A Palmdale man has been sentenced to 21 years in state prison for shooting his roommate in the face two years ago.
Nicholas Harper, 26, was sentenced in an Antelope Valley courtroom Thursday for the death of his best friend and roommate, 21-year-old James McElroy. A jury last month found Harper not guilty of murder, but guilty of voluntary manslaughter in connection with McElroy’s death. The jury also found true the allegation that Harper personally used a shotgun to commit the crime.
McElroy was shot to death Feb. 7, 2012 inside the apartment he shared with Harper at the Parkwood Patio complex in the 38000 block of 20th Street East in Palmdale. Harper initially told detectives that McElroy had been shot by two black guys who came to the apartment looking for marijuana. The next day, Harper changed his story, claiming the shooting was accidental and it happened when he and McElroy decided to clean their guns after an evening of drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.
During Harper’s sentencing hearing Thursday, family members expressed grief and anguish over the loss of McElroy.
McElroy was her only son and the family’s protector, said Clemmie Graves. Her son was a lovable person who was adored by everyone, young and old, Graves said.
The victim’s sister, Shante McElroy, read a heartfelt, self-composed poem that talked about losing her “hero.” The mother of McElroy’s daughter, Samantha Zuniga, spoke about the child’s struggle to cope with the loss of her dad. “It’s really hard as a mom to not be able to take your kid’s pain away,” she said.
Velma McElroy said her grandson was a kindhearted person who had looked out for her for as long as she could remember. “You took away someone that we love very much,” Velma McElroy told Harper.
Following the victim impact statements, Harper made a rambling plea for forgiveness directed at McElroy’s family members.
“I am to blame, but I never denied that,” Harper said, adding that the shooting was a drunken accident that he wished he could take back. “If I could change anything that night, there’s no doubt that I would change places with him and have him be here,” Harper said.
He said McElroy was like a brother to him, and he urged family members to remember the good times they all shared.
“No matter how many times I say sorry to you, I know it would never change it,” Harper told McElroy’s family members.
But prosecutor William S. Chung said Harper had previously showed no remorse or accepted any responsibility for his best friend’s death. Following the jury’s manslaughter verdict last month, Harper was heard in a jailhouse telephone call saying “We beat this!” and “F— the family” in reference to McElroy’s family members, Chung told the judge.
In sentencing Harper to the high term for voluntary manslaughter, Judge Kathleen Blanchard said Harper had taken no responsibility in the aftermath of McElroy’s death. Rather, Harper made up a story and discarded the weapons, which was a “clear indication of a sophisticated plan.” The judge also said that the story Harper told about the shooting being an accident “doesn’t seem very likely.”
Following the sentencing hearing, McElroy’s mother said she was leaving everything in God’s hands.
“God will deal with him (Harper),” she said.
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