Problems rescheduling witnesses force prosecuting attorney to dismiss second-degree murder case from Hannibal

Kurth, John M.R.

John M.R. Kurth | Photo courtesy of Hannibal Police Department

NEW LONDON, Mo. — A second-degree murder trial for a New London man was scheduled to begin Monday, but the closure of the Ralls County Courthouse complicated travel plans for witnesses and forced Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Luke Bryant to dismiss the case — for now.

John M.R. Kurth, 24, was released from the Marion County Jail on Monday.

“I chose to dismiss the case with the anticipation that I would refile it once scheduling and other issues could be resolved,” Bryant said in a prepared statement. “This was not a decision I made lightly, and I understand the public’s outrage in this matter.”

The Hannibal Police Department reported officers were dispatched at approximately 6:10 p.m. Oct. 6 to the 1500 block of Broadway after receiving a report of a shooting. Upon arrival, officers found a 46-year-old male subject, later identified as Shang L. Williams, had been shot. Minutes later, officers found Kurth a couple of blocks away and took him into custody without incident. 

Williams died at the scene.

A squabble over the sale of a pool table was at the center of the shooting, according to the Hannibal Police Department’s probable cause statement filed in the Tenth Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri.

Kurth told police he paid $800 to Williams for the pool table, then went to pick it up. Kurth told police he learned the pool table did not belong to Williams and claimed Williams did not pay the owner of the pool table.

The probable cause statement said Kurth went to Williams’ home in the 1500 block of Broadway to get his money back. Kurth said Williams told him it wasn’t a good time, to which Kurth said he told Williams he would file a report. Williams’ wife heard Williams tell someone to leave, then saw him fighting with a man in the home’s doorway.

Williams’ wife told police she saw the man pull a gun and shoot Williams, then shot him several more times after he was on the ground.

Bryant said “critical issues” came to light a few days ago. 

The Ralls County Courthouse announced last Thursday that it would be closed Monday so employees could attend the funeral of John Briscoe, who died Jan. 1. He served as prosecuting attorney of Ralls County from 1972-1981 and 1991-2006. 

“I had scheduled airline flights for a crucial out-of-state witness,” Bryant said in his statement. “Two additional witnesses were subpoenaed in other courts during this time (one in St. Louis and one in Kansas City) that required them to testify in my case on Monday afternoon.  I had not anticipated that the Ralls County Courthouse would announce its closure.

“This caused serious problems with the logistics and scheduling of witnesses. Further, other issues arose that were critical to a successful prosecution of the accused that I’m not at liberty to discuss.  Coupled together, these issues greatly weakened the state’s case, and the defense informed me they wanted to proceed to trial.”

The case, which was expected to last four days, was to be heard by Judge Thomas C. Albus out of St. Louis County.

Bryant said all suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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