BELTON — A judge sentenced a former Fort Hood soldier to 12 years in prison Friday for the 2009 shooting death of a 23-year-old man in Killeen.
In an agreement lowering his charge from murder to manslaughter in exchange for a guilty plea, Juston Cole Fletcher admitted to shooting Anthony Paxson with a hunting rifle during a confrontation at their apartment complex on May 23, 2011. Paxson died at the scene.
Testimony Friday showed that Fletcher, 25, lived in the apartment above Paxson and his wife. The night of the shooting, the Paxsons had been arguing loudly.
In testimony and argument, Fletcher’s defense attorney attempted to frame the homicide as a post-traumatic stress disorder-related incident in which Fletcher’s military training overrode common sense.
The attorney, Robert “Bucky” Harris, said Fletcher made a “stupid” decision when he chose to confront Paxson with a rifle. Harris told the court when Paxson challenged Fletcher, his military training took over.
“That doesn’t make it right,” Harris said. “It means we are a nation that has promptly trained young men to do one thing, kill and do it efficiently.”
According to testimony and statements Fletcher made to police, Paxson had a history of domestic violence with his wife. Both Paxson and his wife had previous charges of assault family violence.
Fletcher’s wife, Heather Fletcher, testified she heard what sounded like Paxson slapping his wife. Juston Fletcher yelled twice at the couple to be quiet and confronted Paxson at least once before the shooting occurred.
When he came outside a third time, he was armed with a hunting rifle. Paxson, whose autopsy showed he had a blood alcohol content more than triple the legal limit, told Fletcher, “So what are you going to do, shoot me?”
Fletcher then shot Paxson in the chest.
Police described a chaotic scene that followed. Paxson’s wife became hysterical and violent, weeping over her husband’s body as neighbors performed CPR while also throwing rocks at Fletcher’s apartment, breaking windows.
At the police station, Fletcher initially told police he fired the rifle after Paxson charged him and threw a punch.
An autopsy report and evidence at the scene showed flaws in his story. When detectives interrogated Fletcher a second time and confronted him with the conflicting evidence, Fletcher “broke down,” Killeen police Detective Terry Kaiser said.
He then told police the unarmed Paxson did not attack him, though he may have made threatening gestures toward the former specialist.