In his cluttered office in Jonesboro — “a working lawyer's office,” he said with a smile — Bobby McDaniel keeps an assortment of trigger locks. Some of them still have the tags on them; most cost less than ten bucks. These days, he said, sliding one of the locks apart to show how quickly it can be removed, most gun manufacturers include a trigger lock with every gun they sell. He'd like to think he had something to do with that.
On Nov. 11, McDaniel's decade-long effort to depose Andrew Golden and make public his sworn account was delayed yet again, when Craighead County Circuit Court Judge David Burnett ruled that Golden's deposition must be kept private at least until McDaniel's civil suit against Golden is decided. In addition, the judge ordered lawyers in the case not to reveal information about Golden, including the time, date and location of his deposition, the name he now lives under, the school he attends or his employer.
Though McDaniel said he respectfully disagrees with Burnett's decision, he refuses to call the ruling a setback. “It was a mixed bag realistically,” McDaniel said. “The defense was trying to keep me from taking his deposition, which, we prevailed on that. Then they wanted to try and limit me from getting information from him in certain areas, and we prevailed on that. They wanted to prevent me from getting phone records from the mother and getting detailed information from her, and we prevailed on that. So we won all the real substantive issues that really go to the details and the facts of what happened; where's he's been, what's he's done since his release, et cetera.”
By this point in the case, McDaniel's got to feel like he's coming to the end of a very long, very dark tunnel. Born and raised in Jonesboro, he said he was as horrified as everyone else in town when he heard about the shootings at the quiet middle school on the edge of town. Within weeks of the Westside shootings, McDaniel filed civil lawsuits against the boys, their parents, Andrew Golden's grandfather Doug Golden, and Remington Arms, among others, on behalf of families of those killed.
“I thought that in my own little way, I could do something that would give [the victims] some sense of justice in all this,” McDaniel said. “The prosecutors did all they could do, and did a great job. But the law tied their hands at the time … I felt that something had to be done from the civil side. The criminal justice system had a loophole that allowed these mass murderers to go free after a short period of time. The families approached me, and I wanted to do what I could for them to see if we could accomplish something, to try and find out what good could possibly come from this.”
Though the suits against the gun makers and Doug Golden were eventually dismissed, McDaniel sees that loss as a de facto win. “Frankly,” he said, “even though the judge dismissed that case, we won that case. Now, when anybody goes and buys a new gun, guess what? It's got a trigger lock on it. So it's hard for somebody to tell me we lost that case.”
He continued the lawsuit against the shooters — even though both are penniless — because he hopes for a judgment that would prevent them from ever profiting from the crime.
As for the rest of the battle, McDaniel said the factor that put the case in “virtual limbo” for almost a decade was that Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson disappeared down the rabbit hole of the juvenile justice system soon after their arrest, their anonymity so well guarded that even law enforcement officials in Jonesboro weren't told where they were being held. Even more frustrating for McDaniel was the knowledge that on their 21st birthdays, Golden and Johnson were released with a clean slate, free to live their lives, vote, and legally buy a gun. McDaniel calls that disgusting.