Authorities: Man shot mayor who backed his parole

A convicted killer who was out on parole is accused of shooting and critically wounding a northern Arkansas mayor who had written a letter in support of his release from prison.

Everton Mayor Bill Gerdes was in critical condition at a hospital in Springfield, Mo., after he was shot in the back and left hand Wednesday night.

Authorities arrested Justin Bates around midnight Wednesday after an hourslong standoff outside his father's home in Everton. Boone County Sheriff Danny Hickman said Bates, 35, faces a count of attempted capital murder and a firearms charge.

He's being held at the county jail on $1 million bond. He does not have an attorney yet, Hickman said.

Nearly five years ago, when Bates became eligible for parole in a second-degree murder case, Gerdes wrote to authorities on Bates' behalf.

"Having visited him during his incarceration from time to time I have noticed his progress and a change of atitude, espepecially the last 2 years," Gerdes wrote in an August 2006 letter obtained by The Associated Press. "I think him and his outlook on life have changed a lot for the better."

Bates was released on parole in September 2010 and had not encountered any problems until the alleged shooting, community correction spokeswoman Rhonda Sharp said. He and the mayor "had a good relationship," Hickman said.

Authorities say they do not let know what led to the Gerdes' shooting. Hickman said Bates was drunk when authorities took him into custody. No one administered a breathalyzer test.

"We're still investigating the motive," Hickman said.

A sheriff's deputy found a wounded Gerdes outside Bates' father's home about 6:20 p.m. Wednesday. Bates was brandishing a rifle, Hickman said, but a sheriff's deputy was able to move the mayor to safety.

Authorities then flew Gerdes over the state border to a hospital in Springfield, Mo., where his wife told the sheriff on Thursday that he was in critical condition.

Meanwhile, Bates was holed up in his father's home in the northern Arkansas town of fewer than 140 people, authorities said, and a standoff with law enforcement lasted several hours. Officers fired beanbags at him and eventually took him into custody, authorities said.

Bates' last conviction started with booze. He and another young man, 29-year-old Jason Dickey, bought a bottle of wine and a case of beer before they got into a fight, according to a police affidavit from October 1999.

Bates beat and kicked Dickey until he died, then repeatedly told another man not to call police, an Arkansas State Police corporal wrote in the affidavit.

Bates was convicted of second-degree murder in 2000 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The mayor knew all that and vouched for him anyway.

"I have known Justin Bates for approximately 15 years, known of his problem and what he was incarcerated for," Gerdes wrote in the 2006 letter. "... I have no problem at all with him returning to this small town of Everton, Ark. if he so wishes."

Bates had worked for both the mayor and the town, Gerdes wrote, and he couldn't imagine him having trouble finding work.

"He had a reputation for being a good hard worker."

Bates' prison record showed another side. He had more than a dozen disciplinary violations, several of which were violent in nature, according to correction spokeswoman Shea Wilson. His last disciplinary violation was in early 2010 and his last violent violation was in 2007, Wilson said.

Still, despite his prison record and opposition from a local prosecutor, Bates was released on parole less than a year ago on several conditions. He was to abstain from alcohol, submit to drug and alcohol testing and put in community service hours if he couldn't find a job, according to the Arkansas Board of Parole.


Associated Press writer Chuck Bartels in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

Jeannie Nuss can be reached at