PORT ANGELES — A Clallam County jury will soon decide the fate of Nathaniel Darren Olson, a Sequim man charged in the shooting death of Matthew Baker in May 2014.
Before jury deliberations begin today, the state will make one final appeal that Olson committed first-degree manslaughter with a firearm enhancement.
Two weeks of witness testimony were summarized in a full day of closing arguments Friday.
Michele Devlin, Clallam County chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney, is expected to make a final rebuttal at 9 a.m. today before the case goes to the jury.
Olson, 29, is accused of shooting Baker with a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun at a social gathering at a Port Angeles-area residence around midnight May 22, 2014.
Olson has maintained his innocence.
Dr. Daniel Selove, the forensic pathologist who conducted Baker’s autopsy, testified Thursday that the victim died of a single gunshot wound to the center chest.
Baker was 25.
A person commits first-degree manslaughter when he or she recklessly causes the death of another person.
The state must prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
Alexandrea Schodowski, Clallam County deputy prosecuting attorney, argued Friday that Olson engaged in reckless conduct and that Baker died as a result of Olson’s reckless acts.
Defense attorney Karen Unger countered with a vastly different narrative, saying another person shot and killed Baker while Olson was passed out from drinking too much alcohol.
The shooting took place in the wake of a family gathering at David Holden’s residence at 1523 Monroe Road.
Clallam County Sheriff’s Sgt. Randy Pieper, one of the first to arrive at the scene, testified Tuesday that he found Baker’s body on the living room floor and a heavily intoxicated Olson lying on the ground a few feet away.
At the time of the shooting, the house was occupied by David and Jason Holden, Shellie Baskins, Terra Smithson, Baker and Olson, according to testimony.
Baker and David Holden had been fighting prior to the shooting, witnesses said.
Signs of the altercation were evident in photographs of David Holden and on Baker’s body.
Schodowski said Olson was “reckless” when he displayed a loaded gun at a family barbecue with children present.
“He was reckless when he had been drinking and drove his truck, with Terra and Dave inside, to go to Safeway and get more alcohol,” Schodowski said.
“He was reckless when he became grossly intoxicated, reaching a blood-alcohol level of 0.23 [percent]. He was reckless when he shot an unarmed Matthew Baker because he knew how to handle, control and shoot his gun.”
Unger did not dispute that the gun belonged to Olson. She disputed that her client pulled the trigger.
Olson did not testify at trial.
Jason Holden, who was asleep downstairs when the shot was fired, was the only sober adult in the house, the jury was told.
Jason Holden ran upstairs after he heard the gunshot and found a hysterical Smithson on top of her mortally wounded boyfriend and a dazed Olson sitting at a fireplace nearby, Schodowski said.
“When Jason asked what happened, Terra yelled, ‘He shot him, he shot him,’ ” Schodowski said.
“When Jason asked the defendant himself what happened, he said, ‘I shot him.’ That’s when Jason saw the gun right next to the defendant’s leg,” the prosecuting attorney said.
Baskins, Smithson and David Holden each testified that they were in the kitchen when they heard a single gunshot coming from an adjacent living room.
“They walked around the corner, they saw the defendant by the fireplace and Matthew Baker laying dead on the floor,” Schodowski said.
“All three of them said that the defendant just stood there, sat there, laid there, never bothering to help Matthew Baker or call 9-1-1.”
Responding officers said Smithson had to be handcuffed because she was trying to perform CPR on a deceased Baker.
Schodowski displayed autopsy photographs showing the trajectory of the hollow-point bullet as it traveled through Baker’s upper body, piercing his heart and lungs before exiting through his back.
“Based on the facts, based on what you’ve heard, this evidence is clear,” Schodowski told the jury.
“The defendant, Nate Olson, shot Matthew Baker, killing him, and the defendant is responsible for Matthew Baker’s death.”
In her closing argument, Unger said there was “not one shred of credible evidence” that Olson committed the crime.
“In fact, every piece of evidence that was presented to you is exculpatory to my client,” Unger told the jury.
“It proves that he didn’t do it.”
Unger attacked the credibility of the state’s key witnesses: Baskins, Smithson, Jason Holden and David Holden, all of whom are related.
She cited inconsistencies in the accounts that Smithson and especially David Holden gave to law enforcement and on the witness stand.
Unger submitted that David Holden was the shooter and that the others engaged in a “cover-up to protect the inner circle of this family.”
She argued that David Holden had motive to shoot whereas Olson did not.
“There was a big knock-down, drag-out fight between Dave and Matt, and Dave beat up this kid,” Unger said.
“He beat him up bad. And Matt got in a few good shots, too.”
Baker was told to leave the residence after the fight, but he came back inside because his car had broken down in the driveway, Unger said.
By that time, Unger said, David Holden considered Baker to be a trespasser.
“For some reason, Dave brought in that gun, and it was on that table while they were all drinking,” Unger said.
“And then what happened? Matt comes back in and he shoots him. And he shoots him in the kitchen. And then they dragged him into the living room and they set that scene,” she said.
Detritus on Baker’s sweatshirt and underwear, and the fact that his jeans were sagging low, suggested that the victim had been dragged across a floor, Unger said.
No witness owned up to using a mop that was found in the kitchen, she added.
Unger concluded by saying the state failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
“There’s so much doubt here that you could drive a truck through it,” she said.
Clallam County Superior Court Judge Erik Rohrer is presiding over the trial.
________Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.