PALMDALE – More than two years after James McElroy was shot to death inside his Palmdale apartment, a trial is finally underway at Antelope Valley courthouse for the man charged with McElroy’s murder – his roommate and best friend, Nicholas Harper.
The jury heard opening statements from both sides on Wednesday.
Harper and 21-year-old McElroy had been friends for nearly a decade, but there was tension in the friendship after the two moved in together at the Parkwood Patio apartment complex in east Palmdale, according to Deputy District Attorney William S. Chung.
McElroy’s girlfriend, Carla, would testify that she was staying over at the apartment on the night of Feb. 7, 2012, when she was awakened by a loud gunshot, Chung said. Carla went into the living room and saw McElroy with his mouth “blown out,” Chung told the jury.
Carla would testify that she locked herself in a bathroom to call her boyfriend’s mother, but Harper broke into the bathroom, grabbed her by the shoulders and said “two black guys did this,” Chung told the jury.
As his best friend gargled on blood, conscious but unable to speak, Harper kept repeating the lie to different people, Chung told the jury.
Harper told Carla, McElroy’s mom, and responding deputies that McElroy had been shot by two black guys who came to the apartment looking for marijuana.
“He said ‘one of those black men shot James in the face and I don’t know why,’” Chung told the jury, adding that Harper even described the “suspects” to at least five different people.
But the shotgun used in the shooting was recovered from the scene, and Harper’s story unraveled, Chung said. Harper then changed his story, claiming the shooting was accidental because the shotgun went off as both men were cleaning it, Chung told the jury.
A firearms expert would testify that even that story was a lie, because it was scientifically impossible in the manner in which Harper described, Chung told the jury.
The prosecutor urged the jury to find Harper guilty of murdering McElroy based on his motive, his repeated lies, and scientific evidence, which proved the shotgun discharge was deliberate.
But defense attorney Hung Du said he would be calling another expert to the witness stand, who would testify that it was possible for the shotgun to accidentally discharge in the manner described by Harper.
“The evidence is going to show that this shotgun was a malfunctioning shotgun,” Du told the jury.
Du said McElroy was shot when the two “buddies” decided to clean their guns after an evening of drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.
“When he saw his friend there dying, he panicked,” Du told the jury, about why Harper made up the story about the two black guys.
Du said Harper made up a “horrible story” but confessed the very next day.
He urged the jury to listen to all the independent evidence, which would prove that McElroy’s death was a “tragic, tragic accident”.
The trial continues today (May 22) at 2:30 p.m. at Antelope Valley courthouse, with McElroy’s girlfriend, Carla, on the witness stand.
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