Paul Kelly testifying coroner inqeust

Missoula Police Cpl. Paul Kelly testifies during a coroner's inquest into the shooting death of Kaileb Williams.

KURT WILSON, Missoulian

MISSOULA -- A coroner's inquest on Monday found a Missoula police officer legally justified in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man in the early hours of New Year's Eve.

The jury of four men and three women deliberated for less than an hour after a day of testimony revealed 20-year-old Kaileb Williams "pummeled" his mother and "backhanded" girlfriend Rita Daniel before he led police on a high-speed chase and was ultimately fatally shot by Cpl. Paul Kelly.

"The Kaileb that night was not the Kaileb I knew," Williams' mother, Rhenon Williams, said on the stand Monday. "The Kaileb I knew was a really soft, gentle giant. Kaileb didn't hurt people. He didn't hurt people with words."

Officer Kelly testified that he heard Kaileb threaten to slit Daniel's throat and gave the police a countdown. He asked repeatedly for the officer to shoot him in the head.

Daniel, who was the first to testify Monday morning, said Kelly should not be charged.

The incident began when Williams assaulted his mother, after she arrived at his apartment to pick up Daniel. By Rhenon Williams' own account, her son hit her five or six times before pushing her down and taking her car, driving off with Daniel inside.

The former girlfriend told jurors Kaileb Williams also hit her several times prior to the high-speed chase and told her he wanted to die. She also said he was intoxicated that night.

Daniel said that during the chase, Williams drove his mother's car over a median, where it suddenly stopped on the ramp between West Broadway and North Reserve Street.

As officers started to arrive on scene, Kaileb began screaming at them to shoot him and held Daniel's head down on his lap.

" 'Just shoot me,' " Daniel said, recounting Williams' words. " 'Just shoot me. Just get it over with.' "

Missoula County Sheriff's Detective Jonathan Gunter, who investigated the officer-involved shooting, shared a transcript of the conversation between police officers and Williams in the six minutes before Kelly shot the man.

The transcript of the back-and-forth conversation was patched together from several different recordings, Gunter said. Kelly made several attempts to talk about other options with Williams, but the man continued to insist that there was only one way to end the confrontation.

Kelly fired a single shot from about 15 feet from the driver's side of the vehicle, fatally hitting Williams on the left side of his head. State Medical Examiner Gary Dale testified Williams died instantly from the single shot.

After the shooting, police attempted to break through the car windows and were eventually able to pull the screaming Daniel from the vehicle over the body of Kaileb Williams.

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