Billy Joe Shaver Was Convinced He’d Win Court Case
"I knew in my heart we would win," said Billy Joe Shaver, according to the Austin American-Statesman, as he stepped outside of a Texas courthouse last week. A McLennan Country jury in Waco, Texas, acquitted the singer/songwriter of aggravated assault in the shooting of a man outside a bar in 2007.
The man whom Billy Joe shot in self-defense, Billy Coker, appeared stunned after the verdict was read, but said later he would respect the outcome of the trial.
The singer hugged supporters who were in court that day, including members of his band. Friend Willie Nelson had been there earlier in the day while the testimony was being heard, but left before the verdict was handed down.
Billy Joe said he was sorry about the incident, in which he shot Coker in self-defense in the upper lip with a .22-caliber pistol. During testimony, the performer said he was nervous after Coker took out a knife at the bar and stirred his drink with it, later asking the singer to step outside.
"I wanted to scare him ... wanted to beat him to the punch," Billy Joe said. "I feared he was going to kill me." Shaver added that because of shoulder and neck injuries he had suffered several months before the incident, he knew he could not win if an altercation took place.
Billy Joe testified that he and his wife, Wanda, had spent the day taking photos in and around Waco for possible use as album art for his upcoming CD. After visiting a suspension bridge, a cemetery and other places that would show the spiritual nature of some of the songs on the new disc, the two of them stopped at Papa Joe's bar for a drink. Shaver said that he did not finish the first beer that he ordered.
After Coker was introduced to the singer, he realized that Wanda had been married to his cousin, who had committed suicide. Apparently there was still tension between Wanda and Coker's family, and the conversation quickly grew uncomfortable. Shaver said he suggested to Wanda that they leave, but Coker told him to shut up, and it scared him. A short time later, Billy Joe said Coker asked him to step outside, then headed for the door.
"Being the John Wayne type of person that I am, I went ahead and got to the door too," Shaver said. He said he exited before Coker, and saw a member of the band that was playing at the club that night give Coker something the singer assumed to be a gun. The singer said he felt in his pocket and found his .22.
"I said, 'Where do you want to do this? Why do you want to do this?'" Billy Joe said, and then Coker came "stomping" at him. "I was supposed to run I guess."
As Coker was raising his arm, Billy Joe said he grabbed his gun and "Pow."
Witness Daniel Silvas told the jury he saw the shooting from his truck while sitting in the parking lot of the bar. He said he saw two men quarreling and later learned one of them was the singer. He said the other man, Coker, went at Billy Joe with a knife, but Shaver backed away.
"To me it looked like [Shaver] was just trying to ... to get away before firing," Silvas said.
Prosecutor Beth Toben attempted to play on the singer/songwriter's outlaw image and use it against him, suggesting that he could have left the bar if he felt intimated by Coker. He said that because his wife was there, he wanted to stay and protect her. Billy Joe responded, "I'm from Texas. If I were chicken sh--, I would have left, but I'm not."
When Toben asked if Billy Joe was jealous because Coker was having a conversation with his wife, Shaver replied, "I get more women than a passenger train can haul. I'm not jealous."
During final arguments, Toben said, "He may be a honky-tonk hero, and he may have written a lot of wonderful songs ... but on that day, he was a honky-tonk bully."
Billy Joe will still face felony charges for bringing his gun on the premises of a business that generates more than 50 percent of its business from the sale of alcohol. In Texas, on the premises means not just into the building but anywhere on the premises, including the parking lot.