Testimony began Tuesday afternoon in the trial of Samuel Todd Collier, 32, who is accused of murdering his neighbor in Jenkins on Oct. 7, 2010.
Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II said during his opening statement in Letcher Circuit Court that Collier shot and killed 48-year-old Mark Joseph Sturgill after the two were arguing over Sturgill’s mix-breed dog named Jake.
“At some point because of this argument shots rang out,” Banks said of the shooting that occurred after Sturgill had taken the dog for a walk on White Wolf Drive. “You will hear testimony that the defendant, dressed in camouflage, had a small .38 caliber Derringer. It’s what is called a single action. The gun was cocked and fired twice.”
Banks said one bullet landed just beneath Sturgill’s left nostril at a slightly downward angle and the other bullet hit the dog, which was later found dead in the yard of another neighbor.
“Testimony will be at the time of the actual shooting the defendant had this (Taurus) Derringer in his pocket while Mark had a gun in a holster on himself and another gun inside of his pants pocket,” said Banks.
Sturgill’s wife, Melissa, testified Tuesday and said her husband’s pants were nearly covered by a coat that reached to his knees. She told the jury her husband stood about five feet tall, weighed about 139 pounds, and had a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
“He was a gun enthusiast,” she said. “He believed in his right to bear arms, but in the same token Mark had the utmost respect for guns. He taught our boys to respect guns. He told them three things that he lived by, and that was you treat every gun as if it was loaded even if you knew it was a toy. You never point a gun at anyone. And you never pull a gun on anyone unless you intend to use it. Mark lived by those rules.”
The trial is expected to last the rest of the week. Banks told jurors that Sturgill “ had significant gunpowder residue on the inside of his palms” but that paramedics and police would confirm during their testimony that when they arrived at the scene of the shooting Sturgill had a .45 caliber gun holstered and a .32 caliber gun in his pocket.
Banks said no one witnessed the shooting, but neighbors heard arguing and shots fired.
Sturgill, who worked as a field technician for Kentucky Educational Television, found the stray dog at a transformer site on Buffalo Mountain in Hazard and began feeding it. Melissa Sturgill testified that because her husband couldn’t get his vehicle up the steep Perry County road during inclement weather to feed Jake, he asked his wife if he could bring the dog to their home in Jenkins. She said the dog first stayed on the porch or their home but eventually made his way inside the house where he slept at the foot of their bed.
Mrs. Sturgill testified that on the night of Feb. 25, 2010, the dog came back home bleeding after she and her husband let it out to use the bathroom. She said a neighbor, Gary Haley, confessed to shooting the dog with buckshot because two dogs were attacking a cat on his property.
Banks told the jury that Mark Sturgill filed a charge of animal cruelty against Haley, but eventually decided to drop the case.
“ We didn’t want anymore trouble,” said Mrs. Sturgill told jurors during her testimony. She also told the jury that her husband took the dog back to Buffalo Mountain for about a week until co-worker Dave Smith, who lived near Manchester, agreed to take care of the dog to keep it safe.
After Smith was laid off from his KET job in September 2010, Mark Sturgill brought the dog back to Letcher County. Mrs. Sturgill testified that her husband took the dog to work with him each day and wouldn’t allow it to go outside alone.
She told jurors that around 8 p.m. on Oct. 7 she told her husband she was going to lie down and he said he would walk the dog.
“I heard two gunshots,” Mrs. Sturgill testified. “I had a sick feeling or inclination that it was Mark. I opened the front door and started yelling his name. He didn’t answer.”
Collier is represented by Whitesburg attorney James Wiley Craft. Testimony was scheduled resume Wednesday with Craft cross-examining Mrs. Sturgill.
Collier, who has been held in the Letcher County Jail since the shooting occurred, told authorities he shot Sturgill in self-defense after he and Sturgill began arguing after the dog tried to attack him.
Craft will make his opening statement on behalf of Collier after the prosecution rests its case.