Two years after he was arrested on murder charges that arose out of March 5, 2015 shooting at a Rainbow Gathering in the Apalachicola National Forest, a 42-year-old Georgia man is expected to soon stand trial.
At a Feb. 16 hearing before Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, Clark Mayers, of Milledgeville, Georgia, listened quietly in a short-sleeved shirt and blue jeans as his attorney, Richard Smith of Tallahassee told the judge that his invoking the state’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law could be affected by the Florida legislature’s current debate over whether to change the definition of the law.
The legislators are considering whether to alter the law to make it easier to claim self-defense in pretrial hearings, and Smith said that after July 1, if the law passes and the governor signs it into law, his client could argue that he was acting in self-defense, and “(Assistant State Attorney Jared) Patterson would have the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he wasn’t.”
The shooting, which took place at a Rainbow Gathering, a loosely defined collection of people associated with hippie culture, resulted in a second degree murder charge for the death of Jacob “Smiley” Cardwell, from Golden Valley, Arizona, a man in his late 20s, who was shot and killed in the early-morning incident, sometime before 2:30 a.m.
In addition, Mayers is charged with attempted first degree murder, and aggravated battery with a firearm, for having shot 26-year-old Wesley “Dice” Jones three times, once to his neck, rendering him a quadriplegic.
Jones now lives in Kansas City, Missouri; his mother, Heather Nelson Schultz, from Marianna, was on hand for the hearing, as well as Greg “Forkman” Beck, an organizer of the annual Rainbow Gathering. which has continued annually in the Big Bend area over the last two years.
What happened that fateful morning in 2015 has not yet been argued in open court, but based on the report by detectives from the sheriff’s office, witnesses said the conflict originated when Mayers took issue with several of the Rainbows burning a tire near his truck, somethign he had objected to the year before as well.
Eyewitnesses told detectives that after his video camera was thrown into the fire, Mayers went to his truck, retrieved a .380 handgun and returned. They said a handful of Rainbows tried to get Mayers to drop the gun, but as they approached him, he began shooting, killing Cardwell and seriously wounding Jones. When other Rainbows then were able to seize Mayers, they stripped him naked and began beating him severely, reportedly with shovels, machetes and a sledgehammer.
Detective Brett Johnson, who was on the scene with Detective Duane Cook about 3:40 a.m. said the handgun Mayers is believed to have used has not been recovered. Both he and Jones were airlifted from the site, just south of the Liberty County line, to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Mayers was later treated under round-the-clock guard at Weems Memorial Hospiial.
When they arrived, the detectives first conferred with Courtney McCrae, and other special agents with the U.S. Forest Service, which had issued a month-long permit for the Rainbow Gathering to be held in the national forest. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida later declined to accept jurisdiction in the case,
During last month's hearing, Smith told Lewis that 18 of the 34 witnesses bearing on the case are “transient. It would be hard to find them,” which prompted Beck to shout from the audience that there would be no difficulty in bringing forth the needed witnesses. Beck later apologized to the judge and prosecutor for his outburst.
Lewis said the proposed changes to the terms of Stand Your Ground “is going to be an interesting change in the law,” but he did not alter his plans to set a pre-trial hearing in June, and the trial in August.
“I don’t want to schedule my cases based on what they’re going to do (in the legislature),” he told the lawyers. “I’m concerned here. It’s an old case.”
Mayers’ family from Milledgeville, about five hours north, were on hand for the proceedings, but none wished to comment following the hearing.
Schultz said she is in touch with Cardwell’s mother, who is unable to make the trip to Apalachicola.
“I’m here because my son lives too far away,” she said. “A family presence needs to be in that courtroom. The courtroom needs to know the victims have families that care about them.”
Schultz said she felt strongly that any Stand Your Ground argument did not apply to what happened.
“Clark Mayers shot my son three times, from behind, and the other young gentlemen is dead,” she said. “It was not self-defense, he had a chance to walk away and he chose not to.
“He did not get attacked until after he shot my son and Jacob Cardwell,” said Schultz. “They’re trying to twist the time line that he was attacked before he began shooting.”