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Kokomo Police, with assistance from Indiana State Police, work at the scene of a fatal shooting in the 400 block of North Purdum Street shortly after 5 p.m. March 6, 2020.

William Austin Mealer was found guilty by a jury late Thursday of murdering Dustin J. Vincent.

Per Indiana law, Mealer faces between 45 to 65 years in prison. A sentencing date has been scheduled at 3 p.m. Nov. 18 in Howard County Circuit Court.

Mealer was originally arrested and charged in March 2020, the day after Vincent’s body was found in the middle of the street in the 400 block of North Purdum.

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Kokomo Police, with assistance from Indiana State Police, work at the scene of a fatal shooting in the 400 block of North Purdum Street shortly after 5 p.m. March 6, 2020.

Mealer had confronted Vincent about a shotgun Mealer wanted back the day of the murder, and multiple witnesses and surveillance cameras showed Mealer running from the scene after the shooting. During the investigation, a revolver matching the one used in the murder was found in Mealer’s apartment, stashed in a toilet reservoir.

Most notable at Thursday’s trial proceedings was Mealer’s own testimony, in which he said his shooting of Vincent was in self-defense and that Vincent was the one who initially pulled the gun on him.

Mealer testified that he did go over to Vincent’s house March 6, 2020, hoping to get back a shotgun of his that Vincent possessed. Mealer said Vincent previously told him he couldn’t get the gun back because it was in Alabama and had been used to shoot and kill someone accused of sexually assaulting one of Vincent’s family members.

William Mealer

William Mealer

“He said his brother had the shotgun ... they had two other revolvers — a .357 Magnum and a .44 Magnum — and they were on a swamp with a fan boat, they chopped the dude up and and fed him to the alligators after they shot him,” Mealer said.

The day of the homicide, though, Mealer testified that Vincent told him the shotgun wasn’t actually in Alabama, but at a house on Taylor Street in Kokomo. The two walked that way from Vincent’s house on West Jefferson Street, Mealer said, and when they were on North Purdum Street, Vincent said “You’re not going to like this” and pulled out a revolver.

A struggle for the gun ensued, Mealer said, and he was able to grab the gun from Vincent and eventually shot him. He described Vincent as being side-by-side with him, with his right arm on Mealer’s right shoulder, and left hand reaching for the gun that was in Mealer’s right hand.

“I was scared for my life,” Mealer said. “He’s pointing a gun at me, and I’m not expecting it. He didn’t go down. He tried grabbing it again, so I fired and fired again.”

During cross-examination, Mealer said he believed Vincent was going to kill him because of the belief that Mealer may go to the police about the shotgun and the police may learn about the alleged murder in Alabama.

In cross-examination of Mealer and in his closing argument, Howard County Deputy Prosecutor Michael Krebes argued that Vincent’s autopsy report contradicts Mealer’s story of events, and that instead of telling police and friends and family right after the shooting that it was in self-defense, Mealer ran, hid the weapon and had a family member take him to Logansport, where he was later arrested.

The autopsy report, as detailed to the jury Wednesday, stated that Vincent was shot four times in the body and head from the back and that the bullets entered at a slight downward angle.

“If he’s next you, how did you shoot him from behind?” Krebes asked Mealer.

“I couldn’t say,” Mealer responded.

“It’s because you didn’t,” Krebes said. “There was no struggle, was there?”

“There was a struggle,” Mealer said.

“He pissed you off because he wouldn’t give the shotgun back, so you killed him, didn’t you?” Krebes said.

“No, I didn’t,” Mealer said.

In his closing argument, Krebes reiterated his argument that the physical evidence refutes Mealer’s story of what happened that day.

“There was no struggle,” Krebes said in his closing argument. “Mr. Vincent was either kneeling down, sitting down when he was shot. How much of a threat is a man who’s seated on the ground when you hold the gun? There’s no self-defense here. This is cold blooded murder. …

“This is created,” Krebes said about Mealer’s story, “to try and convince you that there’s some kind of reasonable doubt when there isn’t. This is the last straw of a drowning man who has nothing else to argue at this point. ... This is the only (defense) available, and he botched it. He couldn’t even concoct a story that matched the physical elements.”

In his closing arguments, defense attorney Matthew Elkin argued that it was feasible for Vincent to turn his back to Mealer during the struggle, which would account for the why the four bullet wounds all came from behind. He also cited the fact that Vincent’s stocking cap and glasses were on the ground under the body, and that Vincent had a cut on his left hand as evidence that there was some kind of struggle for a gun.

ROLES REVERSED

Just more than four years ago, Mealer was on the other side of the barrel.

Pair sentenced in shooting case

On May 27, 2017, Mealer was walking on East Morgan Street when he was joined by Armando Shields, then 17, and Braden Winters, then 19, and the three walked behind Northeast Self Storage, sat down at a picnic table and smoked marijuana.

Shields drew a handgun and fired, striking Mealer in the forehead. Mealer told police at the time that he heard the two talk about whether or not he was dead, then Winter shot him in the back of the head with the same gun. The two stole cash and a cellphone from him and fled.

Mealer survived, but the incident left him with a bullet permanently lodged in his head that causes periodic headaches. He said at the time that he believed the shooting was because he identified Winters as a participant in an earlier robbery of a gas station.

Krebes successfully prosecuted both Shields and Winter, and both were sentenced to 16 years — 15 in the Department of Correction and one on probation — by Howard County Circuit Court Judge Lynn Murray, who will now sentence Mealer.

During Mealer’s trial, Krebes argued that Mealer learned a valuable lesson four years ago: to make sure the person you’re shooting is dead, a notion that Mealer denied during testimony.

Tyler Juranovich can be reached at 765-454-8577, by email at tyler.juranovich@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @tylerjuranovich.

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