One week ago, 24-year-old Kelly Ann Croyle faced the very real prospect of spending the rest of her life in prison for shooting her boyfriend in the head on Sept. 9, 2014, and watching him die in his Box Elder mobile home.
But today, after being confined for 10 months to the Pennington County Jail on a second-degree murder charge, Croyle is a free woman. And, in a rarity in the legal arena, both prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that she killed the 49-year-old father of three, Richard “Dickey” Mashek, in self-defense following hours of abuse, numerous threats, and after having a loaded pistol pointed at her own head at least five times.
Attorneys, psychologists and psychiatrists on both sides of the case were aided in their analysis by hours of videotape from three cameras Mashek had set up outside and inside of his mobile home on Hillview Drive in Box Elder. The cameras and associated audio allowed experts to analyze statements, threats and actions of Mashek and Croyle in the hours leading up to Mashek’s death.
The great fortune of having the killing captured on videotape, and the dual analyses by the experts, provided a rare glimpse into the terror, fear and hopelessness that can emerge during domestic violence cases. Both experts concluded that, even though Croyle held a gun at Mashek's head, and then paused for 11 seconds before pulling the trigger, that she had been forced into a horrible decision in which she felt her own life, and possibly the lives of her family members, hung in the balance.
Dr. Park Dietz, a noted California psychiatrist who examined the case on behalf of the Pennington County State’s Attorney’s Office, said Mashek had “brutalized, terrorized, and tortured Croyle, giving her no alternative other than to fulfill his wish that she kill him and put him out of his misery.”
“In my opinion, Kelly Croyle acted in self defense in shooting Dickey Mashek,” Dietz wrote in his June 11 report that was commissioned by State's Attorney Mark Vargo.
Among his findings, Dietz noted Mashek kept Croyle captive for about two hours before the shooting, uttered a minimum of 40 terroristic threats against Croyle, committed about a dozen simple assaults against Croyle, six more with a deadly weapon, and admitted to stalking her when they were not together.
In addition, Dietz observed that during Croyle’s captivity, “Mashek makes statements indicating he is depressed and suicidal, including blaming her for humiliating and shaming him in the eyes of the whole town and taking away all his joy in life so that he no longer leaves his room; saying he wants to die; and repeatedly begging Croyle to shoot him and threatening to kill her and her family if she does not.”
Defense expert Dr. David Lisak also reviewed the case and had similar findings and conclusions to Dietz’s, and provided a chronological summary of what transpired that September afternoon.
In his report, Lisak notes that at one point in the escalating altercation, Mashek threatened Croyle with a battle axe in one hand while beating her with his other hand. His recounting of what transpired at Mashek’s home that fall afternoon is at once riveting and startling.
“At 15:21 Mr. Mashek’s homicidal rage appears to begin to shift between homicide and suicide. For the first time he tells Ms. Croyle to pick up the gun and shoot him between the eyes. Moments later, he once again attacks Ms. Croyle on the bed, screaming at her and striking her repeatedly,” the psychologist wrote.
“By 15:40 Mr. Mashek’s suicidal impulses are becoming prominent. He tells Ms. Croyle to grab “the (expletive) gun,” and to do to him what he can’t do to himself. He then picks up the gun and tries to give it to Ms. Croyle, but she shakes her head and refuses to take it. This enrages him. He lunges out of the chair, screaming, and points the gun directly at Ms. Croyle’s head as she cowers in terror.
“Two minutes later he again exhorts her to take the gun and this time she takes it. He repeatedly tells her to point it at him and pull the trigger but Ms. Croyle points the gun away. At 15:44 Mr. Mashek threatens to break her nose if she does not shoot him,” Lisak continued.
“At 15:46 he loudly tells her to put the gun to his `(expletive) forehead.’ This time she does what he has told her to do. He tells her to pull the trigger. She is clearly crying as she is holding the gun to his forehead. She shifts the gun away from his forehead and then points it back again when he continues to berate her to shoot him. At 15:48, in apparent exasperation that she has not pulled the trigger, Mr. Mashek leans back in his chair. Ms. Croyle is in evident extreme distress.
“Three minutes later, at 15:51, Mr. Mashek tells her that he will `(expletive) up’ the lives of Kelly, her sisters, her brothers and her nieces and nephews, and that he will make her watch him do this. At 15:52:40 Kelly is rocking back and forth on the bed in an evident sign of extreme distress as Mr. Mashek continues to exhort her to finish him off. He then gets up from his chair, pulls his stash of cash out and dumps it on the bed and then returns to his chair.
“At 15:54:14 Ms. Croyle is holding the gun, rocking back and forth. He tells her that if she walks out of there he’s coming after her. He says, `one of these (expletive) days it’s going to get the best of me.’"
The video also captures Mashek, who is sitting in front of Croyle with his hands clasped in his lap, saying, "Right between the eyes, baby."
After an 11-second pause, she fires the gun, and Mashek slumps over dead. According to the Dietz recap of the events, Croyle then smokes a cigarette, makes a phone call, shoots out a camera and a computer, puts the gun and some money in a duffel bag, and flees the mobile home.
Croyle had attorney in her corner
After working on immigration issues in Houston and helping native Alaskans known as the Inupiat above the Arctic Circle for Alaska Legal Services, Rapid City attorney Jamy Patterson returned to the Black Hills to practice law in 2007. After several years with the local Public Defender’s Office, she recently hung out her own shingle.
