BY MIKE FUHRMAN
A crowd of about 50 people watched a surveillance video in Iredell County Superior Court on Thursday that showed the fatal shooting of a Statesville man three weeks ago as well as footage of the events leading up to and immediately after the shooting.
During a bond hearing for Hunter Lee Cottle, defense attorney Ken Darty said the video as well as other evidence he has gathered demonstrated that his client shot and killed Timothy Chase Gatton in self-defense on March 30. Friends and family members of Cottle and Gatton were present for the hearing.
Assistant District Attorney Mikko Red Arrow said the same video could be used to prove that Cottle, 24, was guilty of murder. A grand jury determined there was sufficient evidence for Cottle to stand trial for the shooting when it returned indictments charging him with first-degree murder and shooting into an occupied motor vehicle on April 6.
Gatton, 38, died after sustaining a single gunshot wound to the back of the head at Myrtle Place Apartments following an altercation with Cottle on March 30.
The video shows Gatton follow Cottle’s vehicle into the parking lot at the apartment complex. After Cottle pulled his vehicle into a parking lot, Gatton blocked the vehicle in with his SUV and then approached Cottle’s vehicle on foot.
Gatton, according to Darty, then beats on the window and kicks the car, while threatening to kill his client.
“My client tells me he was absolutely terrified at this point,” Darty told Judge Joseph Crosswhite.
In the video, Cottle pulls his vehicle onto the sidewalk and drives down the sidewalk before his path was blocked by the layout of the parking lot and the building configuration. Gatton follows in the parking lot in his SUV.
Next, Cottle and his girlfriend, identified by Darty as Taylor McKinney, are seen exiting the vehicle and running to Cottle’s apartment. Gatton leaves his SUV in the middle of the road running through the parking area and gives chase on foot.
Cottle is then seen exiting his apartment with what Darty said was a Glock handgun. Meanwhile, Gatton has returned to his SUV and backs up toward Cottle’s location.
Believing that he sees Gatton was reaching for something in his SUV, according to Darty, Cottle then fires the first of what the prosecutor said were four rounds from his handgun. Some of the shots appear to be fired while the SUV is moving forward.
Moments later, Gatton’s SUV crashed into a fence. He was pronounced dead at the scene by first responders. No weapons were found in the SUV, according to the prosecutor.
Cottle, according to Darty, walked across the complex to where the SUV had crashed to check on Gatton and Gatton’s girlfriend, who was in the vehicle. He is seen approaching the SUV in the video.
“Hunter went to the vehicle and asked was he okay?” Darty told the judge. “This is not a person I would contend had any malice with extent to what happened.”
In asking the judge to set a bond at $200,000, Darty pointed to Cottle’s deep roots in the community. He is a life-long county resident, has been dating his girlfriend for three years and worked for the same company for five years. His criminal record includes only a misdemeanor drug paraphernalia charge and a speeding ticket, he said.
The shooting, Darty said, was the culmination of a long abusive relationship between Gatton and Cottle’s mother.
Gatton had physically assaulted and threatened Cottle’s mother on numerous occasions. He had also threatened to kill her and Cottle, the defense attorney said.
Darty submitted photos depicting the abuse Cottle’s mother endured, and he also read numerous text messages, purportedly sent from Gatton to Cottle’s mother, saying that he was “coming for her.”
Earlier on the day of the shooting Gatton tried to get Cottle’s mother to leave the business where they both worked. The defense team showed a video of the altercation, in which Gatton tries to get her to leave and then they are separated by co-workers before Gatton was escorted off the property.
All of the evidence, Darty said, illustrated that his client had a reasonable fear of Gatton and a legal right under state law to protect himself and others from bodily harm.
“He had every right to stand his ground,” the defense attorney argued. “He had every right to defend his property and defend Taylor.”
The State’s Case
Red Arrow offered a different interpretation of the evidence.
While the prosecutor made a point of denouncing domestic violence, Cottle should have called the police to intervene once he had retreated to the safety of his apartment after running away from Gatton.
“The problem here is that Mr. Cottle took it upon himself to be law enforcement, judge, jury and executioner,” Red Arrow argued.
The fact that Gatton was driving away from Cottle at the time of the shooting was at odds with the defense team’s “stand your ground” defense, he said.
“It is absurd to claim he has a fear of serious bodily injury,” Red Arrow told the judge.
The state will prosecute Cottle under the felony murder law. Under that statute, if Cottle is deemed responsible for killing Gatton while in the act of shooting into an occupied vehicle, which is a felony, he could logically be found guilty of first-degree murder, Red Arrow said.
The prosecutor also offered a different version of what happened after Cottle approached the crashed SUV and found Gatton fatally wounded and his girlfriend.
According to the state’s evidence, the girlfriend told Cottle, “Don’t shoot me. I’m pregnant,” Red Arrow told the judge.
“Mr. Cottle then punched him in the chest, said, ‘I’m glad he’s dead,’ and walked away,” the prosecutor added.
Following his arrest, Cottle was ordered held without bond.
Acknowledging that the defendant is entitled to bond under N.C. law, Red Arrow asked the judge to set Cottle’s bond at $500,000, require electronic monitoring if he is released, as well as prohibiting him from having contact with Gatton’s family and remaining in Iredell County.
Crosswhite set Cottle’s bond at $400,000 and added all of the pretrial release restrictions requested by the prosecutor. Any violation of those conditions will result in the revocation of the defendant’s bond, the judge said.