published Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Jury weighs Myles Stout's fate in shooting death

An hour after midnight on March 9, 2011, the 20-year-old was alone in the interrogation room at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, his head against the wall, sobbing "I'm sorry" to his mother, father, God and the young man who died from the bullet he triggered.

"I'm a [expletive] murderer," Myles Stout cried.

Later, as he sunk to the floor, Stout continued to apologize to 18-year-old Myles Compton, who died almost immediately after Stout shot him in the chest that night at a friend's home, with that friend's father's gun, which several people had been handling.

"It was an accident," he says on a recording made by the sheriff's office. "I love you Myles, you know I wouldn't do it. ... It wasn't loaded."

The question Stout weighed aloud that night -- whether he is a murderer or a young man who committed a tragic fatal accident -- is now in the hands of a Hamilton County jury after attorneys made their closing arguments Monday.

Stout has been charged with second-degree murder, reckless homicide and reckless endangerment after shooting and killing 18 Compton at a gathering at a friend's home where several young people were handling guns.

The video was the last piece of evidence submitted by the prosecution, which used it to try to undermine Stout's credibility. In interviews, he first tells the detective that Compton shot himself. After the detective's gentle pressing, Stout tearfully admits that he pulled the trigger, not knowing that the gun was loaded.

"I'm sorry I lied," Stout tells the detective. "I was scared."

"I guess I'd probably wind up panicking, too," the detective says.

In his own closing arguments, Stout's defense attorney Hank Hill picked apart testimony from other witnesses at the gathering that night, saying that none had given a clear testimony about how the gun -- which had been unloaded by Stout and Compton's friend Kevin Driscoll -- was loaded.

Hill pointed out that several witnesses had modified their stories about whether or not they noticed Stout "messing" with the previously empty gun before aiming it at Compton.

"Nobody knows how it happened. Nobody has told you with any conclusive opinion how the clip got in," said Hill.

Driscoll was planning to take the guns back to his father's closet, Hill argued, and could have loaded them while Stout was in another room.

Hill also picked apart detectives' investigation, noting that no one had taken fingerprints of the clip and that the charges were upgraded to murder from reckless homicide only after one witness changed her story.

All the conflicting stories from that night should give the jury less confidence to convict, he said.

"This is a bunch of kids playing with their dad's gun. They shouldn't have been, Mr. Stout shouldn't have picked it up, he shouldn't have been playing around with it," Hill said. "But none of that is proof that Mr. Stout knew the gun was going to go off."

But in final arguments, prosecutors Lance Pope and David Schmidt argued that Hill was creating "smoke and mirrors," and there is no way that Stout could have picked up the gun without knowing it was loaded.

Pope charged the jury to remember feeling the weight of both the loaded and unloaded gun they passed around -- the feeling of safety and danger in each.

"Why does this not feel like an accident? When's the last time you know someone in an accident ... who picked the victim?" Pope asked. "He persisted in pointing guns at people, then pulled the trigger."

Further, Pope argued that Stout's pleading on the sheriff's office recording was an act, since Stout had been told he was being recorded.

Stout had not shown such remorse when he was on the phone with 911, lying about how Compton died, said Pope.

"Don't let his act fool you. Don't let that cocky smile win," said Pope, pointing to previous testimony where witnesses described Stout smiling while holding the gun to another girl's head at the party. "Go back in the jury room and consider the evidence."

As proceedings stretched past 9 p.m. in the otherwise empty courthouse, Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman instructed the jury about how they were to handle the evidence and gave detailed definitions of each criminal charge.

Under the second-degree murder charge, the jury can convict Stout of murder, reckless homicide or criminally negligent homicide.

That will depend on whether they determine Stout pulled the trigger with a "reasonably certain awareness" that his actions would result in death, or whether they decided his actions reflected "substantial disregard" or "unjustifiable risk" for Compton's life.

The jury will convene this morning to begin deliberations.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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