber in November after authorities allege King forcefully broke into Barber's trailer in Bourbon, Missouri. The deadly shooting has sparked tensions in the southern community where King’s family and neighbors, as well as activists have challenged the police narrative and instead accused officials of gravely mishandling the case.

On Jan. 11, a six-person jury panel convened at a Crawford County courthouse in Steelville, Missouri to consider evidence and witness testimony in an effort to determine King’s manner of death. The panel, selected by the county sheriff’s office, unanimously voted to certify King’s killing a justifiable homicide at approximately 5:30 p.m. that day.

King’s family, their lawyer and activists, who have maintained King’s death was a premeditated killing, are now convinced the investigation into his death was tainted by racial bias and negligence. 

“The family is distraught — and really confused,” Nimrod Chapel Jr., the President of Missouri NAACP, who’s serving as the family’s counsel, told Oxygen.com. “The King family is saddened and challenged by the coroner’s inquest as they have been by Crawford County officials who have resisted transparency and a fair review of the facts that led to Justin’s murder.” 

They want a federal investigation into the county's determination.

On Nov. 3, King was shot by Barber after Barber had allegedly attempted to diffuse a separate conflict King was having with a neighbor woman about her dogs, the Crawford County Prosecuting Attorney said.

King, officials said, was “agitated,” by the encounter. He was then visited in his trailer by Barber, who — according to prosecutors — attempted to calm King down shortly before the shooting.

As Barber left King's residence, King allegedly told him, “love you, bro.” The exchange — and last known interaction between the two neighbors — was described as “cordial” and “friendly,” by prosecutors. 

Less than an hour later, investigators said King started banging on Barber’s trailer door screaming, “I’m going to f--king kill you!” After forcing entry into the dwelling, prosecutors said King threw a television across the room, and chased Barber out of the trailer. A physical struggle later ensued on the trailer’s covered porch. Barber ultimately pulled a .22 magnum pistol from his pocket and shot King three times, officials said.

Barber told authorities he had “no idea what caused King’s behavior to change.” The two had been neighbors for over a year and “frequently socialized,” prosecutors said.

King suffered three bullet wounds — one to his left leg, one to his head and one to his chest — according to a coroner’s report. The third bullet, which pierced King’s heart, killed him. A toxicology report showed King tested positive for methamphetamine, as well as metabolites from THC — the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.

Missouri self-defense laws stipulate that citizens are permitted to use lethal force to defend themselves against perpetrators while lawfully occupying their own private property if they have reasonable belief they’re in danger.

John King Harlee Provided

King’s family, however, disputes that the Missouri salesman ever entered Barber’s trailer. 

“All of this was lies,” King’s father, John Alexander King, 56, told Oxygen.com. “This was a premeditated well-thought out plan by Eric Barber to do what he did to my son…They were buddies 30 minutes earlier. They were high-fiving each other.”

King’s loved ones, who have also accused county officials of withholding key video and photo evidence during Tuesday’s inquest — which their lawyer called "botched" — are now calling for their public release. 

Typically, a jury panel’s prime task in a coroner’s inquest is determining the manner of death, which involves viewing post-mortem images, he said. 

“Of all the things that they’re supposed to do, looking at the actual body of Justin King so that they can make some determination or at least have those facts when they make their judgment or their verdict, they’ve got to have that,” Chapel said.

Indeed, a copy of the inquest's jury verdict in King’s case, obtained by Oxygen.com, denotes viewing post-mortem images as a requirement for inquest jurors. The typed phrase “viewed photographs of the body,” appears to have been underlined by deliberating jurors in pen or pencil on a scanned copy of the inquest's verdict, above their redacted signatures rendering King's death a justifiable homicide

King’s autopsy images, as well as trailer park surveillance video depicting the mortally wounded 28-year-old near Barber’s trailer after the shooting, were intentionally withheld as evidence in the inquest’s proceedings, officials confirmed. 

“The prosecutor and I decided that those images would not be useful to decide whether or not Eric Barber acted in self-defense or felony murder,” Crawford County Coroner Darren Dake, whose office presided over the inquest, told Oxygen.com. “We know what bullet holes look like, we did not see how that would do anything to help the jury and for the comfort of the family, showing all these dead pictures of their son. That’s why I know there was no injury picture shown and there was no video shown.”

That decision — which officials for both the coroner and sheriff’s office said was intended to protect King’s loved ones — has only inflamed the family’s suspicions further.

“The prosecutors acted as a defense lawyer for Eric Barber as opposed to an advocate for justice in the community,” Chapel added. “He presented evidence that was aimed at discrediting the victim and vilifying him.”

King’s family, who vowed to protest the inquest’s ruling, are now convinced that county authorities, including the sheriff, coroner and prosecutors’ offices colluded together to absolve Barber. 

“It was already fixed and determined to make sure Eric was not charged,” John King said. “A person deserves justice no matter where they live, what county they live in, the color of their skin."

"I’m going to demand justice for my son,” he added.

Sheriff Darin J. Layman defended his department's investigation into King’s death, denying the killing was racially motivated, or that the case had been mishandled in any way. He stated that King’s family was misinformed. 

“I understand Mr. [John] King’s concern based off the false narrative he has received,” Layman said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com. “While I respect his opinion, I do not agree with it…This investigation was never about a racial bias as there was no evidence of such from any of my investigators. What happened was tragic and avoidable and I am deeply sorry for their loss. No parent should have to suffer the loss of a child.”

Layman said it was the first case for which he’d summoned a jury for an inquest since taking office in 2017. Coroner-led inquests, he said, are typically reserved for officer-involved shootings or other such sensitive incidents.

Layman, who selected the inquest's jurors, described the pool as “six, good and lawful citizens,” who had no criminal history or known connection to either King or Barber. His office had also turned over evidence in the case to prosecutors prior to the inquest. 

David Smith, the prosecuting attorney for Crawford County, didn’t respond to Oxygen.com’s requests for comment on the matter this week.

More than two months after Justin King’s fatal shooting, his family is still struggling to come to terms with the Missouri family man’s sudden death.

“To me, it’s still like I’m in a dream because I never thought this would happen to my son,” John King explained. "This is the worst thing I’ve experienced in my life — to see a kid like that who had so much potential and so much to give in life to just be snuffed out because of hate and jealousy.”

The grieving father described his late son as a “wonderful guy,” and as family man devoted to his 10-year-old daughter, Harlee. 

“He was a good kid, and he wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t deserve to die like that,” John King said. “Everybody loved him.”

A vigil for King is planned for Feb. 5 at the Bourbon trailer park where he was killed, and a motorcade and protest march to the county courthouse in Steelville will follow the memorial service, relatives said. 

King’s family now want federal investigators to intervene in the case. 

“We just want justice for Justin, that’s all,” John King added. “We want them to release all the evidence and give him a prosecution and let a fair jury decide his fate. That’s all I ask, nothing more, nothing less.”

The FBI this week declined to comment on the existence of a possible investigation into King’s death when contacted by Oxygen.com.