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Case against Army veteran charged with killing a homeless man in Memphis, Tennessee, moves forward

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — (AP) — A U.S. Army veteran who served in the war in Afghanistan pepper-sprayed a homeless man and got into a confrontation with him before fatally shooting him with an automatic rifle in Memphis, a security guard and a police investigator said Tuesday.

The guard and the police sergeant testified during a preliminary hearing for Karl P. Loucks, who was arrested May 31 on a first-degree murder charge in the killing of Shaun Rhea, a homeless man who lived in downtown Memphis. After hearing their testimony, Shelby County Judge Bill Anderson said there was enough evidence to present the case to a grand jury for indictment.

Loucks, 41, is being held without bond on the murder charge. Loucks' lawyer has suggested that he acted in self-defense. Loucks also is charged with aggravated assault after police said he cut another homeless man twice with a knife in the days before Rhea was shot. Loucks has not entered a plea in either case.

Loucks attacked Rhea in the early morning hours of May 31 in downtown Memphis, police said in an affidavit. Tony Perry, a security guard at a downtown Memphis hotel, testified that he saw Loucks use pepper spray on Rhea while he was sleeping. Loucks also pepper-sprayed other homeless people that same night, Perry said.

After he was pepper-sprayed, Rhea confronted Loucks, asking why Loucks did it and “calling him the b-word,” Perry said. Loucks took out a knife, and Rhea picked up an electric scooter that was nearby and threw it at Loucks. He missed.

“He was angry,” Perry said of Rhea, adding that Rhea did not attempt to get physical with Loucks.

Loucks then entered his apartment building, but he returned shortly afterwards carrying an AR-style rifle under an orange jacket, Perry testified.

“Next thing you know, I heard gunshots,” said Perry, who testified that he turned and ran as several shots were fired.

Rhea, who did not have a gun, was struck in the back, Memphis police Sgt. Jeremy Cline testified. Rhea died at a hospital. Six bullet casings were found at the scene of the shooting, Cline said.

Police were called, and they found the rifle and the jacket in Loucks' apartment, Cline said. During a police interview after his arrest, Loucks said he acted in self-defense after Rhea confronted him, Cline said.

Cline said he asked Loucks why he did not call police. “He said he didn't do it because because he felt he was being threatened,” the police sergeant said.

During the hearing, Cline showed video of the shooting to the judge, the defense lawyer, the prosecutor and Loucks. Relatives and supporters of both Loucks and Rhea were in the courtroom, but they were not able to see the video.

Loucks was a health care specialist in the Army from September 2007 to August 2013, said Bryce S. Dubee, an Army public affairs spokesman. Loucks served in Afghanistan from March 2009 to March 2010 and left the Army with the rank of private first class.

Loucks was honorably discharged from Army because he was disabled due to post-traumatic stress disorder, said his lawyer, Blake Ballin. Outside court, Ballin said he was working on arranging a psychological evaluation to determine if and how Loucks' mental health played into the shooting.

“If somebody in Mr. Loucks' situation, with his experience in the past, his experience in these events, felt reasonably that he was in fear for his life or his physical safety, then he may have been justified in acting the way he did,” Ballin said.

The hearing took place in a courtroom used for cases involving military veterans. Banners from branches of the military hang along the back wall of the courtroom.

Judge Anderson said he could not help but think that Loucks' experience in the Army during wartime could be a factor in the case.

“Some cases don't make any sense, any logical sense,” Anderson said. “This is one of them.”

Memphis police spokesperson Officer Theresa Carlson said Tuesday that investigators are working to determine if Loucks has had other confrontations with homeless people, in addition to the stabbing that police said took place May 25.

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