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Troubled history adds to murder case

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A history of threats and violence marred Rick Gordon's five-year residency in Viola. The dispute resulting in the murder of Joseph Clifton on Sept. 3, involving the two landowners, had stemmed from the purchase of a plow and the right-of-way use of Hidden Woods Trail, a private trail at the end of Big Stone County Road east of Viola. Gordon purchased the plow from Carl Langle over a year ago, said Walter Dillinger, Fulton County Sheriff.

Langle owns property to the south and east of the Clifton property. Hidden Woods Trail beyond the Clifton property has been impassable since the January 2009 ice storm, Dillinger said.

In a post Miranda statement, Gordon told Arkansas State Police that he shot Clifton in self-defense. The Arkansas State Police affidavit quoted Gordon directly as saying it was "either me or him." Clifton's 2-year-old son was in the back seat of the vehicle when Gordon shot Clifton, Dillinger said.

Two weeks before the Clifton murder, Joseph Clifton's wife and son met Gordon on Big Stone County Road. Dillinger was contacted by Clifton's mother-in-law regarding the incident, Dillinger said.

After the incident, the Sheriff told Gordon that his negative interaction with the Cliftons had to stop. Dillinger offered to contact Clifton's father-in-law, Dennis Brown of Viola about getting the plow, he said.

"I told him that when Dennis (Brown) got home that we would work it out," Dillinger said. "(Gordon) seemed OK with that."

The sheriff spoke to Clifton's father-in-law regarding the relocation of the purchased plow from the Langle property to Gordon's, but Dillinger was not aware that Clifton had returned home from work in Colorado on Monday, Aug. 31, Dillinger said.

A crime scene search revealed two .45 caliber casings lying near Clifton's body, according to the Arkansas State Police affidavit.

Clifton had been placed on the ground by his wife Denise, who was the first to arrive on the scene. He also received a broken arm, which was probably incurred from the gun shot, Dillinger said.

The State Police found tractor tire marks and shoe prints, later matched to Gordon's shoes, at the scene, the affidavit said.

State Police searched Gordon's residence and found two boxes of .45 caliber ammunition, "one full box and one partial box," the affidavit said.

The casings of the ammunition matched the two casings found at the crime scene, the affidavit said.

"Two manufactures' shipping boxes for .45 caliber semi-automatic weapons were located at Gordon's residence; however no matching weapons were located," the affidavit said.

Gayle Gordon, Rick Gordon's wife, told State Police that her husband came home upset and "told her that he had shot Joseph Clifton and killed him." He said that Clifton asked him not to kill him, Gayle Gordon said in the affidavit.

She told State Police that Gordon had threatened to kill Denise Clifton and her son. Gordon told her that he did not kill the child because "he was not a baby killer," Gayle Gordon said in the affidavit.

Gayle Gordon told State Police that she observed her husband take two pistols from their residence and go to the creek, located behind the residence. She said she saw him "throw something into the creek after he had said that he killed Clifton," the affidavit said.

She said that "Gordon had told her he was getting rid of the guns when she had asked what he was doing," the affidavit said.

Fulton County deputies found a rifle in Clifton's truck when they arrived, about 7:15 p.m. on Sept. 3. Whether Clifton's gun was loaded or on safety was not established by the Fulton County Sheriff's Office, said Walter Dillinger, Fulton County Sheriff.

The case is open and under investigation by the State Police; further evidence will be held by the State Police until the time of court. Gordon's arraignment is set for later in September, an official date was not set as of Sept. 14.

The loss of Clifton has been felt dearly by the Viola community.

"He was a good young man, I'd say that to anybody," Dillinger said. He knew Clifton since he was born, he said. Clifton was born and raised in Viola. Those who knew him only had kind words to say.

"He's one of a kind. You won't find anyone that could say anything bad about him," said Robert Wray, great-uncle of Denise Clifton, the wife of Joseph Clifton. Wray owns Fun Days in Viola.

Violent behavior from Gordon had surfaced before. An incident at Fun Days Restaurant in Viola on Nov. 25, 2005, resulted in a knife injury and Gordon's arrest, Wray said. Wray was at the restaurant cooking that day.

The incident involved Gordon and his son and daughter-in-law. After Gordon insulted his daughter-in-law, his son hit Gordon, which resulted in a fist fight on the floor of the restaurant. Gordon pulled a knife and threw it about eight feet in the direction of his daughter-in-law. She incurred a flesh wound on her stomach from the knife, Wray said.

The fight ended with Gordon leaving the restaurant. He went to his vehicle where he retrieved a gun. Someone who had been eating at the restaurant saw Gordon with a handgun in the parking lot. Wray called the police for a third time, he said. "When I got out there and saw that he was loading that gun, I went in and called the police for the third time. I made a statement: 'he's out there loading a gun.' When I called the third time I heard a policeman tell the dispatcher: 'We are driving out there as fast as we can.'"

Tom Hansleman, then a retired Chicago policeman, and a policeman from Chicago who was on vacation, were eating at the restaurant at the time of the incident. The two went to their vehicle to retrieve their own handguns, Wray said.

Hansleman, now serving as a Fulton County deputy, and the Chicago policeman stopped Gordon short of entering the restaurant again. He was arrested by the Fulton County Sherriff's Office.

Gordon was barred from Fun Days for two years. "I let him back in last winter," Wray said. "Day time only, as long as he hadn't been drinking. He never tried to come back in at night."

Gordon ate at Fun Days as a regular, a couple times a week, Wray said.

Gordon was charged, Nov. 25, 2005, by the Fulton County Sheriff's Office with aggravated assault, a Class D felony. Fulton County Circuit Court reduced Gordon's charges from a Class D felony to assault first degree, a Class A misdemeanor.

"We done our part," Dillinger said. "It was the courts that made that decision."



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