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Hartselle Enquirer

Double-homicide defendant ‘heard voices in his head’ 

By Eric Fleischauer  

For the Enquirer  

A capital murder defendant “heard voices in his head” and shot at least 20 bullets with two guns as he killed two men and injured a woman last month in Falkville, according to testimony this past Friday at his preliminary hearing. 

Joshua Knighten, 35, is charged with capital murder in the Feb. 5 shooting deaths of Mitchell Ray Beard, 62, and his 36-year-old stepson Marcus Ken Reed. He is also charged with attempted murder in the shooting of Sarah Conley. 

Morgan County District Judge Kevin Kusta ruled after Friday’s preliminary hearing that there was probable cause that Knighten committed the crimes and he bound the case over to a grand jury. 

The sole witness at the hearing was Morgan County sheriff’s Investigator Caleb Brooks, the lead investigator on the case. Much of his testimony, he said, was based on statements made by Knighten in an interview at which Knighten’s appointed lawyers were not present.  

According to Brooks, six people were meeting in the home of Eva Harris at 59 S.E. Goodwin Rd. shortly before the shootings. Those present at the meeting included Knighten, Reed, Beard, Conley and Harris. Knighten resided with his uncle in a trailer on the same property. Reed resided with his fiancée and her young daughter in a small house that was also on the property. 

During the meeting, Brooks testified, a dispute arose over the cost of satellite TV service at the property, with Knighten claiming the others were stealing from his uncle. “He thought the other people there who lived on the property were doing his uncle wrong,” Brooks testified. “He ended up getting pretty upset.” 

After the shootings, according to a Sheriff’s Office affidavit, Knighten called 911 and told the dispatcher, “I told them after I left out that door and nobody told me who had been stealing from my uncle, that they was ready to die.” 

According to Brooks, who said he was relying on the interview with Knighten and statements by other witnesses, Knighten first retrieved a Springfield XDM Elite 9mm pistol and shot Reed one time in the head while they were inside the house. He then began shooting at Beard, who ran out of the house and got into his car. Beard’s vehicle began rolling toward Knighten, Brooks testified, and Knighten shot through the windshield and hit Beard, who was in the vehicle and deceased when deputies arrived. 

After shooting Beard, Brooks said, Knighten retrieved a second handgun — a 9mm Glock-19 — and began shooting again. Brooks testified that two live rounds were found by investigators on the ground outside the house, and suggested the Springfield may have malfunctioned before Knighten retrieved the Glock. 

Knighten then shot at Sarah Conley, striking her multiple times, Brooks said. 

A total of 20 spent shell casings were collected by investigators, Brooks said, all but three of them outside the house. When deputies found the Glock on the driveway it had had one bullet in the chamber and five in the magazine, Brooks said. 

Conley managed to get in her car and leave the scene after being shot. 

“She ran out of the house after she was shot and I guess out of pure adrenaline she was able to get to her car,” Brooks testified. 

Conley then drove to JJ’s Grocery, about 4 miles from the scene of the shooting, where she called for help, Brooks said. 

“She talked to one of the (two) clerks inside. They were in shock when she comes in with obvious bullet holes in her,” Brooks testified. 

Conley then drove another 5 miles to the Falkville Police Department. A Falkville officer alerted the Sheriff’s Office that she was there after sheriff’s deputies arrived at the shooting scene. She was transported by medical helicopter from the police station to Huntsville Hospital. 

The first 911 call regarding the shooting was made by a female at 5:52 p.m. Knighten then called 911 at 5:55 p.m. and told the dispatcher that “he had shot multiple people” and that “they were going to lock him up for life,” Brooks testified. 

Interview without counsel 

Brooks said he read Knighten his Miranda rights in advance of the first interview on the night of the shooting, but Knighten refused to speak without counsel present. 

Eight days after the shooting, after Brent Burney and Brian White had been appointed as his lawyers, Knighten approached a corrections officer at the Morgan County Jail and said he wanted to speak with Brooks without the lawyers present, Brooks testified. Brooks said he advised officers at the jail to make sure Knighten’s request was captured on their bodycams. Brooks said he then spoke with Assistant District Attorney Garrick Vickery, who approved the interview. 

On cross-examination, White asked if Brooks attempted to contact either of Knighten’s lawyers about the planned interview. “Nope,” Brooks responded. 

Knighten was again read his Miranda rights at the second interview, Brooks testified, and Brooks said he “made sure (Knighten) wanted to talk without a lawyer.” 

Vickery said after the hearing he was not concerned about Knighten’s lawyers not being present during the second interview. 

“Those issues will come out. That’s the purpose of a preliminary hearing, to get that information out there. But we don’t anticipate any real issues on that,” he said. 

White said more will be learned about how the second interview came about after he and Burney file a motion to suppress statements Knighten made during the interview. 

“We are certainly not pleased that a person known to be represented by attorneys was interviewed with no notice to the lawyers and no opportunity for us to consult with our client,” White said after the hearing. 

Brooks said Knighten did not seem to be impaired by alcohol or drugs at either the first interview, when Knighten requested to be represented by counsel, or the second interview. 

“I couldn’t tell any slurred speech or odors from his body or clothes or anything,” Brooks said on cross-examination. 

Also on cross-examination, White asked Brooks, “Did you make any observations about whether he had any apparent mental health issues?” 

“I’m not a doctor,” Brooks responded. “The way he presented himself to me, there was nothing wrong with his mental state or anything like that.” 

Asked if Knighten self-reported any mental condition, Brooks said, “He had told me during the interview that he had not been able to afford some type of prescribed medication,” and “that he heard voices in his head.” 

When deputies first arrived at the shooting scene they found Knighten lying on the ground outside the house and his gun on the driveway, which Brooks said was in compliance with the dispatcher’s instructions. They then saw Beard in his vehicle, deceased, with bullet holes through the windshield. 

Reed was in the house when deputies arrived. Brooks said he was unresponsive with ragged breathing, and he was transported by helicopter to UAB Hospital, where he died two days later. 

According to Cullman County court records, Beard posted bond for Harris in 2017 when she was charged with negotiating a worthless check. At the time he posted bond Harris lived in Cullman, according to court records, but about two weeks later her address was changed and listed as being the same as Beard’s, on Morgan County 1375 in Falkville. 

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