Nixa -- Kimberly Lawson struggled with guilt for weeks after the death of her longtime boyfriend, Rex Hicks.
She kept thinking that if only she hadn't gone to her neighbor's house to try to settle a dispute, the father of her two children would still be alive.
"I put myself through a really bad guilt trip," she said. "I relive that night: 'Well, if I hadn't gone down there, things would be so different; he would still be here.'"
But on that night --about 8 p.m. Jan. 17 --Hicks was shot and killed, allegedly by a neighbor whom he and Lawson called a friend.
When police arrived, they found Hicks lying on the front steps of that neighbor's house with a fatal gunshot wound to the upper chest.
Police questioned the neighbor, a 27-year-old man. He told authorities at the scene he felt threatened by Hicks when he shot him once with a .243-caliber hunting rifle, according to a police incident report.
The suspect was detained for investigation but released 24 hours later.
"I never thought we'd be in this situation," said Amanda Hicks, the 19-year-old daughter of Lawson and Rex Hicks. "The first 24 hours after it happened, I never once dreamed he'd be walking out of that jail."
No charges have been filed in the death. Hicks' family says that's because of a relatively new law with an even newer addition: the Castle Doctrine.
Lawson told police that Rex Hicks followed her that night to the neighbor's home at 410 S. Patricia St. in Nixa, where she told police she was beaten by the man and his wife after they argued over money the couple owed Lawson and Hicks.
As Hicks approached the front steps, he was shot, Lawson told police.
The incident report stated that when authorities arrived, the neighbor came outside and "made a spontaneous statement that he had 'shot him' and he had to 'protect his family.'"
That statement could be a reason why he's not been charged.
The Castle Doctrine, signed into Missouri law in 2007, allows people to use force to protect themselves while in their home, vehicle and --since a change to the law last year --on their property.
Lawson said the Christian County prosecutor's office has spoken to her about the issue of self-defense and told her prosecutors wanted to make sure they had "their ducks in a row" before they filed any charges.
Prosecutor Amy Fite said she cannot comment on pending cases but did speak in general terms about how her office works.
"In any case, we want to make sure we're very aware of what the applicable statutes are; what the applicable case law is," she said. "We always want to make sure that we are prepared and able to recognize whatever statutes the case law reports."
Fite said the investigation was ongoing and that her office is waiting on more information from the Nixa Police Department.
"When we have as much information as is possible, we will then be able to review the case," she said. "Our goal is to make the best charging decision as possible."
Nixa police Detective Jason Hartsell said he's waiting on lab results and a scene sketch of the incident.
"Other than that, nothing has really changed," he said.
Hartsell said he believes it will take a couple of weeks before he turns over the case to the prosecutor's office.
Castle as a defense
The original version of the Castle Doctrine has been used in Missouri courts.
In 2009, Attorney General Chris Koster announced he would not file charges against Jackie Gleason, who fatally shot her former boyfriend, Rogelio Johnson, in May 2008 in her home.
Koster attributed his decision to the Castle Doctrine, which states that if an individual "unlawfully enters, remains after unlawfully entering, or attempts to unlawfully enter a dwelling, residence or vehicle," the owner or resident can use deadly force against that person in self-defense.
Several attorneys said they're unaware whether the property addition to the Castle Doctrine has been tested in court.
In general, though, the Castle Doctrine works in favor of the defense, said Dee Wampler, a criminal defense attorney in Springfield.
"That statute gives the defendant in a potential criminal case ... a peg to hang his hat on," Wampler said.
However, the biggest question would be whether the suspect reasonably believed he needed to use deadly force, he said.
According to the police incident report, the suspect's wife "made several spontaneous statements that Rex's daughter, Amanda Hicks, had called her several times and told her that Rex was going to come over and kill them."
James Wyrsch, a criminal defense attorney with the Kansas City law firm Wyrsch Hobbs and Mirakian, said that while the Castle Doctrine can offer a defense, critics of those types of statutes say they give people the right to use deadly force when there's no reason to believe that the other person is going to harm them.
Lawson and her daughter are among those critics.
The incident report stated that no weapon was found on or around the body of Hicks after he was shot.
Amanda Hicks said she didn't believe her father was presenting an imminent danger to the neighbor or his wife.
"I've read up on (the Castle Doctrine). I've read the whole thing. I've analyzed it," she said. "And what I get from it is that you can protect yourself (with deadly force) if it's either your life or their life."
"I totally agree with that ... but shooting somebody unarmed ... that's not self-defense," she said.
Knowing Rex Hicks' death could possibly lead to the first use of the Castle Doctrine defense that includes "property" in the state, Lawson and Amanda Hicks said they hope it sheds some light on what they believe is a bad statute.
"If this (case) would prevent any other family from dealing with this, it would mean a lot because it would be like my dad died for a reason -- nobody else has to go through what we went through," Amanda Hicks said.
Lawson said she's been patient with the understanding that she believes justice will prevail.
"I'd rather wait and get the right answer than for it to be over and get the wrong answer," she said of the investigation.