State Attorney Willie Meggs last week brought legal closure to the April 3 killing of Charles “Bubba’ Fasbenner, agreeing with Franklin County Sheriff Mike Mock that the homeowner had the right to use deadly force when the intoxicated 20-year-old walked into an Apalachicola front yard and advanced on the homeowner after being warned to leave.
In an Aug. 25 letter to Mock, Meggs said he believed “this homicide to be justified” after reviewing the sheriff’s investigative files, which included witness interviews and autopsy findings.
“Florida Statute 782.13 provides that a homeowner can defend his home, self, and others under this factual scenario,” Meggs wrote. “I commend your department for a detailed and thorough investigation.” In a follow-up letter to Mock Aug. 29, Meggs said the statute number he cited was incorrect, and that it should be 776.013, a law devoted to justifiable use of deadly force in the home.
In a three-paragraph summation based on his review of an extensive case file prepared by Detective Brett Johnson, Meggs recounted that Fasbenner entered the front gate of a fenced yard at 277 Timothy Simmons Road, where he was confronted by 24-year-old Ronald Joseph “R.J.” Page, who lives there with his mother, Joanna Page.
Toxicology reports showed Fasbenner’s blood alcohol level was 0.31, about four times the legal limit for driving. The drug screen also found a presence of hydrocodone, acetaminophen and methadone.
“Apparently, due to Mr. Fasbenner’s high level of intoxication, (he) did not respond and moved towards the homeowner,” wrote Meggs. “The homeowner had fired a warning shot into the ground near Mr. Fasbenner and rather than leaving the yard, Mr. Fasbenner started climbing the steps as evidenced by his blood on the second step.”
The blood on the porch steps was significant, given that the law defines a dwelling as “including any attached porch.” The law says “a person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.”
But those findings do not sit well with Fasbenner’s family, which is led by Buddy Wayne and Carolyn Butler, who live in a Pine Drive home where their grandson, who they raised from infancy, was likely returning the night he was killed.
“This is a cold-blooded murder,” said Buddy Wayne Butler, never raising his voice. “That’s as cold-blooded as you can get. I don’t care what the conclusion was.
“He wanted to kill that boy. He got his opportunity and he took it,” he said. “He knew what he was doing. He didn’t want to lose that chance, that’s what I figure.”
Page’s mother, reached by the Apalachicola Times, said neither she nor her son wanted to comment for this story.
Loads 10 rounds, fires a warning shot
Details of R.J. Page’s actions the night of the shooting emerge in Johnson’s report, which began when the detective arrived on the scene at 10:20 p.m., about 36 minutes after Joanna Page called 911 to report the shooting, and about three minutes after Fasbenner was pronounced dead by emergency medical personnel.
On the 911 call, Page and her son are heard rendering aid to the dying Fasbenner. Also, according to Johnson’s report, Page is overheard on the call telling his mother, when asked why he didn’t shoot him in the leg, that, “If I would have shot any lower, I would have hit him in the (testicles).”
Johnson conducted each of his video recorded statements inside the Page’s double-wide trailer, first with Joanna and then later with R.J. Page, who had been held in the back seat of Apalachicola Sgt. Wesley Creamer’s patrol car.
“They should have taken that man to jail and interviewed him,” said Buddy Wayne Butler. “A criminal feels more at home in his own home. I think there would be a lot of difference in his reaction.”
Page said he was watching a movie in the computer room, with the window open, when he heard the front gate open. Johanna Page said she was on her laptop in the living room and saw her son walk out the front door with a .22-caliber rifle.
“She heard R.J. say ‘who are you, what do you want, I will shoot you,’” read Johnson’s report. “Joanna said she heard a gunshot and then her son telling someone to back off. R.J. then fired a second shot and told his mother to call 911 while he went outside to check on the guy.”
Johnson said prior to his taking a statement from R.J. Page, the man waived his Miranda rights. He told the detective the man he saw walking through the gate had a hat on, “and he could barely see his face” and did not recognize him.
Page said the man shut the gate behind him, and walked towards the back of the trailer, where he could not be seen when Page first stepped out on to the porch and looked around.
Trained as a correctional officer, he worked at Franklin Correctional Institution between November 2008 and September 2009, Page said he then went into his bedroom, loaded his rifle with 10 bullets and walked back out on the porch. No 911 call was made prior to the shooting.
