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Lawyer Who Witnessed Fatal Attack Outside Texas Courthouse Told Gunman ‘You Don’t Have to Kill Me’

Posted Mar 15, 2012 5:20 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Corrected: A Texas lawyer who was parked in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse yesterday around 11:15 a.m. not only witnessed a fatal shooting but, he says, came close to being shot himself by the gunman.

Ted Johns was waiting for his brother, also an attorney, when a 41-year-old man identified by authorities as a defendant on trial in a sexual assault case reportedly shot four people, killing one of them, a woman in her seventies. The suspect's former wife and 20-year-old daughter also are among the shooting victims, authorities told news media. Two of the four victims reportedly were witnesses in the trial.

Johns said he watched as the gunman pointed a rifle at one of the victims from a distance of about two feet, then heard the sound of shots and saw she was "ripped up" and down on the ground, reports KHOU.

“He looked at me directly. I’m in the field of fire and he’s changing clips and I look at him, my window is down, and I mouthed the words, ‘You don’t have to kill me,’” Johns told the station. Throwing the car into reverse he tried to shield himself behind the driver's door, praying that the gunman wouldn't fire at his car since the bullets would undoubtedly go through it.

But instead of shooting at Johns' vehicle, the gunman randomly fired at the courthouse, the article says.

Beaumont Police Chief Jim Singletary said bystanders took cover as responding officers aimed at the suspect, reports CNN.

"This guy was driving crazy, and he was shooting, and we were shooting, and people were ducking under cars," said Singletary.

As he fled in his pickup truck, the suspect reportedly struck his daughter. Then, apparently injured by law enforcement fire, he holed up in a nearby construction company office after wrecking the vehicle. KHOU says two hostages who worked for the company disarmed him when the opportunity arose and then unlocked the door so a SWAT team could enter.

Jefferson County District Judge John Stevens, who was presiding over the suspect's trial, said testimony in the case had started Tuesday and was to resume at 1 p.m. yesterday.

Instead, the gunman, who reportedly was shot by law enforcement officers at some point during the fray, was treated and released from a Beaumont hospital. Now facing a murder charge as well as the earlier case in which he was being tried, he is being held at the Jefferson County Jail. He had been out on bail in the sexual assault case, but it is now revoked.

Beaumont police said the slain woman, Minnie Ray Seabolt, 79, was pronounced dead in front of the courthouse. Although said in some news accounts to be a relative of the suspect, she may have been a target of random shooting toward the courthouse by the suspect, other articles suggest.

The courthouse has metal detectors, but the suspect was able to arm himself with a rifle from his truck, according to CNN and an audio clip of an interview with a judge that is linked to the article.

The suspect's 20-year-old daughter is in critical condition; her mother and another victim were treated and released.

The courthouse was evacuated yesterday and is scheduled to remain closed today.

An Austin American-Statesman article provides a link to an Associated Press video of a law enforcement press conference about the shooting.

The suspect's defense lawyer for the trial, Rife Kimler, said his client's daughter had already testified against him Tuesday and was to be cross-examined by Kimler yesterday, the newspaper reports.

Although the case was an emotional one, Kimler said he had no inkling that it could erupt in violence.

"I didn't have him on my list of dangerous ones," he said of his client. "I've been doing this 21 years, and the ones I think are dangerous are in a file in my head. He wasn't in that file."

Also see the AP video:

Additional coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "One Killed, at Least Three Others Injured by Shots Fired Outside Texas Courthouse"

Updated at 10:20 a.m. to correct a misidentified reference to the suspect retrieving a gun from his truck.

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