First defendant in Taurean Snoddy’s death sentenced to seven years in prison

Chad Elliott

Chad Elliott

NEW LONDON, Mo. — Chad Elliott, 21, will serve seven years in prison for first-degree assault after a Ralls County jury found him guilty in connection to the death of Taurean Snoddy. However, he was found not guilty of murder in the second degree.

Elliott’s jury trial began Tuesday morning in the Ralls County Courthouse before Judge David Mobley. Closing arguments were made Thursday morning by Elliott’s attorney, Matthew Mueller of Kansas City, and Luke Bryant, prosecuting attorney for Marion County.

Braden Chestnutt, 19, Dakota Laster, 23, Damien McCulley, 25, and Robert O’Connell, 36, also face charges of second-degree murder and first-degree assault. Howard J. Rickey, 44, was charged with assault in the first degree and resisting arrest for a felony.  They still await trial.

On Jan. 25, the group confronted Snoddy, 38, who allegedly assaulted his girlfriend Melissa Rickey, the mother of Chestnutt and the ex-wife of Howard Rickey.

Snoddy was unresponsive when found that evening lying in the street in the 1200 block of Lyon. He was transported by emergency services to Hannibal Regional Hospital, where he died 45 minutes after Hannibal Police officers first arrived at the scene.

Snoddy had a high level of meth in his system at the time of his death. He was said to have been addicted to meth since around 2016.

Two questions recurred throughout the trial. Did Elliott act out of defense for Chestnutt, who he helped pull Snoddy off of, or did he participate in an assault that led to murder? And did Snoddy die from assault or from the high dose of meth that was in his system?

The jury saw two different pictures painted by each attorney.

Bryant laid out a plan between Elliott, Chestnutt, McCulley and Laster, who piled in Chestnutt’s pickup on the night with the same thought — “To fight Taurean Snoddy and teach him a lesson.”

He said a surveillance camera shown caught the boys leaving together in the truck at 9:20 p.m. 

“A pair of brass knuckles ended up in the hands of Chad,” Bryant said.

Brass knuckles have not been found, and Elliott has not admitted to using them. However, two minor eyewitnesses testified Elliott had brass knuckles. After the fight, he allegedly bragged to them about using the brass knuckles.

Bryant recalled the path the truck took” “Edwards, Fulton, Old 79, across the viaduct, up Church, past the police department, and then to the 1200 block of Lyon.”

Bryant described the fight with Chestnutt, during which Snoddy took the first punch. Bryant said Elliott, Laster, McCulley and O’Connell pulled Snoddy off Chestnutt.

“The four pulled Taurean off, and the fight was over,” Bryant said.

Bryant said they were no longer defending Chestnutt as they continued to beat Snoddy after Chestnutt had safely walked away from the fight.

“The stress was more than beating. It was the mercilessness of it,” Bryant said, adding Snoddy had begged the defendants for his life, crying out, “‘I have had enough!’” 

Bryant said a fight with Howard Rickey before they arrived in Chestnutt’s truck also wore Snoddy down. Bryant also showed the jury a picture taken the morning after the fight of tire tracks allegedly left by Rickey, who is accused of driving over the curve of the field where the fight began while proclaiming he was going to run over Snoddy.

Mueller’s account showed Elliott in a different light. Mueller said the case is about the importance of family, “which everyone can relate to,” he said.

“If someone was beating your mom or sister, you’d want to go after them. Situations of domestic abuse affect the family,” Mueller said. “I think the act is noble, and I respect that.”

Mueller said it was not Elliott’s plan to injure Snoddy, and when the group piled into Chestnutt’s truck, there was no plan to jump him. Chestnutt said the fight was only between him and Snoddy over his mom, according to Mueller.

“If the plan was to jump him, they would have done that right away,” Mueller said. “They didn’t until Braden got knocked down.”

Mueller referred to the testimony from the minor eyewitnesses, who said Snoddy was still hitting Braden when Elliott got involved in the fight. Mueller pointed out Chestnutt also had injuries to the face, and he claimed Chestnutt is the victim of assault because Snoddy threw the first punch.

Mueller told the jury he proved his case through the testimony of medical examiner Dr. Keith Norton of Columbia, who said Snoddy’s injuries were superficial — which means his wounds didn’t break the deeper layers of the skin.

The autopsy reported an extremely high level of meth in Snoddy’s system.

Bryant referred to Norton’s testimony that Snoddy could have built a tolerance to the drug in the last seven years to withstand the level of meth that was in his system at the time of his death. Bryant also reminded the jury that Snoddy already had reached his peak point with the drug that night, and he was still alive.

“Yet he was dead within minutes after he was beat,” Bryant said.

Mueller said Norton’s evaluation of the superficial wounds indicate no brass knuckles were used during the fight. Bryant argued that the medical examiner admitted he never saw injuries from brass knuckles and could not verify the injuries sustained by Snoddy were not from brass knuckles. Bryant showed a photo to the jury in which indents of brass knuckles were on Snoddy’s face.

