After 14 hours of interviews a jury of six with two alternates was empaneled Tuesday afternoon for the murder trial of Walt Butler.
Opening statements from the prosecution and defense followed before Circuit Court Judge John Fishel adjourned court for the day.
The prosecution will present its case in chief beginning Wednesday morning.
The trial is expected to last one to two days.
Ten members of the Gant family were present as State Attorney Robert Sombathy focused on Butler’s alleged racist remarks toward fellow members of the Pine Ridge apartment complex in Port St. Joe.
The racist words escalated over the course of the day and ended with Butler allegedly shooting Everett Gant between the eyes with a .22 rifle.
Butler is being charged with second-degree murder evidencing prejudice based on race.
During his statements, Sombathy focused on Butler’s apparent intoxication the night of July 30, 2012 and made it clear to the jury that Butler and the victim had no prior issues.
“They were not enemies at all,” said Sombathy. “They got along fine.”
Sombathy explained that Gant showed up at Butler’s apartment unannounced and the jurors were asked to consider if Butler handled the situation like a “reasonable prudent and cautious person.”
Butler had used racial slurs against a child in the community which spurred Gant to approach the defendant’s home.
“This shooting meant no more to Butler than shooting a dog,” said Sombathy.
Deputy Public Defender Mark Sims offered a different perspective and focused his arguments on a man who felt threatened and simply defended himself in his home.
According to the arresting affidavit by former Sheriff Joe Nugent, after shooting Gant, Butler closed the door, pulled his dinner out of the oven and sat down to eat.
“Gant snatched the door open aggressively,” said Sims. “Walt had to make a split-second decision. He shot him where he knew it would stop him.”
Sims said that after the shooting, Butler knew it would be a long night of questioning and wanted to have some food in his stomach.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday at the Gulf County Courthouse.