Accused killer Jonathan Douglas Shaw took the witness stand Wednesday, describing himself as responding to an imminent threat when he shot and killed unarmed Fuel Fitness employee Matthew Hurley on Sept. 16, 2021.
“At that point, I just simply react,” he said in Flathead County District Court. “I draw my pistol that I had in my pocket and I fire off four shots at the guy reaching into his waistband.”
Shaw, 37, faces counts of deliberate homicide for Hurley’s death and attempted deliberate homicide for the ensuing firefight with a gym patron in the parking lot of the U.S. 2 fitness center in Kalispell. He pleaded not guilty in October 2021. His attorneys, Colin Stephens and Paul Simon, argued in their opening statement that Shaw was justified in the shooting, fearing for his life when he pulled the trigger.
Prosecutors, who rested their case Wednesday, alleged that Shaw opened fire after Hurley and assistant gym manager Matt Underhill presented him with a cash refund for his membership at Fuel Fitness. The pair had learned that Shaw was living in a trailer parked in the gym’s lot and hoped he would relocate.
Shaw allegedly refused the money and exited his vehicle to follow the men after Hurley left an envelope behind with the cash refund.
Underhill testified earlier in the week that Shaw, approaching in an “aggressive manner,” exchanged words with them before telling Hurley he was going to die and pulling out a pistol. Shaw’s defense attorneys, meanwhile, have portrayed Shaw as outnumbered and feeling imperiled when the two men suddenly began reaching into their clothing.
An alternatingly chatty and distraught Shaw gave his version of the deadly encounter on July 12. He recalled the two men stopping him as he was preparing to depart the parking lot to look for a job in town. Shaw, who previously lived in Missouri and Florida, had recently embraced van life. He said he could no longer afford his apartment in Kalispell, which his father had rented up until his death in 2020.
Shaw testified that while they spoke, he could make out nothing they said over the rumble of his engine. By the time he opened his door to better hear them, they already were walking back to the gym, he said.
Approaching them to learn what they wanted, he said he thought he could hear them whispering invectives about him. They ignored his questions, Shaw said and then “the guy in the red shirt says, ‘[expletive] you,’ and he starts reaching toward his waistband and the guy in the hoodie starts reaching into the pocket [of his hooded sweatshirt].”
“It looked like they were reaching for a weapon, like they were reaching for something that might kill me,” Shaw said a moment later.
Describing himself as overweight at the time and suffering from various ailments that limited his mobility, Shaw said he saw no chance of outrunning or evading the pair. He fired his gun, a Walther PPQ 9 mm, at the man later identified as Hurley, he said. Then he did it again.
“I follow up with three more shots — bam, bam, bam,” Shaw recalled from the stand.
Underhill began running. Hurley collapsed.
Shaw said he sought safety after the shooting and planned on calling emergency responders. He recalled hopping into his truck and trying to maneuver it, instead backing into his trailer. Giving up on fleeing, Shaw said he then considered calling 911. That’s when more gunfire broke out, he said, and a bullet passed through his windshield and by his head.
Shaw told jurors that in the ensuing chaos he did not know where the shooting was coming from and thought it might be the man accompanying Hurley. He realized he had been shot; he was bleeding profusely.
Under questioning from defense attorney Paul Simon, Shaw said he could not remember firing back at the individual shooting him, in actuality gym patron William Keck, who had fetched a handgun from his truck after Underhill met him while heading to the gym and recounted the shooting.
Shaw acknowledged that he may have fired back. Investigators testifying earlier in the day recounted recovering nickel or silver colored shell casings linked to Shaw’s handgun from a variety of locations in the parking lot.
“I’m trying to do my best, I’m trying to do my best to try to stay alive and I’m failing [expletive] miserably,” Shaw said.
“How do you [expletive] respond to people trying to … kill you?” he asked a moment later, his voice wavering. “How do you respond to that? Can anybody tell me?”
NEITHER HURLEY nor Underhill were armed with anything more than their mobile phones when they headed out to meet with Shaw. Underhill testified on the first day of the trial that Hurley instructed him to call 911 as Shaw followed them back toward the gym. Shaw made his intent clear about the same time, Underhill recalled.
“He walked toward us and said, ‘Fine, then you’re going to die,” Underhill testified.
In Shaw’s version, Hurley and Underhill appeared angry with him. Underhill remembered Shaw as menacing the two employees.
Deputy County Attorney John Donovan, who is prosecuting the case alongside Deputy County Attorney Ashley Frechette, pressed Shaw on his account during his cross examination, beginning with whether or not he knew Hurley and Underhill.
Though Shaw testified to not knowing who they were, Donovan noted that he performed an internet search with Hurley’s given name and Fuel Fitness in the query the day before the shooting. Shaw relented and acknowledged recognizing one of the men, but maintained he did not know if he was an employee, though Donovan pointed out that Hurley wore a gym staff shirt.
Donovan then pivoted to the confrontation, asking whether Shaw exited his vehicle armed with the Walther 9 mm.
“Always,” Shaw replied.
“It was loaded?”
“Yes,” Shaw said.
“A round in the chamber?”
“Yes,” Shaw replied.
Under Donovan’s questioning, Shaw acknowledged not seeing a firearm on either Hurley or Underhill as they approached his vehicle. He admitted to not seeing one later, either. Pressed on what he did see, Shaw maintained he thought they were reaching for a weapon.
Donovan also questioned Shaw’s priorities following the shooting. Once in his vehicle, his phone was near where he sat in the driver’s seat. Why not call 911? Donovan asked.
Shaw said he planned on it.
“I was going to as soon as I could,” he said. “That’s the first thing that was on my mind, was calling 911 and getting help.”
Arguing he no longer knew where Underhill was, Shaw again recounted trying to leave for a safer place and hitting his trailer. That’s when he decided to call 911, he told Donovan, but gunfire interrupted him.
Judge Dan Wilson, who is presiding over the case, ended Wednesday’s proceedings shortly thereafter. Donovan is expected to resume his questioning Thursday morning.
Shaw, his defense attorneys told the court, will be their only witness.