Authorities believe the death of a local business owner who collapsed in a Nodaway County courtroom Thursday minutes after being found guilty of statutory sodomy was almost certainly a suicide.
Though the finding is still preliminary, Sheriff Darren White said Saturday there is virtually no doubt that Steve Parsons, 48, swallowed cyanide shortly after a jury returned the verdict.
Parsons, who lived in Stanberry and owned Parsons' Tire & Battery in Maryville, was the defendant in a trial that was moved here on a change of venue from Gentry County. He was arrested in July 2011 on two felony counts alleging that he had sexual relations with a 14-year-old girl.
White, who was in the courtroom when Parsons collapsed, said the jury entered deliberations about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, and that Parsons had sat in the courtroom most of the day awaiting the verdict.
After the guilty verdict was read and the jury was polled, White said Parsons stood up and walked over to the bailiff's station near the front of the courtroom and told the sheriff, "I'm going to throw up."
He then picked up a cup filled with a soft drink that had been allowed into the courtroom while the jury was deliberating. He sipped from the drink using a straw, White said.
White said Parsons resumed his seat and, perhaps two minutes later, arched his back, slumped down into the chair, and started having convulsions.
Both White and Court Marshal Doug Lager said as far they they could tell Parsons did not ingest a pill or any other object or substance while drinking. White speculated later that Parsons swallowed cyanide while seated at the defendant's table, and may have taken the drink in order to wash down the poison.
Lager, a paramedic, rushed to the stricken man's side and worked to keep his air passage open while an ambulance was summoned to the courthouse. Judge Roger Prokes, who was concluding the trial when Parsons collapsed, dismissed the jurors, whom Lager said were not held at the scene.
Loaded aboard an ambulance, Parsons was taken to St. Francis Hospital & Health Services then transferred to Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, where he was declared dead on arrival, apparently after suffering a heart attack, White said.
Search warrants were issued Friday so that authorities could search Parsons' house, car and computers for evidence shedding light on his state of mind or intended actions during the trial.
White said that while searching Parsons' automobile he found a document containing the name of a Virginia-based chemical supply company, Colonial Scientific. Using that information, authorities were able to verify that Parsons ordered cyanide, ostensibly for business purposes, on June 25.
Purchasing cyanide, which has a number of industrial uses, generally requires that the buyer fill out a hazardous materials form and other paperwork, and suppliers typically balk at selling the highly toxic substance to individuals. However, White said, Parsons appears to have acquired the compound legally.
Page 2 of 2 - While the case is still officially open, White said he has no doubt Parsons died by his own hand.
"The examiner who did the tests said it was the most classic case of cyanide poisoning he had ever seen,' White said.