MERCED - A deliberate and vicious murder, fueled by jealousy and rage.
That’s how Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II described the case of James Evertt White, who stands accused of gunning down 33-year-old Stephen Antoine Jackson on March 8, 2007, because of a feud over a woman.
Testimony in White’s trial kicked off Tuesday, and attorneys on both sides gave opening statements. Morse told jurors there’s a litany of witness testimony and evidence pointing to White’s guilt. On the other hand, White’s attorney Jeffrey Tenenbaum acknowledged there was a fight between the defendant and Jackson, but he questions whether it was murder.
Morse detailed for jurors a pattern of threats that led up to Jackson’s slaying. Before the killing, Morse said, Jackson and the defendant, nicknamed “Pedro,” had been friends. Jackson had even hired White, 41, to help him with a handyman business.
But the friendship went south after Jackson began a relationship with White’s ex-girlfriend, Morse said — a woman the defendant is suspected of abusing.
“What followed was a relentless campaign of threats, vandalism and vows of revenge,” Morse said.
Morse said the relationship between Jackson and the woman pushed White over the edge. He broke into Jackson’s home, Morse said, then smashed a television set and shattered the windows of the victim’s car. White’s behavior led the woman to file a restraining order against him. As part of the restraining order, White was also supposed to stay 100 yards away from Jackson and his child.
But the restraining order only further angered White, Morse said, and he told the woman, “You’re dead, bitch,” and threatened Jackson.
White filed a response to the restraining order with the Merced County Superior Court on March 8, the same day Jackson was killed. In the response, White denied the woman’s allegations of domestic abuse as well as her accusations that he was responsible for breaking into Jackson’s home.
The day of the killing, Morse said Jackson was driving to a hardware store with his 11-year-old son when White pulled alongside their vehicle and mimicked a gun with his hand. Soon after, Jackson and his son saw White, who said he wanted to fight.
Jackson told his son he was only going to talk with White. But near Cone Avenue and G Street, Morse said, White drove into the path of Jackson’s SUV with his van, got out of his vehicle and and threatened the victim with a metal baton.
Jackson got out of his car, and the two men began to fight in the middle of the street. During the struggle, police said, White retrieved a gun and shot Jackson twice. One bullet went through Jackson’s right arm and lodged in his neck, while the fatal bullet went into his chest.
Morse said numerous people witnessed the killing, including the driver and several passengers on a Merced County Transit bus passing through the area.
Morse played a videotape from the bus, which showed the driver calling for help on his radio, saying someone had been shot. Gunshots can be heard on the video, as passengers sit in shock.
White was on the run for five days after the killing, but then turned himself in to Oakland police.
Killing not disputed
Tenenbaum, White’s attorney, didn’t dispute during his opening statement that his client killed Jackson. He called the incident a fistfight that “went too far,” saying it was his client who was on the losing end of the fight, and was being “pummeled” by Jackson.
“My client (was) getting his butt kicked in the middle of the street,” Tenenbaum said.
A witness tried to intervene to stop Jackson from beating White further, Tenenbaum said. Because of the passion involved, Tenenbaum said he’ll ask jurors to find White guilty of a lesser crime, not murder.
Dressed in a gray suit, White sat quietly during the trial, winking and nodding to family members during a break.
Morse is prosecuting the case with Deputy District Attorney Nicole Silveira.
The first-degree murder charge against White has an enhancement attached of discharging a firearm. White also is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and possessing a prohibited weapon.
If convicted, he faces life in prison.