Mason Township man on trial for felonious assault

Published 10:11 am Friday, October 7, 2011

It was the dog’s fault.

That was the defense strategy of a Mason Township man accused of firing a gun into the windshield of a car containing three people, one of which was a 2-year-old, saying the shooting was simply an accident.

Dana Clay, 48, of 3725 County Road 64, Willow Wood, testified during the first day of his trial Thursday in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court that he had no intention of firing the muzzleloader he was holding, but that it discharged accidentally when his dog tripped him.

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Clay is charged with three counts of felonious assault with a firearm stemming from the incident that occurred the evening of March 25.

In opening statements, Assistant Prosecutor Bob Anderson told the jury that Clay intentionally fired his gun at the victims, a married couple visiting from Columbus and the 2-year-old son of Clay’s girlfriend’s daughter, Michelle Jeter, after an argument between Clay and his girlfriend, Nancy Ross, injuring all three from shattered glass and lead from the gun.

“(Clay) aimed into the window and fired,” Anderson said.

All three victims were taken to a local hospital where they were treated and released that evening.

Anderson said Clay fled before police arrived, and he wasn’t arrested until May 12 when he was found at his mother’s home in Lincoln County, W.Va.

Defense attorney Mike Gleichauf countered that Clay did not act knowingly.

“There is no way that ‘knowingly’ happened,” Gleichauf said. “It was an accident.”

Clay testified that, after an argument with his girlfriend, he saw the male victim wave a firearm at him from behind the wheel of the vehicle.

“I thought he waved a gun at me,” Clay said. “I feared for my life and my family’s life.”

Clay said he then went into his house, picked up his partially loaded muzzleloader and finished loading it with the percussion cap. Clay said he had no intention of using it, but only wanted to know why the male victim was waving a gun at him since there was no argument between them. Clay admitted his thumb was on the hammer of the gun but said he was not aiming it and it was not fully cocked.

“I started out the door and the dog tripped me,” Clay said.

Clay said he didn’t see where the shot was directed but that he heard the male victim shout that Clay had shot his wife and killed the baby that was also in the car.

Clay admitted he then ran into the woods behind his home, citing the fact that he feared for his own life. Clay said he spent the next few days in the woods, sleeping without shelter, eating crawdads and drinking creek water. The Willow Wood man said, after he learned that the child was still alive, he wanted to turn himself in but was still scared of the other victims. It was at that point that he walked to his mother’s home in Lincoln County, W.Va., where he said he remained until federal marshals arrested him in May.

Both Nancy Ross and Michelle Jeter testified for the defense, saying Clay would never do anything to intentionally harm the child and that he helped raise the boy as if he was his own son.

The women also testified they did not see Clay fire the gunbut did hear the sound. Jeter testified that she saw the butt of a handgun under the driver seat of the car, but neither she nor Ross saw the victim wave it in the air.

Both victims testified for the prosecution. The male victim said he saw Clay fire the gun into the car. He said he was not in possession of a firearm at the time.

Deputies from the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office who responded to the incident also testified for the prosecution.

Closing arguments begin Friday morning and the jury is expected to return a verdict in the afternoon.