Bryant said Elliott told the minor eyewitnesses he dropped the brass knuckles in an alley. When Elliott left later to smoke marijuana, Bryant said he was likely disposing of the brass knuckles.

Bryant reminded the jury that although Elliott got involved to help Chestnutt, the fight continued after Chestnutt walked away. He also said though Norton reported Snoddy’s surface wounds were not serious, Norton did report Snoddy’s internal injuries as serious.

Bryant said the autopsy showed Snoddy had a deep laceration on his liver, bruises to both of his lungs and a swollen brain likely due to the lack of oxygen from his lung injuries. Bryant recalled testimony that said Snoddy put both hands on his knees and struggled to breathe. He walked a few yards and then fell to his face, unresponsive.

“It killed him,” Bryant told the jury.

Mueller said the death certificate first stated Snoddy died due to a meth overdose. The cause of death was later amended to homicide by Marion County Coroner Rick Jones. Mueller contended Jones should not have amended the death certificate without first contacting Norton. Mueller claimed the injuries Snoddy sustained were not enough to warrant a homicide listing on the death certificate.

Bryant said amending the death certificate is not an unusual practice.

Jones told the court during the preliminary hearing that it is normal procedure to file the death certificate within 72 hours of the death. He explained sometimes coroners will amend a death certificate. He said he has done it about five or six times himself.

As the state called Snoddy a victim, Mueller told jurors they should remember Snoddy’s history of violence. One of the minor witnesses was not emotionally able to discuss what was seen. The other witness recalled instances of beating and choking.

Mueller said others testified to Elliott’s character, and he reminded jurors that Elliott has no prior convictions other than traffic violations. 

Tori Epperson, Elliott’s cousin who grew up with him in foster homes, testified that Elliott is a peacemaker. Samantha Yakes spoke highly of Elliott’s character in her testimony.

He also recalled a telephone call between Elliott and his girlfriend, played earlier in the trial, during which Elliott asked about the well-being of his girlfriend while he was in jail. Mueller said his girlfriend told Elliott about the murder charges, “This isn’t you.”

Mueller said the character differences between Elliot and Snoddy make a difference in this case.

Bryant argued it’s not a good-guy-versus-bad-guy case. “That’s not a defense here,” he said.

Bryant reminded the jury of two eyewitness accounts by minor children who recalled Elliott bragging he broke Snoddy’s ribs and used brass knuckles to beat him. Bryant said the two minor witnesses recalled Elliott and the other defendants made a pact to lie so they wouldn’t be arrested for Snoddy’s death. They said Elliott told them to lie to the police before he ran away.

Bryant said Elliott lied to the police twice. He first told police he was unaware of the altercation until he saw something about it on social media and was told by his friends. After admitting to being there, Elliott then told the police he and O’Connell weren’t involved in the fight.

Elliott was to receive between 5 and 15 years in prison.

After the jury verdict was read, members of Snoddy’s and Elliott’s families made victim impact statements before the sentencing. 

Snoddy’s mother, Patricia Blackwell, smiled softly at a picture the youngest of her five children.

“That was the day he got his GED. He was a very smart man,” she remembered.

They would have celebrated his 39th birthday a few days before the photo was taken. She said Snoddy was humble and private. He loved children, loved to fish and loved working on cars and motorcycles. 

Looking at the family seated in the audience, Blackwell said Snoddy especially close to his “big sis,” Tanetta. She also said Snoddy left behind two children.

Blackwell talked about how Snoddy lost a child as a baby, then lost his father only 30 days later.

“He never got over that. He lost hope. The support we gave him wasn’t enough,” she said.

Blackwell said Snoddy felt like he failed everyone.

“He had issues he couldn’t deal with on his own. He tried his best to do the right thing. We loved him, and it didn’t matter. He was our baby,” she said. “I still smell him when I am making coffee.”

Blackwell asked the jury to give Elliot the maximum sentence of 15 years.

“I have to forgive, because that’s what you do. I pray justice is done,” she said. “I will never be the same or stable again ever. The hardest part is watching my children hurt.”

Epperson remembered riding horses with Elliott when they were young. She said Elliott loves his niece and nephew and catching frogs with them.

She told the jury about Elliott’s mother, who he took care of before he was arrested. Epperson said his mother must use a walker. She broke down when she told the jury his mother and his grandmother might not be alive when Elliott gets out if he received a 15-year sentence.

Epperson said Elliott called her before he left that night and now he wishes he would not have gone. She pleaded for the jury to consider his age and asked for the minimum sentence of five years for Elliott.

“I cannot express how sorry I am that Taurean died,” she cried. “I know he’s not perfect, and we all make mistakes.”

The jury returned within an hour to announce Elliott would serve seven years in prison.

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