Page said he noticed the man walking from around the trailer, raised his rifle and asked who he was and if he needed help. “The man only replied ‘yeah,’” Johnson wrote in his report. “The man kept walking towards the north fence and then turned towards R.J.”
Page said he fired a warning shot into the ground in front of the man, and “then ejected a live round because sometimes the bullets got jammed in the gun.” Page said he stepped backwards as the man walked closer towards him on the porch, and then fired a second shot after the man stepped up from the bottom step.
“The layout of (Page’s) fenced-in front yard showed that a person would have to walk towards the front porch in order to exit,” Johnson wrote. “They would not have to step on the porch, only walk past it, because the gate is right next to the bottom step.”
The autopsy by Medical Examiner Dr. Lisa Flannagan found the bullet in Fasbenner’s chest “had hit his heart at a downward angle.”
Police ultimately found two spent shell casings.
The detective said witnesses in the neighborhood who told police they heard the shots gave differing counts as to the interval between them, ranging from one to 15 seconds.
Cellphone found near Fasbenner’s elbow
The shooting took place less than 17 minutes after Joanna Page had logged off from her workplace computer at Weems Memorial Hospital. She told detectives that while she was not working that night, she and her son had driven to Weems to retrieve an email regarding minutes on her cell phone. The Pages share a cell phone, which is the only telephone in the home, according to Johnson’s report. The detective said Johanna Page logged on to her work computer between 9:25 and 9:27 p.m.
Fasbenner’s sister, Heather Maxwell, believes her brother was likely cutting through the Pages’ yard, seeing it as a shortcut he may have thought he knew well from when he attended the Apalachicola Bay Charter School. She said she believes the Pages at one time had been accustomed to school kids cutting through their yard, and may have erected the fence to prevent that.
On April 4, Johnson investigated Fasbenner’s whereabouts prior to the shooting, and learned from friends in the area that he had appeared very intoxicated that night, and had to be forced to leave a residence after he helped move some furniture inside.
The Butler grandparents don’t dispute that their grandson was intoxicated after a long day oystering but they say that doesn’t justify the shooting.
“They gave him a death sentence because he had alcohol in him,” said Buddy Wayne Butler.
“He was a good kid,” said Fasbenner’s grandmother. “Sometimes they don’t mean to, but they get into trouble.”
The Butlers also question why the sheriff didn’t do a blood test on Page the night of the shooting, or look more carefully into his background, activities and state of mind in the days surrounding the shooting. Page was arrested four years ago, for possession of Ecstasy and drug paraphernalia, but those felony charges were later dropped. In October 2013, Page was charged with fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer, also a felony. Those charges were later reduced to resisting on officer without violence, adjudication was withheld and Page received probation.
Because it was a misdemeanor, Page was not disallowed from possessing a gun.
“They had a closed mind on everything we said,” said Buddy Wayne Butler. “I think the sheriff justified it the night it happened.”
The Butlers say the fact their grandson had in his pockets only some cash, a lighter, a driver’s license and a saltwater harvesting license, and that he appeared to have been carrying a cell phone, further points to the lack of any threat posed to the Pages. Johnson’s report says Fasbenner’s cell phone was found lying on the ground by his left elbow.
“He would have never touched that home. He would have been out that gate if he had another 30 seconds,” said Buddy Wayne Butler.
Page sent Fasbenner’s mother, Cindy Gore, a pair of penciled two-page letters a few days after the shooting, care of the Butler’s home. In them, Page voices his sorrow at what happened, expresses sympathy with the Butler family and says he is having difficulty coping with the shooting.
Carolyn Butler has kept the letters, but said she has little interest in reading them. “He (Page) had a chance to show mercy and he didn’t choose to,” she said.
Whatever consolation they have in their sorrow comes from the tremendous outpouring of love and support they have received from Fasbenner’s many friends, including a benefit that helped offset the cost of his burial in Magnolia Cemetery. A popular member of the Franklin County High School Class of 2012, Fasbenner’s grave is decorated with numerous flowers. On the slab over the grave is carved a Seahawk with Fasbenner’s football jersey number, 59, over its left wing, and his words, “We created memories that will never fade away. We will now split, spread our wings, and fly away.”
Buddy Wayne said he recalls a boy who he brought up to say his prayers, often reading to him from the Bible and talking to him about what it said.
“Bubba was a respectable person,” he said. “You can’t buy a good name. You have to live a good name to have a good name.”