EVERETT — A Snohomish County jury acquitted an Everett man of murder last week in the shooting death of his daughter’s friend, Dustyn Hunt-Bagby.
After over a week of testimony, jurors started deliberating Wednesday in the trial of Charles Heller III. Around 1 p.m. Friday, they found Heller not guilty of second-degree murder in the deadly February 2019 shooting.
However, the jury found Heller, 52, did not act in self-defense — which could have implications for a civil case, attorney’s fees and Heller’s record.
After Hunt-Bagby was shot to death, a group formed by his friends and family marched outside the Snohomish County Courthouse, demanding “Justice for Dustyn.”
Prosecutors charged Heller with second-degree murder in January 2021, two years after the killing.
On Feb. 25, 2019, sheriff’s deputies responded to Heller’s home in the Silver Lake area, just outside Everett. Detectives heard conflicting stories from the father and daughter.
Charles Heller and his wife reported they left the house to have dinner. When they got back around 8 p.m., they could hear someone with their daughter, laughing and talking. They told detectives they generally didn’t like the people she brought over, according to court documents.
The parents had a rule that no one could spend the night. Around 10 p.m., Heller sent his daughter a text, saying everyone needed to be out by 10:30 p.m. When no one left by that time, Heller knocked on her door, telling her the guest needed to leave.
Lauryn Heller left the house by herself, turning off the light behind her.
Her parents suspected someone was still over. Charles Heller armed himself with a loaded handgun and went to search his daughter’s room, according to court documents. Heller claimed he had never used a gun when confronting his daughter’s friends before, but this time, “something didn’t feel right,” he told detectives.
Heller searched the room and eventually found Hunt-Bagby under the bed. Lauryn Heller heard her father yelling from outside, court documents said.
What happened next has been heavily disputed over the past four years.
The father claimed Hunt-Bagby got up and started putting his clothes on and picking things up off the floor. Heller kept saying “get the (f—) out of my house” while pointing the gun in his direction, defense attorney Peter Mazzone wrote. Suddenly, Lauryn Heller “stormed” back into the room, moved herself in between her father and Hunt-Bagby, positioning herself in front of the gun with the barrel pointed at her, Mazzone wrote.
Heller claimed Lauryn reached down, grabbed the gun and held it to her face, screaming: “I’m the one that wants to die, why don’t you shoot me?”
According to the defense’s trial brief, Hunt-Bagby moved toward Heller, yelling: “Don’t you put your hands on her!”
Charles Heller claimed he was pinned against the bed, and saw Hunt-Bagby reach for his throat, Mazzone wrote. Heller aimed the gun at his shoulder and fired once.
Lauryn Heller had three separate interviews with police, according to court documents. She reported her father was racist, and that was the reason he shot Hunt-Bagby. She said she’d introduced him to her father before.
Lauryn Heller claimed her father’s finger was on the trigger the entire time he pointed the weapon. That detail was important to her, as her father was formerly in the military, and taught her to not put her finger on the trigger “unless you are prepared to shoot,” she reported to police.
The daughter told investigators she tried to pull Hunt-Bagby out of the room while she pointed the gun at herself. Hunt-Bagby used his free hand to push the gun to the side, and her father fell onto the bed. Charles Heller got up, aimed and shot him in the shoulder, according to the daughter’s account.
Heller was not arrested the night of the incident, according to court documents. He had been out of custody since the day of the shooting.
Sheriff’s deputies arrived to find Lauryn Heller standing on the front porch of the house, “hysterical,” according to court documents. Charles Heller was pressing onto a wound of the victim, Hunt-Bagby.
The lead deputy prosecutor in the case, Bob Langbehn, said he respected the court’s process and the jury’s verdict, even if he disagreed.
“They decided what they decided,” Langbehn said Monday.
Jurors were only given the option to convict or acquit Heller on the second-degree murder charge, as well as the question of self-defense.
Heller had no criminal history.
Mazzone, Heller’s defense attorney, said the jury saw it for what it was, and got it right.
“Mr. Heller had a right to defend his home and defend himself,” he said Monday.
Hunt-Bagby was originally from Kingston in Kitsap County.
Friends and family of Hunt-Bagby, who started the Facebook page “Justice for Dustyn Coalition,” shared their disappointment with the verdict, but they found “some comfort” with the fact that Heller “will not be getting away with this entirely scot-free.”
“Obviously, this is not the outcome we wanted,” the group shared in a post. “Dustyn’s family and friends are hurting. Everyone is understandably emotional, and I urge everybody to funnel that emotion into care for those around you.”
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed on behalf of Hunt-Bagby’s family in 2021. Superior Court Judge Millie Judge signed an order months later, postponing the civil case until after the criminal case had been resolved.