Monday, June 7, 2010

Feud Over Property Leads to Shooting Death in Alabama

A property dispute between neighbors has ended in a fatal shooting in north Alabama.

Coy W. Edwards, 76, has been charged in the shooting death of 54-year-old Billy Eugene Moore last week in Tuscumbia. Authorities said this was just one of several heated property-related disputes they know of in the area.

The story raises eyebrows here at Legal Schnauzer because our court headaches started when Mike McGarity, our troublesome neighbor, created multiple property-related problems for us. Considering that McGarity has at least eight criminal convictions in his background, including one violence-related offense, we have worried numerous times about our own safety.

From published reports, it doesn't appear that either man in the Tuscumbia incident had a criminal history. And it's hard to figure why the dispute became heated because it doesn't appear that either man owned the property in question.

Law-enforcement officials say Moore was cutting grass on a riding lawn mower last Wednesday afternoon when Edwards shot him twice. Moore's body was found in his yard, where he fell in an attempt to get back to his house, and the lawn mower still was running.

Authorities said the two men had been in a dispute over a small parcel of property for several months. Edwards was charged last October with harassment, and authorities issued a cease-and-desist order against him, after a verbal altercation with Moore.

The case is peculiar because neither man apparently owned the property in question. Edwards had lived in a trailer on a 1.5-acre parcel for 15 to 20 years. He rented a portion of the property from Lorene Malone Weeks.

Moore lived on the adjoining lot, but the dispute apparently started when he decided to mow a portion of the Weeks property. Weeks said Moore had called her several weeks ago, and that indicates he knew the property did not belong to him. Reports the Florence Times Daily:

Weeks said Edwards, a retired truck driver, thought Moore was trying to take over part of her property, which joined Moore’s land. Weeks said the disagreement between the two men apparently involved Moore cutting grass on her property.

“(Moore) was cutting grass, which was on my property,” Weeks said. “(Moore) called me about two or three weeks ago and told me he was cutting some of the grass over on my property. I told him not to because it made (Edwards) nervous. I had told Coy earlier to ‘just ignore him and go on.’ I guess Coy and that man just couldn’t get along.

“It’s sad; so very sad.”

Obviously, Edwards should not have introduced a gun, or any form of violence, into the situation. But it's hard to figure why Moore felt it was his duty to mow someone else's grass.

If he thought the grass had become unsightly, or posed a health or safety concern, he had any number of remedies he could have pursued. But deciding to mow someone else's grass, when he had been told not to, wasn't one of them.

One of the most curious aspects of the story, at least to us, is this:

Colbert County District Attorney Bryce Graham Jr. said he talked several times with Moore about the dispute.

“We had made numerous attempts to solve the problem the best the law would allow,” Graham said. “We did everything we could to defuse it before it got this far.”

Based on our experiences with law enforcement on property-related issues, I'm not buying what Graham is trying to sell. When our neighbor ignored repeated requests to stay off our property, and even threatened to sue me for trying to enforce our property rights, we asked a sheriff's deputy if he would talk to the guy and explain the law so that the situation might be resolved. The deputy said, "We don't do that. We just write reports."

We see no indication that the DA, or anyone from his office, spoke with Edwards, so it's hard to see how much of an effort was made to defuse the situation. In fact, law enforcement probably made matters worse by deciding to charge Edwards with harassment last October. To us, that altercation should have been the perfect opportunity for officials to speak with both parties, make sure both understood their rights and responsibilities, and get the situation to calm down.

Instead, it appears, law enforcement failed miserably--as it often seems to do in situations like this.

Based on this quote from Colbert County Sheriff Ronnie May, I wouldn't be surprised if we read about more unfortunate incidents in his area:

May said it’s hard to understand the rational behind the shooting incident.

“But there are other situations in the county right now where there is a dispute over just a few feet of property and threats have been made by the property owners,” the sheriff said. “It’s just hard for me to image something like a property dispute going this far.”

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