By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
An Army deserter was so enraged at his father for giving booze to his teenage sister and exposing her to potential harm that he shot him and two other men in a Cypress motel room, a prosecutor said today, while the defendant's attorney said her client was unstable due to years of alcohol and drug abuse.
Steven Matthew LeClaire is charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder, with sentencing enhancements for personal discharge of a firearm causing death and the personal discharge of a firearm causing great bodily injury, in the Feb. 24, 2011, killing of 24-year-old Marques Murray and wounding of 51-year-old Raymond Eligan and the defendant's father, Steven Francis LeClaire.
The defendant's vendetta against his father dates back to a visit between the senior LeClaire and his then-14-year-old daughter, Brittany, in September 2010, said Senior Deputy District Attorney Jim Mendelson.
Brittany, who has since changed her last name, wanted to see her father, so her mother and stepfather took her for a visit, which soon soured when he gave her alcohol and she had an uncomfortable encounter with one of his friends, Mendelson said.
The defendant, who was stationed in El Paso, Texas, at the time, heard what happened with their father when his sister phoned him, the prosecutor said. He told his roommate that he wanted to kill his father, Mendelson alleged.
The soldier went AWOL and crashed at his father's room at the Cypress Lodge, 5601 Lincoln Ave., on Feb. 5, 2011, Mendelson said. The defendant had lived with his father briefly as a teenager, but went back to his mother when the elder LeClaire introduced him to booze and he got in trouble with the law, Mendelson said.
Until the triple shooting, "the common denominator" was constant boozing and partying at the motel, according to the prosecutor.
On the night he was killed, Murray sent a text message to a girlfriend, who was a manager at the motel, saying, "Junior is flipping out, yo." She asked if the defendant was directing his ire at Murray, prompting him to reply, "No, on everyone. LOL," according to Mendelson.
Murray's friend advised him to "just go home. Don't get caught in with that," but it was the last time she heard from him, Mendelson said.
When an acquaintance of the younger LeClaire at the motel said she was going to call the police on him, the defendant went up to his father's room and opened fire, Mendelson alleged. He fired off 14 rounds, connecting 12 times, the prosecutor said.
The handgun was fired so often and quickly that it set off the room's smoke detector, Mendelson said. An off-duty California Highway Patrol officer at a nearby sports bar heard the gunfire and ran over to the motel, where he witnessed LeClaire quickly surrender, Mendelson said.
Toxicology tests showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.04 for Murray, 0.16 for the elder LeClaire and 0.20 for Eligan, Mendelson said. The defendant's was 0.10 about 10 hours after the shooting, meaning it was likely closer to 0.24 at the time he allegedly opened fire, the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney Gassia Apkarian said her client was angered by his father's visit with Brittany because he got her drunk and because she complained that one of her dad's friends tried to touch her inappropriately, but had not intended to harm anyone the night of the shootings.
LeClaire enlisted in the Army in 2006 and became a "perfect marksman." But he grew disenchanted with military service, and after he flunked a test on base, decided he would rather desert his post than face the punishment, Apkarian said.
LeClaire was a "functioning alcoholic" whose drinking accelerated after deployments, Apkarian said. He also abused drugs, using a combination of methamphetamine and cocaine known as "bath salts," she said.
While visiting with his sister, mother and stepfather for the Christmas holidays in 2010, he grew so "paranoid" that his gun was locked up out of sight and they watched him all night, Apkarian said. In January 2011, LeClaire went AWOL, but did not go back to his mother's home because she said she would not take him in if he deserted, Apkarian said.
While staying with his father, there was "drinking, lots of drinking, but no arguments, no fighting," Apkarian said. "Steven had 21 days to shoot and kill his father and he never even tried it."
He shot Murray as the victim tried to calm him, according to Apkarian, who told jurors that the defendant shot the other victims below the waist, indicating he had no intent to kill them.
LeClaire's blood-alcohol level was likely about .30 at the time of the shootings, and he should not be found guilty of premeditated murder, Apkarian said.
"Am I saying excuse him? No," she said. "What he's guilty of is voluntary manslaughter."