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Tuesday, March 31, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Jury finds Rochester man guilty of manslaughter for killing panhandler

UPDATED: Tue., March 24, 2020


OLYMPIA – A jury found Bryan M. Owens, 60, guilty of first-degree manslaughter while armed with a firearm Monday for fatally shooting a man who was panhandling outside McDonald’s near Grand Mound in September.

The man Owens shot and killed was 37-year-old Corey Meyer, from Texas. Family and friends say he wasn’t homeless, but would travel to northern states and pick up work where it was cooler during summer.

Thurston County Sheriff’s Office believes Meyer had been in the area for about a week before he died Sept. 3.

Prosecuting and defense attorneys made their final arguments in the Owens trial last week to a slate of jurors seated farther apart than normal in accordance with social-distancing recommendations. This will be the last jury trial in Thurston County Superior Court until at least May 15, under the court’s current emergency order in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Attorneys presented contrasting accounts of what happened the day Owens shot Meyer.

Both sides agreed Owens killed Meyer that day. They also agreed Owens first approached another man – not Meyer – who regularly panhandles near that McDonald’s and asked whether he was a veteran and if he was from the area.

Prosecutors framed that interaction as a confrontation, while defense said Owens was asking those questions to find out whether he could help the man.

In either case, it’s agreed the two men began to argue.

Meyer ultimately came over to defend the man who regularly panhandles there, the prosecution says. The defense says that when Meyer approached, the exchange became volatile.

Both sides agreed the fight between Owens and Meyer escalated from verbal to physical and that a witness intervened to separate the two men.

In the next moments, Owens took out his gun, both sides say. Defense says he told Meyer to stay away from him, that Meyer got mad and lunged at Owens when he saw the gun.

Prosecutors argued that nothing happened in the fight that warranted lethal force.

“You can’t bring a gun to a fist fight,” Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Wayne Graham said in closing arguments. “That’s what the defendant did.”

Meyer was shot once in the chest, once in the head. Witnesses say he was not armed.

Defense Attorney Kevin Griffin argued in closing arguments that Owens acted in self defense, that he reasonably believed Meyer would’ve seriously injured him.

“He put Mr. Meyer in a really unfortunate position where he chose to die,” Griffin said. “It’s awful to say that, we’re talking about a man whose life was lost. But Mr. Owens didn’t cause him to advance on him once he said ‘I have a gun, please stop.’ ”

The state charged Owens with second-degree murder. Jurors left the verdict form for that charge blank and found him guilty of the lesser crime of first-degree manslaughter and found he was armed with a firearm in a special verdict.

According to jury instructions, jurors would’ve had to agree that Owens intended to cause the death of Corey Meyer without premeditation to find Owens guilty of second-degree murder. A first-degree manslaughter conviction means the jury agreed beyond a reasonable doubt that Owens recklessly caused Meyer’s death.

Owens does not have any known criminal convictions. The standard sentencing range for first-degree manslaughter, including 60 months for the special verdict, is 11.5 to 13.5 years, Graham told The Olympian.

Owens will be held in custody until his sentencing, according to court documents, which is currently scheduled for April 6, but that date is subject to change.

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