“I can’t tell you how much I frickin' love this,” Patterson said last week. “I call myself a hustler. There’s no certainty in this profession. I love the freedom and independence, particularly the freedom to defend or try cases the way they need to be done. I love the uncertainty and I love my clients.”
So, Patterson said it wasn’t unusual when, assigned to defend Croyle shortly after she was arrested, the two developed a bond that remains strong.
“I am very close to Kelly,” Patterson said. “I was assigned, but she also wanted me. We formed a really tight bond. I am in the line I’m in because I believe in what I do and I get attached to my clients. Kelly is a client I would go to the end of the earth for.”
Early on in the case, Patterson said she was frustrated by media reports that she said portrayed her client as a “crazed, drug-addicted murderer.”
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“She’s not anything like that, she’s just not,” Patterson said. “She is this very strong, loyal and kind person. That’s what you need to know about Kelly.”
Though on the videotape Mashek claims there is a large amount of marijuana in the home, and tens of thousands of dollars in cash, toxicology tests found no drugs in Croyle’s system following the shooting, while Mashek’s tests revealed methamphetamine in his body. Croyle is on probation for a previous felony drug conviction, Vargo said last week.
When she met Croyle in jail, Patterson said she found a young, blond-haired girl, shy and quiet, and small in stature. She said the encounter left her asking one initial question.
“A murderer? Are you kidding me?” Patterson asked. “I kept saying, `I can’t believe they’re prosecuting the victim.’ I couldn’t fathom a jury convicting her after the evidence was presented, but you never know.”
Vargo also was conflicted. He said in an interview last week that the charging decision was complicated by the fact that while Mashek clearly repeatedly assaults and threatens Croyle, that the video could also be seen in a way that Croyle was not in imminent danger prior to the fatal shot. He also noted that Croyle lied to investigators initially, claiming that Mashek was in the process of assaulting her when the fatal shot was fired, when the video shows him sitting in front of her.
That uncertainty led Vargo to hire Dietz, and led Patterson to find Dr. Lisak, who had examined and treated hundreds of trauma victims in 28 years of practice.
“I’m generally defending people who are either completely innocent or have been over-charged,” the defense attorney said. “As defense, we’re the ones trying to bring the truth out. This case highlights it. We look at the facts. We watched the video and then asked, `Why are we charging this poor girl?’ I don’t understand.”
Understanding the cycle
Just before charges against Croyle were dismissed, Rapid City attorney Shiloh MacNally was assigned as co-counsel because of her good working relationship with Patterson and her expertise with domestic violence.
The 43-year-old married mother of three has assisted Working Against Violence Inc. as a volunteer on hundreds of cases, and provided pro-bono legal work on protection order hearings for numerous victims of domestic violence. And, MacNally knows the issue from a personal standpoint.
“I was a victim of domestic violence myself for some years,” MacNally said Thursday. “It helps me because I understand the cycle. I understand that it’s not easy to always get out as many people think. There is so much control and manipulation that goes along with domestic violence.
“And I understand a lot of women undergo domestic violence and still love the perpetrator, which makes it hard for the victim,” she added. “Many times the perpetrator is very manipulative. On one hand he’s saying how much he loves you and with the other hand he is choking you. It’s quite a paradox.”
MacNally said there were similarities between Croyle’s case and others on which she had worked. It was “clear that Kelly was broken down over time,” that manipulation was involved, and like many victims, she had been “brainwashed” into believing she was worthless.
But, the video and associated transcript and summaries provided evidence not normally available in a domestic violence case, MacNally said.
“So many domestic violence victims are abused in the dark,” she said. “In a sense, nobody knows what really happened to them. This was right there, all laid out. But, sadly this is not anything new. This type of stuff goes on all the time and the public just isn’t aware of it.”
MacNally said she hoped Croyle’s story would resonate with victims of domestic abuse and help inform the public of a nefarious activity that may be going on next door.
“I want victims to know that they are worth something,” she said. “No matter how strongly the darkness feels, there is a way to pull themselves out.
“It can happen to anyone,” MacNally added. “I am a very strong person and it happened to me. It doesn’t just happen to the poor.”
After 10 months in jail, Kelly Croyle was released last Tuesday morning. It was an emotional affair, according to her attorney.
“It was a very private moment,” Patterson said of Croyle’s reunification with her young daughter and her mother. “Everyone was in tears and hugging and I told Kelly’s mom, `You got your baby back.’”
For Patterson, who worked for 10 months to have charges against her client dismissed, the realization that she was actually successfully brought with it relief she equates to saving a friend on the battlefield from a firing squad.
“It’s like you’re out on a plank with someone you deeply care about, and you’re holding on so they don’t fall into the dark shark-infested waters and die,” Patterson said. “And, you finally get ‘em and you know they’re not going to die. It’s not like a big party. It’s like total relief and that’s the way it was for Kelly and me when charges were dismissed.”
Patterson is optimistic that Croyle will rebound and make something of her life.
“Not every killing is a murder,” Patterson said. “Innocent people do get convicted and that’s any lawyer’s worst nightmare. I am very thankful for the outcome in Kelly’s case.”