MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. – The first criminal trial in Marshall County since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down courtrooms began Tuesday afternoon.
Twelve jurors and one alternate juror were sworn in around 2 p.m. before opening statements around 2:30 p.m. in the murder trial of Dale Hopson who is accused of shooting and killing Joyce Bates in April 2016.
The shooting happened at their home in the Joppa community just outside of Arab.
Hopson claims the shooting was accidental.
In opening statements, prosecutors said the .357 pistol used to shoot Bates could not have fired accidentally and appeared to have been fired no farther away than two or three feet.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Ed Kellet said on the day of the shooting, Hopson’s mother, along with Hospon’s son Josh, visited him and Bates at their home.
He said she will testify that while she was there, she saw Hopson acting erratically and drinking and that the alcohol could have interacted with the medication he was on for mental health issues.
Kellet added that Hopson called 911 after the shooting but only after he called his mother, told her he shot his wife and requested she come back to their home.
In Hopson’s attorney, Enza Giles’, opening statement he said while his client had been drinking and smoking marijuana the day of the shooting, the death of Bates was not intentional and encouraged the jury to listen carefully to the evidence.
Giles said he and Hopson do not contest that Hopson caused Bates’s death, but added the issue is whether or not he meant to shoot her.
He explained that Hopson went outside with the gun in search of what potentially made a noise outside their home before losing his footing on a dog bowl and accidentally pulling the trigger.
After opening statements, Marshall COunty District Attorney Everette Johnson questioned the Marshall County 911 dispatcher who answered Hopson’s initial 911 call after the shooting.
The dispatcher said the call was unusual because Hopson was “extremely theatrical” and couldn’t get him to call down. Because of this, he said he transferred the call to Arab police. The dispatcher also testified Hopson never asked what to do to help Bates and seemed he was trying to get sympathy from him through the call.
Johnson then played the 911 call.
In it, Hopson was oftentimes difficult to understand and repeatedly wailed things like “oh no” and “I didn’t mean for that to happen. I love her.”
The dispatcher was the only witness to testify Tuesday afternoon.
The trial will resume Wednesday at 9 a.m.
Inside the courtrooms, things are much different as the county works to keep people safe during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
“We’ve had to spend lots of time today trying to figure out how we can arrange the courtroom with part of the jurors in one section and part of the jurors in another, where to put our video set up without our tv so that everybody can see it. I think that’s been today the hardest part but it’s gone very well today,” explained Johnson.
Johnson told News 19 after the first day of trial that they are quite backlogged due to COVID-19 and are anxious to get back to work.
“In 2020, we started out the year being fairly well, current and caught up on cases. We had, I believe, 10 homicides in Marshall County in 2020 without being able to try any and so you get behind very quickly and we need to start digging our way out of that just as quickly as we can,” said Johnson.