After a three-day trial that drew friends Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall to a Waco, Texas courtroom, outlaw country artist Billy Joe Shaver was found not guilty Friday on charges of aggravated assault for shooting a man in the face outside a Texas bar in 2007. “I am very sorry about the incident,” Shaver said outside the courtroom. “Hopefully things will work out where we become friends enough so that he gives me back my bullet.”
In a packed, sweltering courtroom, Shaver, 70, admitted to shooting Billy Bryant Coker on the back porch of Papa Joe’s Saloon, a beer joint outside Shaver’s Waco hometown. The singer pleaded self-defense, claiming Coker stirred his drink with a pocket blade, wiped it on Shaver’s shirt and asked him to come outside. “I felt he was gonna kill me,” Shaver testified. “He was a big bully, the worst I ever seen — a big bad one. And I been all around the world.”
State prosecutors argued Shaver could have left in his truck before shooting Coker. “I’m from Texas,” Shaver responded in his honky-tonk Texas drawl. “If I was a chicken shit I would have left.”
The shooting occurred March 31, 2007, after Shaver stopped into the smoky bar for a beer with his former wife, Wanda. Shaver testified Coker was rude to Wanda and told Shaver to “Shut the fuck up.” After the two went outside, witnesses testified Shaver asked Coker, “Where do you want it?” then pointed a .22 pistol at Coker’s cheek, pulled the trigger and fled in his truck. When Shaver was asked on the stand if he shot Coker because Shaver was jealous the victim was talking Shaver’s wife, Shaver laughed. “I get more woman than a passenger train can haul,” he said.
Shaver’s song “Live Forever” was used prominently in Crazy Heart, and Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan have recorded his music. In 1973, Waylon Jennings recorded nearly an entire record of Shaver songs, Honky Tonk Heroes, and Willie Nelson says he considers Shaver the greatest living songwriter. Nelson leaned forward in his seat as Shaver testified, and told RS outside the courtroom, “I don’t think Billy Joe would do anything wrong. Whatever happened, I don’t think it was Billy Joe’s fault.”