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Was 2007 Merced killing vengeance or simply an accident?

MERCED - A man, who didn’t give a “tinker’s damn” about a court restraining order, determined to commit murder over a failed relationship.

That’s how Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II characterized the case of 41-year-old James White, on trial on accusations of firing two bullets into 33-year-old Stephen Jackson, killing him.

Attorneys on both sides presented closing arguments Friday in the trial, in which White is charged with first-degree murder with an enhancement of discharging a firearm. The prosecution maintains that White killed Jackson during an afternoon brawl March 8, 2007, at Cone Avenue and G Street. Prosecutors say White, a two-time convicted felon, became enraged after Jackson began a romantic relationship with White’s ex-girlfriend.

White, on the other hand, claims the killing was unintentional, testifying that the gun accidentally went off when he and a passer-by named Benito Aguirre struggled with it.

During his closing argument, Morse challenged the idea of the crime being an accident, saying both shots fired by the defendant “required a conscious decision to pull the trigger.” Furthermore, Morse said, the first bullet hit the victim “dead center in the chest.”

White told one of Jackson’s relatives that he’d planned to kill Jackson, Morse said. Weeks before the killing, White also personally threatened Jackson near R Street and Olive Avenue, prosecutors say. Although Jackson and his girlfriend made the effort to get a restraining order against White, Morse said it didn’t stop White’s murderous plans.

“Everything he did in the months leading up to March 8, 2007, was a blueprint to murder,” Morse said.

While Morse said there have been “thousands of poems and songs” written by and about people who’ve been dumped in relationships, most people “carry on or move forward” without resorting to killing. “(White) didn’t have a right to do this,” Morse said, holding a photograph of Jackson’s dead body in front of the jury.

Morse also pointed out the many witnesses who say they saw White shoot Jackson, including a Merced County Transit bus driver and Jackson’s 11-year-old son.

Morse also mentioned testimony by Aguirre, a witness who testified that he saw White fall to the ground during the fight. Aguirre testified about seeing the gun on the ground, and that he’d tried to kick it out of the way. But White grabbed the .32-caliber Derringer handgun, pointed it at Aguirre, and then pointed it back at Jackson and killed him, Aguirre testified.

For the shooting to be an accident, Morse argued that Aguirre, Jackson’s son and bus driver would all have to be lying.

“The defendant hunted, confronted and finally killed Stephen Jackson,” Morse argued. “That man committed murder. We know it — and he knows it.”

Jeffrey Tenenbaum, White’s attorney, downplayed testimony by the prosecution’s witnesses, questioning whether they were able to get a good look at the incident.

For example, he said Jackson’s son was scared and running away during the fight, only turning around after he heard the first shot. Tenenbaum also said the bus driver didn’t see the fight unfold, only catching the tail end of it.

Tenenbaum also questioned why Aguirre didn’t stick around to tell police what he saw the day of the killing — and didn’t talk to detectives until they tracked him down four months later.

“That sounds like a man who doesn’t want to talk about his involvement in the shooting,” Tenenbaum said.

White also is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and possessing a prohibited weapon. If convicted, he faces a sentence of life in prison.

Jury deliberations are scheduled to resume Tuesday.

Managing Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at or (209) 385-2431.

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