Man speaks of shooting neighbor
A cold rain was falling, and the light was fading fast that Feb. 7 as Ralph Barker, then 71, walked out with his cane to retrieve a 20-gauge shotgun from his garage so he could take it back to his house to clean it.
He was in the driveway he had shared for eight years with his neighbor and nemesis, Danny Marlin Bowman, when he saw his neighbor's pickup barreling down Kistler Drive toward him.
"I got out of his way," Barker said last week in an interview, his first since that evening in 2013. "He slammed on his brakes and slid on the gravel. He was yelling obscenities. I backed up."
Bowman, 67, wasn't much younger than Barker, but Barker was frail, had a heart condition and diabetes and had suffered a stroke. Bowman was sturdy and rugged.
Barker said he was about 15 feet from the truck. Bowman's window was rolled down, and in the dim light Barker saw Bowman move around inside the pickup, as if looking for something, and put his hands on the door.
"Knowing what he could do, I was in fear for my life," Barker said.
Barker leveled his shotgun at the driver's side window of the pickup and fired one shot. Bowman slumped over, his ball cap still on his head.
Barker shouted toward his house for his wife, Elaine. "Call 911, I think I just killed Danny," he said.
When sheriff's deputies arrived, they found Bowman was still wearing his seat belt. They found no weapon on Bowman or in his truck. An autopsy showed that Bowman had "defensive" injuries on his hands that indicated he had raised them in front of himself before the shot was fired.
Barker was arrested, charged with murder and held in jail with no bond allowed. After a week, a judge set his bond at $150,000 and he was released after two friends posted bond for him. He remains under house arrest while awaiting trial.
That Barker is not waiting in jail strikes Bowman's daughter, Daniell Bowman Setzer of Hickory, as a miscarriage of justice. In a letter to the News-Topic, she described her father as having been "murdered in cold blood on his way home from picking up his dinner."
"It's heartbreaking," Setzer said in an interview. "The fact of the matter is he shot my daddy and killed him. I don't care if he (Barker) is 20, 30, or 70, good health or bad. He shouldn't have done what he did."
Barker and Bowman shared a driveway, but they did not get along and had many disagreements.
Once Barker came home from vacation and found two bullet holes in the siding of his house.
"I know it was Danny," Barker said.
Neighbors say they don't blame Barker for being quick to blame such a thing on Bowman.
"He tried to whip me once," said Paul Herman, 64, who lives nearby. "He couldn't get along with nobody. I've known him most of my life. That was just his nature.”
Jim Kistler, 68, lives in Hickory now but lived on Kistler Lane for more than 20 years and had known Bowman even longer, and he said Bowman didn't try to make many friends.
"I've had trouble with Danny for years, he just hated everybody," Kistler said. "He had no use for no one. He harassed everybody. He got a thrill out of it. That was his entertainment."
Willie Hall, 70, said Bowman shot his dachshund because it was following Bowman's cats around.
"He shot my dog three times with a .22-caliber rifle," Hall said. "Its guts were hanging out. I knocked on his door, and he answered with a gun in his hand. I told him to finish him off, so he took a shotgun and killed it.
"He buried it, and then dug it back up a week later and put it below my house for meanness."
Hall said Bowman several times veered his pickup toward Hall as though to run him over, and that Bowman threatened to kill him four times.
"I saw him standing at my trailer, looking under it," Hall said. "I was there with my son. I took my gun and shot once through the screen and up through the trees. He ran off. I later found a half a can of lighter fluid under the trailer. He was going to burn my trailer down.”
Hall said that when he was told in February 2013 that Bowman had been shot and killed, he was not surprised.
"My first thing was, I hate it for Ralph, but he (Bowman) was asking for it for 20 years," Hall said. "He carried a gun all the time. I have no doubt Ralph thought he was going to be killed. This guy was nothing but a thorn in everybody's side."
Bowman’s not here anymore to present an alternate version of these events. Setzer declined to talk about her father’s reputation, but she said his reputation is beside the point because nobody deserves to be killed, and no one has the right to take that power into his own hands.
"The evidence speaks for itself,” she said. “Everybody's saying what a godly man Barker is, but I don't think it was his place to play God."
Barker, now 72, said he regrets that shooting ever took place, but he believes it was justified.
"I hate that it happened, I never fought with anyone or killed anyone," Barker said. "But when your life is at stake, you have to do something."
Barker is scheduled for a court hearing May 5. A trial date has not been set.