A coroner’s inquest into the Feb. 12 death of Robert Christian Chambers, 27, of Gainesville, has resulted in the opinion that Travis Barlow acted in self-defense: Allegedly attacked by Chambers, Barlow’s actions caused Chambers to be either impaled upon or stabbed with a sword.
The incident happened at the home of David McFall in the Clarkridge area, just north of the Arkansas state line. Barlow has been living at the home with McFall and two other adults.
An autopsy showed Chambers’ heart was pierced, resulting in blood loss that led to his death. The inquest was presided over by Ozark County Coroner Shane Ledbetter and witness questioning was conducted by Ozark County Prosecuting Attorney James Garrabrant.
The determination of justifiable homicide, which took the jury about 45 minutes of deliberation to reach, does not guarantee charges won’t be filed in the case.
Four men and two women were on the jury, and about 35 audience members attended the public hearing.
Ozark County Sheriff’s Department Cpl. Curtis Dobbs was the first on the stand. Dobbs described what he saw when he arrived at the scene that morning, and then viewed and confirmed evidence photos submitted to the jury by Garrabrant. He also answered questions about his interview with Barlow, conducted shortly after the incident and followed up with a phone interview.
Barlow also testified. He confirmed he was in the courtroom voluntarily and understood anything he said during the inquest could be used against him in any possible future prosecution.
Jacob Cutrell, a friend of Chambers’ who had gone with him and two others to McFall’s house, was also questioned as the only other surviving eyewitness to the altercation that led to Chambers’ death.
Dobbs said he arrived at the scene at about 4:30 a.m. Feb. 12 and met Deputy Jeff Langdon and two Baxter County, Ark., deputies. The scene had been secured and Cutrell, McFall, Barlow and a man and woman who were also living at the house were detained.
Dobbs said he saw Chambers’ body lying on the ground between a carport and a sunroom attached to the back of the house, about 20 feet from the sunroom door. He said he saw a cut through Chambers’ shirt and undershirt, about an inch long and just to the right of his shirt buttons, but no other injuries.
Dobbs stated an autopsy performed in Springfield the next day showed Chambers had a single wound to the chest that pierced his heart, causing Chambers to bleed out into his chest cavity.
When he interviewed Barlow at the sheriff’s department the day of he incident, Dobbs described Barlow’s demeanor as shaken up and emotional, but said Barlow was cooperative during the questioning.
Dobbs described the injuries he saw on Barlow, including a “significant” wound to his forehead, an eye that had been bloodied in the inside corner, abrasions on both legs below the knees that appeared to be rug burns and cuts on the index finger and another finger on Barlow’s right hand. The latter was believed by Dobbs to have happened when Barlow grabbed the sword, which didn’t have a handle.
Dobbs said Barlow called law enforcement shortly after the incident to report he had been attacked.
Evidence photos of Barlow’s wounds were submitted to jury members. In a phone interview with Barlow, Dobbs said Barlow told him he had been awakened by tapping on the door to the sunroom and, thinking it was another member of the household who had gotten locked out after going to put firewood in a furnace, Barlow opened the door and was attacked.
Barlow reportedly told Dobbs he fell three or four times during the altercation, and he was struck on the head each time. Dobbs added the injuries Barlow had on his legs were consistent with his account of falling. Barlow told Dobbs he then found a sword, grabbed it with his right hand and Chambers either fell on it or Barlow stabbed him with it.
During Barlow’s testimony he said he had met Chambers a couple of times at the house but didn’t know who was attacking him, and didn’t return any blows as the two scuffled.
During the altercation Barlow said he yelled at his attacker numerous times, telling him to leave, then found himself shoved from behind against a chair. He said he was bent forward over the chair, his assailant behind him, and was trying to get his footing when he remembered the sword was leaning against a nearby wall. He said he grabbed it with his right hand and thrust it behind him, Chambers left the room and he shut the door and locked it.
During questioning Barlow said the sunroom, which he had been using as a bedroom, was attached to the house by a sliding glass door that had a curtain over it, but he was not aware that anyone else in the house had witnessed the assault.
Barlow said he was in fear for his life during the altercation.
During his testimony Jacob Cutrell said he, Chambers, another man and a woman had met in Gainesville and decided to go to the location of the incident at about 3 a.m. that morning because Chambers and others in the group wanted to get some of their property back from McFall’s home.
When asked why they decided to do that at that time of morning, Cutrell said they just decided to go since they were all together. Chambers drove there and parked down the road, and Chambers, Cutrell and the other man were let in the front door and talked with McFall, reportedly asking for their property but being denied because money was owed to McFall.
Cutrell said he, Chambers and the other man in their group left out the front door and walked to the back of the house where the sunroom was, and the area was lit by outside motion sensor lights, but the inside of the room was dark.
He testified the other man in the group hung back as he and Chambers approached the door and Chambers tapped on it. The door was opened, he and Chambers entered, and he stayed near the door as the altercation played out, he said.
Cutrell said it was too dark for him to see what happened, but thought the fight lasted about a minute. He said he and Chambers left the room, went down the steps leading to the walkway and Chambers made a sound as if in pain.
He said he remembered talking to Chambers and had asked him a question when Chambers made a “gasping” sound, then collapsed a few steps down the walkway, falling onto his side. He said he rolled Chambers onto his back, saw blood on his neck and thought his throat had been cut, then started yelling for help.
Cutrell said at this point the other man that had accompanied him and Chambers to the house fled to the vehicle they had arrived in, leaving him alone with Chambers. Cutrell said he ran to the front door of the house trying to get someone to call an ambulance and no one came to the door.
Garrabrand asked Cutrell if he had a shovel when law enforcement arrived, and he said he did because he had been left alone, there had been no response from inside the house and he didn’t know if he was going to have to defend himself.