Details of shooting revealed at Monday hearing; alleged shooter still in jail
Keith Mason is led into court Monday for a preliminary hearing in the shooting death of his former stepfather Robert Vanover.
An Oak Ridge man will continue to be held in the Whitley County Detention Center until a grand jury decides whether to indict him for shooting and killing his former stepfather on Jan. 20.
Following a preliminary hearing that lasted over an hour Tuesday afternoon, Whitley District Judge Cathy Prewitt ruled there was sufficient evidence to bind the second-degree manslaughter case against Keith Mason, 40, over to a Whitley County Grand Jury for consideration, and she declined to lower Mason's bond.
"I don't believe he is a flight risk. I believe he is a danger to the community," Prewitt said. "I have judicial discretion, and I will leave the bond at $1 million cash."
The only prosecution witness called during the hearing was Chief Whitley County Sheriff's Deputy K.Y. Fuson, who is the lead investigator in the case.
Fuson said that most of the witnesses and the evidence painted a similar picture of events, but that there were some discrepancies.
The shooting happened before noon on Jan. 20 on Ayers Road in far western Whitley County.
The victim, Robert "Bobby" Vanover, 60, had gone to the area to see his son, Kevin Vanover, whom he had recently reconnected. Bobby Vanover and his ex-wife divorced about 24 years ago, and Bobby hadn't seen his son for years until just a few days before the shooting.
Kevin was living on his mother's property, and neither she nor Mason wanted Bobby Vanover there.
The accounts of what happened vary slightly according to statements from Keith Mason and Leah Mason, who were both at the scene of the shooting, and Kevin Vanover, who was further away, Fuson testified.
Keith Mason was helping his daughter move that day when they drove down the road, and saw a black Ford parked near one gate.
They went to where Kevin was living, and he told them the truck belonged to a friend of his, and there was nothing to worry about.
Keith Mason told police that he and his daughter were going to check on a spring, and then they saw someone standing outside his vehicle, Fuson testified.
At that point, Mason asked the man, who he was, and the man replied Bobby Vanover.
Mason told Vanover that he wasn't supposed to be on the property, and that his mother had EPO's and other various paperwork against him.
Bobby Vanover then reportedly told Keith Mason that even though Mason was half his age, he would whip him all over the road, and then he struck Mason with a gazing blow to his left lip.
After being struck, Keith Mason fired multiple shots striking Vanover in the chin, the upper chest area near the neck, and in the side.
Before leaving the scene to call 911, Mason moved the body so that another vehicle wouldn't come along and hit it, Fuson testified.
There was no cell phone service at the scene of the shooting, nor for several miles around it.
The area is so close to the Tennessee state line, that Mason's 911 call reporting the incident went to the Campbell County 911 Center rather than Whitley County.
The Campbell County Sheriff, four of his deputies and Campbell County EMS were the first emergency responders to arrive at the scene about 11:57 a.m.
Vanover was already dead with fixed pupils and no heart rate or breathing.
Leah Mason gave authorities a slightly different story.
After Kevin told her and her father that the truck belonged to a friend, they didn't believe him. She told Fuson they thought it might be Robert Vanover and wanted too make sure that it wasn't him.
"They didn't believe what Kevin said. They were suspicious," Fuson testified.
Leah Mason told investigators that she saw an altercation between her father, and saw Vanover throw a punch, but couldn't tell if the punch connected.
Fuson testified she thought she saw something black in Vanover's hand, but wasn't sure.
Police recovered a black mag light that was about 16 inches long from the scene of the shooting, which Kevin Vanover told police belonged to his father, and which his father usually kept in the back of his truck.
Fuson testified that there would have been no need for a light in the road at that time of day, and defense attorneys stopped just short of implying that Vanover may have had it out for use as a weapon.
Fuson testified that Mason never reported seeing the flashlight, and even if Vanover had it with him, Mason didn't perceive it as a weapon.
Police found no evidence that anyone was armed with a gun besides Keith Mason, Fuson said.
Kevin Vanover told police that when Mason came over asking about the truck, he was afraid there was going to be trouble, and told his father to go down the road towards Williamsburg until Mason was gone.
Instead, the vehicle apparently traveled about 80 to 100 yards in the opposite direction towards Tennessee, Fuson testified.
Kevin Vanover told police that he later heard five shots, and after finishing working on a bobcat that he had trapped, he got concerned about the shots, and went to investigate.
"Kevin made the statement that he thought his dad was just goofing around shooting. He didn't want to believe that possibly his dad was killed," Fuson testified.
When Kevin saw the body, he kneeled down near it to pray, and then went off towards his residence to be alone, Fuson testified.
Fuson said that Mason's .380-caliber semi automatic handgun would hold six rounds in the magazine, and another round in the chamber, if it was fully loaded. When police confiscated the gun, it had one round remaining in the magazine, and another round inside the chamber.
One of the wounds Vanover suffered, the shot to his chin had stippling around it, indicating it was likely fired from a relatively close range of only a few feet away, Fuson testified.
When asked about Vanover's reputation in the community, Fuson said he is aware that Vanover spent time in prison for manufacturing methamphetamine, and that he had previously been charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun.
Fuson said there were no EPO's entered against Vanover in Kentucky, but that he hadn't done a search in Tennessee yet.
Mason had no prior criminal history before this incident, Fuson testified.
Fuson said that when Mason was younger, Vanover abused him more verbally than physically, and Vanover abused Mason's mother physically.
After the shooting, Mason talked to authorities without a lawyer present, and drove to the Whitley County Sheriff's Department where he was charged later that afternoon.
Defense attorneys called only one witness, Betty Webb, who is Keith Mason's mother and Bobby Vanover's ex-wife.
Webb testified that she and Bobby had divorced about 24 years ago, and that she hadn't seen him for about 20 years until he showed up at her home on Christmas Day.
She said he was mumbling and looked mad. He told her he was going to take care of business and wished her a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Webb testified that she felt scared and threatened by the incident.
Webb testified that she had taken out at least five restraining orders against Vanover, and that he had been very abusive towards her and her children.
She said Vanover would hit Mason in the head when he was young, and that Vanover never went without a weapon.
Webb said her son suffers from various physical problems, including a debilitating muscle disorder, a rod in his leg, back problems and problems with his hands.
"He's really in bad health," she testified.
When Mason entered the courtroom for Tuesday's hearing, he used a cane and apparently walked with the assistance of deputy jailers.
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