Coroner’s Inquest Jury Decrees Shooting Death of Christopher Hymel was Legally Justified

by lizard

Michael Gordon was just saying goodbye to some ladies he’s known since childhood when Christopher Hymel attacked him for no reason. That’s Gordon’s version of the story, as reported by the Missoulian. Hymel didn’t testify, because he’s dead. From the link:

The inquest began Monday morning with testimony from several of Hymel’s friends who were present during the shooting. The friends claim Gordon enticed Hymel to his truck after insulting Hymel’s girlfriend, Megan Navarro, and friend Chira Graham.

Gordon and Hymel exchanged punches through the driver’s-side window.

Missoula Police Det. Mitch Lang showed a surveillance video of the parking lot that showed Gordon and Hymel exiting the club and the fight that ensued.

In the video, Gordon left first and climbed into his truck, which he apparently started by remote. Several minutes later, Hymel and his group of four friends exited the club and walked past the truck.

The truck’s lights turned on and in audio footage played for the jury later, it’s clear Gordon revved his engine when the girls walked past.

According to the testimony of the four friends, Gordon was calling out to the girls vulgarly through his driver’s-side window. However, they couldn’t remember exactly what he said to them.

According to Gordon’s testimony, he opened his window to say goodbye to the girls, who he had known since childhood and the next thing he knew Hymel attacked him.

“I didn’t do anything. I didn’t say anything,” he said, during his emotional testimony. “I was attacked out of nowhere.”

Four people testify Gordon was calling out to the women vulgarly. Audio of the incident catches an engine being revved. Gordon maintains he was just saying adios to childhood friends. Just speaking from personal experience, I don’t associate the revving of a truck outside a strip club in the middle of the night with a cordial see you later coming from the operator of the gas pedal. But that’s just me.

The article goes on to describe what can be discerned from the video footage:

The video shows Hymel and Gordon fighting through the truck window, but it’s not clear to what extent Gordon was fighting back. At one point during the fight, the truck started shaking and pieces of the window’s rain shield shattered.

According to Gordon’s testimony, he was being brutally beat by Hymel and grabbed his gun from the center console while he was leaned over the center, protecting himself from the blows.

Hymel’s friend, Steven Ellingson, attempted to break up the fight, and grabbed Hymel from behind, ripping his shirt.

Hymel stepped back to remove his shirt, while Gordon opened car door and fired a shot at Hymel. The bullet pierced his lung and fatally ripped through his aorta.

In the heat of the moment, Gordon didn’t consider driving away, he said and he couldn’t roll up his window because he was using that arm to protect himself from Hymel’s punches, Gordon said.

So Michael Gordon had a loaded gun in his center console ready to go. Is that even legal? And what about alcohol? Did anyone on scene even bother to get a blood sample to determine if alcohol was a factor? Gordon was supposedly cooperative with law enforcement, right? WTF?

As an impressionable new gun owner, this case is forming my sense of what I can and can’t do with my handguns. What I’m learning is that I can travel around with a loaded gun in my car and if some sort of physical altercation ensues, I can grab my gun “in the heat of the moment”, open my car door, gun in hand, exit my car, aim my handgun, and shoot the person who attacked me.

And this is legally justified?

What kind of weight does a jury decision from a coroner’s inquest carry? Is this case all wrapped up now? Did the Missoula County attorney’s office get the desired outcome with this punt?

Inquiring minds would like to know.


  1. Just a guy

    Both Hymel and Gordon were intoxicated according to the article. You left out the part about the video indicating that Hymel charged Gordon before Gordon fired. And you mention in your analysis that “four people testify that Gordon was calling out to the women vulgarly” but you gloss over the fact that the four were not disinterested passersby, but friends of Hymel. And also that none of the four friends knew what Gordon said to the girls.

    I only bring these up because I enjoy reading your work and this post falls short of what I have grown to expect. I sense a personal connection of some sort has colored your thoughts. If that’s the case, I can’t say I blame you for being pissed. This was a truly senseless tragedy.

    • lizard19

      it’s always a good idea to follow links for better context. I have focused on the action of Gordon getting out of his vehicle because that, for me, is the critical fact that demands some kind of charge. if you remember the first reports had Gordon shooting Hymel while still in his truck.

    • lizard19

      also, where in the article did it say both men were intoxicated?

      • Just a guy

        It is the last sentence of the first section of the article, right before the paragraph that begins “The inquest began Monday…”

  2. lizard19

    ok, I just read the link again and the story appears to have been substantially updated.

  3. Eric

    They got it right. If you believe in our system of justice, that’s the only thing you can believe.

    The fact is that violence is hard-wired into our society, and as history has proven, young men + alcohol = confrontations.

    There’s no winner here, the Hymel family lost a son, and Michael Gordon has to live with what he did.

    • As a responsible adult, I am accountable for my actions. It does not matter my reasons or state of mind when I commit them. The law only grants me a reprieve if, in harming another person, I am defending myself, or perhaps that as a minor I was not yet mature enough to understand what I was doing.

      I don’t know if justice is served by “having to live with what he did.” I’m no judge, have no background in these matters, but it appears on the surface that accountability is lost here.

      • A mile south of our place some high schoolers were having a kegger. An altercation ensued based on a false accusation. The kid was repeatedly punched and then pulled from his vehicle were he was kicked numerous times in the head.

        That kid today is brain damaged, his attackers got off with hand slaps.

        How do we know that Hymel wouldn’t have acted in the same matter, dragging Gordon out of the truck and kicking him into a vegetative state?

    • lizard19

      I don’t believe we have a system that delivers justice.

  4. Turner

    A related issue: tonight at 8:00 on Showtime there’s a feature about a Missoula woman who says she was gang-raped by, I think, UM jocks.

  5. James Maxie

    No matter how vulgar someone’s language is, you aren’t justified in beating someone for offending you with their words.

    • lizard19

      no one is claiming the beat down was justified. the issue is whether choosing to exit the vehicle in order to use lethal force is justified.

      • James Maxie

        You made a point that four people testified that Gordon was speaking vulgarities.

        • lizard19

          James, examining whether or not there was provocation on the part of Gordon triggering the attack is not the same thing as arguing that the attack was justified.

          • James Maxie

            Then what was the point of leading off a paragraph with that?

            • lizard19

              credibility of the shooter, James.

              • James Maxie

                Why isn’t the credibility of the testifiers in question?

              • lizard19

                their credibility is in question. notice how the article states they can’t recall specific vulgarities. I guess I’m just having a hard time believing that an intoxicated dude sitting in his big truck outside a strip club revving his engine was expressing himself in a civil, appropriate manner.

  6. JC

    “I think that there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge.”
    — Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”

    “We do not object so much to a decent, orderly lynching when there is particular atrocity in the crime and there can be no mistake as to the criminal. But this beating, kicking, clubbing, and dragging through the streets, both before and after death, is too brutal to allow excuse, and would better suit cannabal [sic] savages than men who pretend to be civilized.”
    — Wilbur Fisk Sanders, editorial in the Helena Daily Herald, Aug. 27, 1883 (from Montana Vigilantes and the Origins of the 3-7-77)




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