When Ron Johns went to repair a red Chevrolet pickup in front of his Tonto Basin home on the morning of May 5, 2010, he brought a loaded double-barreled shotgun in case his neighbor showed up.
Johns set the shotgun on the engine block and went to work, hooking jumper cables up between the truck and an SUV.
Sure enough, neighbor Loren Eaton walked down Desert Road, along an easement the men had fought over for years, Eaton carried with him a pistol on his left hip — something he always did.
As Eaton approached, the men began arguing.
Now, a Gila County jury will have to decide what happened next.
No one disputes Johns shot his neighbor, but the prosecution says Johns planned it, shooting Eaton from behind. The defense maintains Johns acted in self-defense and did what anyone would do in that situation.
According to the prosecution’s side of the story, Johns went out that morning to put an end to the property disputes.
When Johns saw Eaton’s pistol, he grabbed his shotgun and fired twice, hitting Eaton once in the back of the head, the other shot striking a horse in a nearby corral.
Eaton collapsed and as he reached for his pistol, Johns clubbed him over the head, hitting him so hard it broke the stock, prosecutor, Kyle Mann, said at the opening of the attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault and cruelty to animals trial of Johns, 70.
But defense attorney Michael Bernays painted a different picture.
Bernays argued before jurors that Johns was only defending his life that morning against a man who had threatened him many times.
“On that morning, he has taken to arming himself because he is scared of Loren and when he goes down to work on his cars he has got his gun on him,” Bernays said.
Just a month earlier, Bernays points out, Eaton pretended to pull out his pistol and point it at Johns and his wife as they drove by.
At that time, Johns had called the police, who took Eaton’s gun away. But no charges were ever filed and a day or two before the shooting, Eaton got his gun back.
Bernays said as Eaton came down the narrow dirt road that morning, he shouted at Johns, “Hey, I got my gun back. Next time you confront me, I am going to blow your head off.”
And Johns replied, “The next time you go for that gun is the last time you do.”
When Eaton went for his pistol, Johns grabbed his shotgun and fired once as he raised it, Bernays said.
“When Loren drops to the ground, Ron doesn’t know if he has shot him. As Loren is facing away, he starts to get up and he gets up on his hands and knees and he (Johns) sees (Eaton’s) right hand go for the gun and he fires again and Loren is down and this time there is blood and this time he is wounded,” Bernays said.
But Eaton tries to get up a third time. Now, Johns is out of bullets so “Ron does the only thing he can and he whacks Loren and says ‘Stay down.’”
Mann argues if Johns were defending his life, Eaton would have been shot in the face, not from behind.
“Ladies and gentlemen the evidence will show that Loren Eaton got shot in the back of head. The bullet entered behind his left ear and exited the left side of his face in his jaw and his cheek,” Mann said. “After all the evidence has been presented and considered, then I am going to ask you to come back and find the defendant guilty.”
Both attorneys agree on one thing — Johns and Eaton didn’t get along.
For years, the men had argued over property lines and rights of way.
They had exchanged tense words before and both took to arming themselves.
“This whole thing, it didn’t start on May 5, but hopefully it ended on May 5,” Bernays said.
While Bernays concedes Johns shot Eaton, he maintains Johns did everything “you would ask a man to do who acted legitimately in self defense.”
After Eaton was shot, he stumbled back to his driveway on the east side of Desert Rose and called for help.
In court Thursday, the prosecution played a recording of that call.
In it, Eaton struggles to answer dispatchers questions, as if his mouth is full of cotton balls.
A minute and 45 seconds after Eaton calls dispatch, Johns calls to report he has shot his neighbor.
“… he reached for it again and I shot him,” Johns tells a second dispatcher.
Just after Johns calls 911, Molly, a woman who boarded her horses on a nearby lot owned by Eaton, arrived to feed her horses, she testified.
She heard Eaton calling for help from his driveway, which is north of Johns’ driveway.
As she walked north up the dirt road, Johns walked out from between his two vehicles and told her she couldn’t go any further.
“I said I need to go down there,” she said.
Johns said it was a crime scene and he had just shot Eaton.
Molly said she then realized she was standing in Eaton’s blood, which was splattered all over the road.
“I thought maybe he (Johns) could shoot me,” she said. “I never thought I would see anything like that.”
So she drove away.
Gila County Sheriff’s Deputy Wayne Dorsett then arrived on scene.
Dorsett testified Thursday that Johns told him he had shot Eaton and “let him have it with both barrels.”
Dorsett told Johns to wait by his fence. He then drove up to check on Eaton, who was slumped over in his driveway bleeding heavily.
Next to Eaton was a pistol with a chambered round and a magazine clip.
Dorsett grabbed the gun and brought it back to his vehicle. Dorsett also found another magazine in a pouch on Eaton’s back as well as a knife.
He checked on Johns’ shotgun and found one shell in the barrel. The other shell was never found.
But later that day, someone discovered a paint horse had been shot.
Vets later euthanized the horse and police determine the shot came from Johns’ gun.
Bernays argued that Johns never meant to kill the horse just like he never planned to kill Eaton — he had acted in self-defense.
The trial is expected to continue through this week.