A Box Elder woman who faced a murder charge in the September shooting death of her boyfriend was cleared of all charges Tuesday after a video of the incident was reviewed by a national expert who concluded she acted in self defense.
State's Attorney Mark Vargo announced Tuesday that Kelly Ann Croyle, 24, was cleared of a pending second-degree murder charge in the Sept. 9, 2014 shooting death of 49-year-old father of three Richard "Dickey" Mashek in his Box Elder home.
The decision by Vargo came after one of the nation's top forensic experts, Dr. Park Dietz of California, reviewed the killing that was caught on a lengthy video. In a 17-page report, Dietz determined that though Croyle was not being physically attacked at the time of the single fatal shot, she had been beaten, terrorized and threatened for about three hours by the victim prior to the killing.
Croyle's killing of Mashek was caught on video cameras Mashek had set up in his mobile home on Hillview Drive in Box Elder. Croyle had admitted shooting Mashek once in the head, killing him at the scene, but had claimed it was done in self defense. She faced a mandatory life sentence if convicted at a trial that was scheduled to begin in August.
Vargo said Tuesday that the video of the killing could be seen two ways: one in which Mashek clearly beat and threatened Croyle, frequently pointing a handgun at her head and telling her she would never leave the home alive; and another in which the fatal shot was fired after a pause and without Croyle being in obvious imminent danger of physical attack.
"Anyone who watched the video would have their own opinions," Vargo said in an interview Tuesday. "When you watched that, there were times when you were absolutely appalled at what was going on, but other times you might feel she was out of danger and there was no need for further violence."
Vargo said the prosecution was made even trickier because Croyle initially lied to investigators, telling them that Mashek had been assaulting her just prior to the shooting, when the video showed that clearly was not the case. Mashek had, according to the report, urged Croyle to kill him and had handed her the gun. Also, the video showed that after killing Mashek, Croyle took money and the gun in a duffel bag, and shot out the camera and a computer before fleeing the scene.
However, Dietz, who has consulted on many high-profile cases involving Jeffrey Dahmer, the Menendez brothers, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Dhokhar Tsarnaev of the Boston Marathon bombing, reviewed the video from a purely forensic standpoint.
He concluded that it was a self-defense killing due to the frequent assaults on Croyle by Mashek; his numerous statements over three hours that she would not leave the home alive; the fact he had threatened her verbally 40 times; that he had menaced her six times with both an ax and a gun; and that he held the gun to her head four times, once for 39 seconds straight.
In the gripping transcript of their final hours together, the pair start off petting a dog, talking and later share a cigarette, and Croyle even gets Mashek a beer.
But Mashek grows increasingly agitated, at one point threatening to commit a murder-suicide. At various points, Mashek — who claimed Croyle had cheated on him and ruined his life — makes threats that he would like to chop Croyle in half, shoot her in the leg just to watch her bleed, scar up her face, break her jaw, paint on the wall with her blood, cut her throat, break a beer bottle over her skull, and kill her and all her family members. Along the way, he frequently repeated that if she tried to leave, he would shoot her in the back or head and kill her.
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Then, at 3:54 p.m., Mashek tells Croyle, who is holding the gun, "you know if you walk outta here, I'm coming after you. One of these (expletive) days, it's just going to get the (expletive) best of me."
Croyle then raises the gun with both hands and points it at the head of Mashek, who is sitting with his hands in his lap. He then tells her, "Right between the eyes, baby."
Eleven seconds tick off, and Croyle fires the gun, striking Mashek in the head, killing him.
Vargo, who years ago successfully prosecuted Mashek on a felony drug distribution crime, said that Mashek that day had committed serious crimes, including kidnapping and felony assault upon Croyle, during the three-hour time period he was with her prior to the killing.
Vargo stated in his press release: "Under South Dakota law, the standard for self-defense is whether there is an ‘imminent threat’ of death or serious bodily injury. Given the extreme nature of Mashek’s behavior immediately surrounding the incident, we have become convinced that threshold was met. It is a very different situation than one where there is no imminent threat of harm, which is exactly why South Dakota law makes the distinction that it does.”
Further findings showed that Mashek had methamphetamine in his system, and that Croyle had no drugs in her system. Croyle was to be released from jail on Tuesday, though she remains on probation for a 2013 felony drug conviction.
According to his news release, Vargo stated, "The (Dietz) report concluded that 'Mashek brutalized, terrorized, and tortured Croyle, giving her no alternative other than to fulfill his wish that she kill him to put him out of his misery. Mashek told her repeatedly that he would kill her if she tried to leave. He promised that if he lived, he would make her watch as he harmed her family. He promised that if she lived, he would come after her. In my opinion, Kelly Croyle acted in self-defense in shooting Dickey Mashek.'"
Croyle's attorney, Jamy Patterson, did not return a call seeking comment.
Vargo told the Journal that he and chief prosecutor Lara Roetzel decided to hire the expert because they wanted a fresh, unbiased review of the video to ensure a proper course of action. He said hiring Dietz was expensive, though he refused to release a figure. But in the end, he felt it was money well spent.
"It's hard, because once you've made a decision, psychologically people have a hard time going back to a clean slate" when it comes to reversing a charging decision, Vargo said. "We come back to the point that a prosecutor's job is not to just seek a conviction, but to get the right outcome."