PORT TOWNSEND — Self-defense was the theme of both prosecuting and defense attorneys in the opening statements of the trial of a Nordland man accused of first-degree murder.
Opening statements in the trial of John Paul Beckmeyer were delivered Tuesday afternoon after a jury was seated in the Jefferson County Courthouse.
Beckmeyer, 60, was charged with first-degree murder — armed with a firearm — and first-degree assault-domestic violence after allegedly shooting and killing a 24-year-old Nordland man and assaulting a woman last Aug. 25 in Nordland.
The trial is expected to last two weeks.
First-degree murder is a Class A felony punishable up to life in prison and/or a $50,000 fine. Fourth-degree assault-domestic violence is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a 364 days in jail and/or a $5,000 fine, according to court documents.
Chris Ashcraft, Jefferson County chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney, presented the jury with his argument that Beckmeyer shot and killed James McDonald.
McDonald was armed, but he was armed in self-defense after Beckmeyer made a threat, Ashcraft said.
Richard Davies, a public defender with Jefferson Associated Counsel, said Beckmeyer acted in self-defense as McDonald approached the fifth-wheel trailer, where Beckmeyer was at the time, with a shotgun.
Beckmeyer fired nine rounds from a .22 Ruger pistol — two of which struck McDonald and killed him.
McDonald never fired a shot.
Ashcraft and Davies agreed upon much of the situation leading up to the fatal shooting in their opening arguments.
Beckmeyer, McDonald and their respective girlfriends, Danielle Boucher and Randy Benson, were having a barbecue together at a property in the 200 block of Griffith Point Road, they said.
McDonald and Benson lived in a house on the property, while Beckmeyer and Boucher lived in a fifth-wheel trailer there.
During the barbecue, Beckmeyer complained to Boucher that her radio was too loud and asked her to turn it down. When she didn’t, Beckmeyer struck Boucher in the face with his hand, prompting Benson and McDonald to tell Beckmeyer not to hit a woman.
Ashcraft said Beckmeyer either smacked or punched Boucher in the head, and Davies said he cuffed Boucher in the ear.
After the confrontation, Beckmeyer retreated to the fifth-wheel trailer.
On the way into the trailer, “That’s when he says, ‘I’m gonna to get my .45,’ ” referring to a Colt .45 pistol that the four knew he owned and was in the fifth-wheel, Ashcraft said.
That statement prompted McDonald to go into his house and retrieve a break-action double-barrel shotgun so he could “defend himself,” Ashcraft said.
“What happened that night all started with Mr. Beckmeyer,” Ashcraft said.
Davies denied Beckmeyer made the statement that he was getting his gun.
Instead, his client was trying to remove himself from the verbal altercation with Benson and McDonald, Davies said.
Davies said Beckmeyer has bad eyesight and so he did not see McDonald and his gun clearly. It appeared to him that McDonald was holding a pump-action .22 rifle, and that the gun was pointed at the fifth-wheel and he knew that the walls of the trailer could easily be penetrated by a .22-caliber round or a shotgun blast, Davies told the jury.
Seeing McDonald with the gun made Beckmeyer fear for his life, and that was when he stuck his hand out of the fifth-wheel and fired nine shots; seven went over the two women’s heads and into another trailer, and two struck and killed McDonald, Davies said.
Beckmeyer reportedly told the law enforcement officials when they arrived that “I had to defend myself,” Davies said.
All four had been drinking alcohol during the barbecue and McDonald arming himself was an “escalation beyond reason,” Davies said.
Not only did McDonald not fire his gun, he couldn’t have done so, Ashcraft said.
The break-action shotgun McDonald was holding was broken open — so it could be loaded and hence was unable to be fired — and was found open with one unused shell loaded, Ashcraft said.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]