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‘Everything happened so fast’

Witnesses take stand in Shivers trial

-Messenger photo Kelby Wingert
Michael J. Shivers, 56, of Eagle Grove, is on trial for two counts of second-degree murder in the June 2020 shooting deaths of 25-year-old Jamael Cox and 47-year-old Tyrone Cunningham.

The scene in the 900 block of 10th Avenue Southwest in the early morning hours of June 16, 2020, was pure chaos, a Webster County jury learned on Wednesday afternoon.

The jury listened to Savena Cox, the widow of homicide victim Jamael Cox, describe what she experienced in the last moments of her husband’s life.

“I heard the first shot and I immediately thought it was fireworks, but they kept coming,” she said. “I looked over and that’s when I saw that (Jamael) was shot. I jumped out of the car and ran across the street to him.”

Savena Cox recalled that “everything happened so fast” and “it just would not stop.” She didn’t think she’d make it out alive.

At the end of the seemingly endless volley of bullets, 25-year-old Jamael Cox and 47-year-old Tyrone Cunningham were dead.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Defense attorney Christopher Kragnes addresses the jury during his opening statements in Michael J. Shivers' second-degree murder trial at the Webster County Courthouse on Wednesday.

Now, 16 months later, Eagle Grove man Michael Shivers, 56, is on trial for two counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of Jamael Cox and Cunningham. After a day-and-a-half of jury selection, the trial got started Wednesday afternoon with opening statements and the first witnesses for the prosecution.

The jury is composed of 12 jurors and two alternates, with an even distribution of men and women. However, the jurors are all white, something defense attorney Christopher Kragnes expressed concern over at the start of jury selection as Michael Shivers is Black.

The two men who were shot to death that morning in June 2020 were “truly innocent victims” who had been “simply caught in the crossfire,” First Assistant Webster County Attorney Ryan Baldridge said in his opening statements.

“What you’re going to hear from Michael Wells, Jeremiha Hatten, Deion Shivers, Savena Cox, is that once the first shot was fired by the defendant, it’s fair to say that all hell broke loose,” Baldrdige said.

The shooting occurred in front of a residence owned by the defendant’s brother, DarTonya Shivers. The family was gathered that evening to celebrate the life of a sister who had recently passed away.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
First Assistant Webster County Attorney Ryan Baldridge gives his opening statements to the jury in the second-degree murder trial of Michael J. Shivers at the Webster County Courthouse on Wednesday.

The Coxes were in the area that morning, around 3 a.m., because they had just been celebrating Jamael Cox’s 25th birthday and were driving a cousin home, Savena Cox testified. As they were driving by the Shivers’ residence, Jamael Cox saw his uncle, Trey Cox, and decided to stop and visit. Another friend of the family, Cunningham, arrived and the three men continued to chat, with Cunningham sitting in the driver’s seat of his vehicle, Trey Cox sitting in the back seat and Jamael Cox standing and leaning against the driver’s side door, Savena Cox testified. She said she was sitting in her vehicle, leaning out of the driver’s side door.

That’s when the gunfire started.

Savena Cox testified to hearing the sound of a pistol fire, followed by the sound of a “high-powered rifle.”

The jury listened to the 911 call Savena Cox made as gunfire rained around her.

“Please hurry,” she begged the 911 dispatcher. “Please, please, please.”

She can be heard talking to her husband as he lay bleeding to death in the street.

“Please, baby, just wake up,” she said. “I’m right here, baby.”

At one point, Savena Cox had to leave her husband’s side to duck behind a car because bullets were still flying.

Savena Cox testified that there was a “weird energy” around the Shivers’ residence prior to the shooting, describing it as “shifty.”

“I didn’t like the movement, I didn’t like the vibe I got,” she said.

She received a phone call from her aunt who had heard from the cousin that arrived with the Coxes that “some s—- is about to go down.”

The incident was kicked off by an earlier altercation between Shivers and another person, witness Michael Wells testified later.

“The defendant fired and when he did, back in the general area in the street by the basketball court … someone returned fire back to the Shivers’ residence,” Baldridge said in his opening statements. “That someone was identified as Isiah Mosley.”

In his opening statements, Kragnes told the jury that at the end of the trial, the evidence will show that Michael Shivers’ actions on June 16, 2020, were justified because he was acting in self-defense and in the defense of others, laying the blame for the gunfight on Mosley.

“You will hear there were obvious tensions for various reasons, none of them good, between the Shivers’ residence and the group from the park,” Kragnes said. “You will of course hear that only one group of people were where they were supposed to be at that time, where they were lawfully at, at that time — at the celebration of life, with permission to be on that property.”

While on the witness stand, Savena Cox testified to hearing the gunshots come from the direction of the Shivers’ residence and seeing the flash at the end of the firearm muzzles as the guns were fired.

Wells, who is a son of the defendant, was second on the witness stand and testified that he saw his father fire the first shot during the incident.

Earlier that night, Wells said, his brother Deion Shivers had brought out an AR-15-style semi automatic rifle.

“Deion was just showing it to people,” Wells said.

Wells also testified to Michael Shivers telling him that someone had “pulled a gun” on Deion Shivers previously and that Michael Shivers kept seeing him drive by that night.

The prosecution was unable to finish its questioning of Wells on Wednesday afternoon and will continue with his testimony today.

Wells, along with Jeremiha Hatten, James Davis Jr., and Darrell Jones, were also initially charged with two counts of second-degree murder. Earlier this year, the state dismissed those charges for the four, leaving Michael Shivers standing alone for the two homicides. The men instead are now charged with various weapons charges.

Michael Shivers is also charged with one count of possession of a firearm as a prohibited person.

The trial will continue today. Follow Kelby Wingert on Twitter at @KelbyWingert for live coverage.

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