Scott Doyle Dutton, a former owner of Downtown Dawgs eatery, pleaded guilty this week to murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Dutton shot and killed Joshua McLemore, 27, on June 21, 2016, at Dutton’s home on Eighth Street Southwest in Decatur. McLemore was married and had a 3-year-old son at the time of his death. Decatur police said Dutton and McLemore had been in an ongoing argument over a woman. Dutton’s jury trial was scheduled to begin Monday.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, filed Thursday, Dutton — who is out on bond — is required to turn himself in at the Morgan County Jail by Sept. 2 at 6 p.m. From there he will be transported to a state penitentiary.

Dutton’s maximum sentence on the murder charge was life imprisonment.

“In exchange for the minimum sentence allowed under law for murder with a firearm, Scott pled guilty,” Carl Cole, his attorney, said Friday in an email. “He accepted his responsibility for his role in a tragic situation that could have been avoided if either man had backed down, or at least attempted to de-escalate the situation.”

Jeremy Goforth, a close friend of McLemore’s, said he was unhappy the sentence was so short, and frustrated that Dutton spent so little of the last three years in jail.

“Justice was served and I’m glad it’s over,” Goforth said. “But a wife lost her husband and a son lost his dad. His son will never get his dad back, and prison won’t change that.”

McLemore, a U.S. Army veteran, was a pipe welder at Hubbard & Drake in Decatur.

Evidence compiled by police included text messages between Dutton and McLemore, most involving their relationships with a woman who was then a waitress at Gridiron restaurant. According to an affidavit by the woman, not McLemore's wife, she saw text messages between the two men. In one, she said, McLemore said “he would have to shoot him or beat Scott up.” In another, Dutton told McLemore to come to his house.

“I didn’t think he was serious. I didn’t think Josh knew where Scott lived,” she wrote.

The woman said in her affidavit that “Josh had gotten suspicious about me hanging out with Scott,” and that McLemore contacted her frequently after she tried to break up with him.

The woman said Dutton had a pistol permit and a silver revolver.

“He carried that gun everywhere he legally could,” she wrote. “He told me once that he couldn’t shoot anybody, he would aim in the leg. I never thought Scott would have shot at Josh. If I had thought he might, I would have called the cops.”

In another text message, introduced by Dutton when he successfully sought to be released on bond, McLemore on June 8, 2016, texted, “Are me and you going to have problems? You and (the woman) are done hanging out.”

Dutton responded, “Yes sir. I don’t want any trouble.”

On the day of the shooting, according to court documents, McLemore sent Dutton a message that said, "Either your gonna shoot me or get your ass kicked."

According to police search warrant affidavits, McLemore got to Dutton’s house first and was in his driveway “when Dutton drove through the neighbor’s yard at a high rate of speed and pulled up near McLemore’s truck.”

Police said a disturbance, “possibly a fight,” then took place, according to witnesses they interviewed. 

“At some point, Dutton pulled a pistol that he was hiding under his shirt and pointed it at McLemore. McLemore raised his hands as if to surrender. Dutton then fired at least once. McLemore was struck by the bullet in the abdomen,” according to the police affidavit.

In court testimony recounting witness interviews, police said Dutton punched McLemore in the face and fired one round into the ground at his feet before shooting him in the abdomen.

Police said Dutton had a Taurus .38-caliber revolver in his pocket when they arrived, and McLemore was unarmed. McLemore was transported to Huntsville Hospital by helicopter, where he died.

In a search of Dutton’s house, police said they found numerous guns, including two shotguns near his bed, as well as marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

“The law and the elements in a self-defense claim are specific and technical, and although the shooting happened at Scott’s house, there were serious problems with that defense. Accepting the minimum sentence he could receive allows him the opportunity to avoid the risk of a much longer (sentence) — potentially a life sentence,” Cole said.

Dutton was previously an owner of Downtown Dawgs, which was relocated from East Moulton Street after the building in which it was a tenant was demolished after sustaining damage in an April 3, 2018, storm. The restaurant is now at Gateway Shopping Center on Sixth Avenue Southeast, and Dutton has worked there since being released on bond.

“The restaurant where he worked is owned by his mother, and will remain open,” Cole said.

Efforts to reach McLemore’s family were unsuccessful Friday.

eric@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2435. Twitter @DD_Fleischauer.

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