‘What was Justin Sims to do?’: Ralls County jury finds Hannibal man defended himself, returns not guilty verdict

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Justin Sims | Photo courtesy of Hannibal Police Department

NEW LONDON, Mo. — A Hannibal man facing charges of second-degree murder and armed criminal action after shooting and killing another Hannibal man on Dec. 30 convinced a Ralls County jury he acted in self-defense, leading to a not guilty verdict on Wednesday afternoon.

A nine-man, three-woman jury took less than two hours to come back with its decision to make Justin Sims, 33, a free man after a two-day trial. The jury also found Sims not guilty of unlawful use of a weapon.

Sims was arrested after Anthony Migel Miller, 24, was found dead in the alley west of Rookies Sports Bar, 611 Broadway, by Hannibal Police Department officers with a gunshot wound in the chest.

Asked what it was like to look into Sims’ eyes after hearing the verdict, St. Louis defense attorney Matt Radefeld said, “Relief. I think it was the correct verdict in this particular situation.

“Mr. Sims had been jumped at a bar before, so you know, that’s kind of on the forefront of his mind. I just wish people wouldn’t have guns at all. Period. But the problem is, who knows what would have happened? It very well could have been Mr. Miller being tried for murder had he got a hold of Justin and inflicted the punishment we think he was trying to inflict on him when he went into that bar.”

Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Luke Bryant said he thought the case came down to the credibility of the witnesses. Radefeld told the jury in his closing statement that they had heard “15 different stories” of the same event. 

“Everybody saw something different,” Bryant said. “Everybody told a different story. Some of (the witnesses’) testimony during the trial didn’t line up with the statements they gave to the police. Some of their testimony didn’t line up with a deposition they gave, and it was all just easily picked apart by the defense.”

The stories told by each attorney during their closing statements Wednesday morning were quite different.

Bryant called Sims a “smart-ass.”

“His mouth was writing checks his butt couldn’t cash,” he said. “Sims thought he was the bigger, tougher person. He chose to egg it on, fueled by alcoholic beverages and a smart mouth.”

The probable cause statement reported Sims flagged down officers and told them he shot Miller. Sims told the Hannibal Police Department that Miller aggressively came at him and followed him into Rookies Bar, “pushing past several people to get to him.” Sims said in his statement that he fell on the ground, and Miller continued to “come at him aggressively” threatening to “stomp his face in.”

Lying on the floor of the bar, Sims pulled a gun out of his pants pocket and fired one shot at Miller, hitting him in the chest. Miller then ran out the back door of the bar but died in the alley.

Sims said Miller had allegedly “come at him aggressively” four days prior to the incident when they argued over a loud exhaust.

Bryant said Miller had told Sims on Dec. 30 that “we will square up tomorrow” and Miller left the bar. When Sims walked outside, Miller was half-way down the block.

“That should have been when it was over, but Sims was still angry, and he wanted the last word,” Bryant said. “(Sims) provoked the confrontation.”

Bryant said Miller was “three to five feet away” from Sims — not near enough to land a punch.

Radefeld painted a different picture. He said Miller was standing over Sims, bent at the knees and bent at the waist, turned to the side with his fist cocked and ready to throw a punch, when Sims pulled the trigger.

“What was Justin Sims to do?” Radefeld asked. “Justin was walking backwards to retreat, and he was on his back. He wasn’t going to lie there to get his head stomped in.”

He said after Miller left the bar, five minutes went by before Sims went back outside. Radefeld said that when Miller saw Sims, he angrily raced back to the bar and took off his jacket, throwing it on the ground. As Miller charged at Sims at the bar, Sims fell to the ground — but Radefeld said conflicting witness statements made it difficult to determine how he fell.

Radefeld said prosecution witness Johnathan Shiflett testified Sims called Miller “the N word,” but Radefeld said Shiflett never made the same statement to police.

“Not another person corroborated that statement,” Radefeld said.

Radefeld also said Dr. Deirdre Amaro, a medical examiner from Columbia, determined the bullet from Sims’ gun entered Miller just above his left nipple and eventually lodged in his right scapula. The bullet traveled down in Miller’s body, even though Sims was on the floor. Radefeld showed the jury how Miller stood over Sims, ready to throw a punch.

“The trajectory was at a downward angle,” Radefeld said. “What was Justin to do? Let Miller beat him, or kill him?”

He said Sims was helpless and “did what he had to do.”

“This entire ordeal would not have happened had Miller not charged back into that bar,” Radefeld concluded.

Miller’s actions were the key to convincing the jury his client was not guilty, Radefeld said afterward.

“In any self-defense case, you always have to kind of look at who the initial aggressor is,” he said. “That plays a major part. The fact that Mr. Sims had gone back into the bar, and then Mr. Miller followed him into the bar, that was probably the deciding factor.”

Bryant said he did the best he could with the evidence that he had. 

“It just wasn’t enough to overcome the self-defense issue,” he said.

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