The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Z_CNHI News Service

September 19, 2013

'Cowboy style' gun twirling lands man in hospital

JAY, Okla. — An Oklahoma man is believed to have shot another man in the back while twirling a handgun on his finger like a cowboy as he was riding in the backseat of a car.

The shooting happened Tuesday in Delaware County, Okla., near the Arkansas state line. It was initially reported to sheriff's deputies as a robbery, said Delaware Count Sheriff’s Department Capt. Gayle Wells.

Wells said Rusti James, 21, was brought to an Arkansas hospital with a small-caliber gunshot wound to the lower left side of his back. James and his girlfriend, Marion Snell, 23, initially said that they had picked up a hitchhiker who tried to rob them and shot James, according to Wells. 

They told authorities that the hitchhiker got out of their car and fled after the shooting. Deputies searched the area but didn't find a suspect.

But when detectives interviewed the couple a second time, they confessed that that they had made up the hitchhiker story because they were afraid of the actual shooter, who they identified as 20-year-old Johnathan W. Gardner of Colcord, Okla.

According to Wells, the couple said Gardner and his girlfriend, Katie Jo Jenks, had been riding in the back seat of their car, with Snell driving and James in the front passenger seat. Gardner and James were playing with a small handgun, passing it back and forth and twirling it "cowboy style," Wells said.

Gardner was playing with the gun when it discharged, and the bullet passed through the front seat into the back of James, he said.

The couple told investigators that after the shooting, Gardner threw the gun into a ravine along the side of the road. Gardner and Jenks got out of their car and walked away, and Snell drove James to the hospital.

Police found Gardner about 30 miles away near Jay, Okla., and arrested him Tuesday night. Authorities planned to charge Gardner -- who has prior convictions for drug and robbery charges -- with possession of a firearm as a felon.

Details for this story were reported by the Joplin (Mo.) Globe.

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