Steven Matthew LeClaire Jr. Jurors Weigh Murder or Manslaughter for Army Deserter
Army deserter Steven Matthew LeClaire Jr. was so peeved his father gave booze to his teenage sister and that one of dad's pals hit on the 14-year-old that he shot the senior LeClaire and two others in a Cypress motel room, killing one, a prosecutor told jurors during the opening of Wednesday's murder trial in Santa Ana.
Courtesy of Cypress PD Steven M. LeClaire Jr.
The defense countered that LeClaire was unstable due to years of drug and alcohol abuse and did not mean to killing anyone that fateful night, angling for manslaughter instead of murder and attempted murder counts that could send the 26-year-old to prison for 90 years.
The U.S. Army specialist was AWOL from his base in El Paso, Texas, when he came to Orange County in February 2011. His sis Brittany had weeks earlier gone to visit their father Steven Francis LeClaire, who gave her alcohol. She also had an uncomfortable encounter with her 42-year-old father's friend.
Around 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 24, 2011, the junior LeClaire was in the Cypress Lodge on Lincoln Avenue in Orange watching a basketball game with his father, Marques Murray, 24, and Raymond Eligan, 51, when the defendant allegedly pulled out a gun and fired several times at the men without provocation.
The elder LeClaire was shot several times and Eligan was clipped in the legs trying to escape, but both survived. Murray, who took rounds to the arm and chest, died. LeClaire Jr., who is charged with murdering Murray and trying to murder the other two men, faces a minimum sentence of 90 years to life in state prison with a conviction, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office.
City News Service courtroom reporter Paul Anderson quotes Senior Deputy District Attorney Jim Mendelson telling jurors that Murray texted his girlfriend, the motel manager, the night he was killed saying, "Junior is flipping out, yo." Asked if the defendant was directing his ire at Murray, he is said to have typed, "No, on everyone. LOL."
Mendelson also alleged LeClaire opened fire on the men after an acquaintance of his at the motel said she was going to call police on him. He fired off 14 rounds, connecting 12 times, claimed the prosecutor, who added the handgun was fired so many times it set off the room's smoke alarm.
Ten hours after the shooting, LeClaire blew a 0.10, meaning his blood alcohol content was likely closer to 0.24 when he opened fire, Mendelson said.
Defense attorney Gassia Apkarian characterized her client as a functioning alcoholic--and an angry functioning alcoholic the night of the shootings because he believed one of his father's friends had touched his sister inappropriately. But had he wanted to kill his father, he would have have had the chance during any of the preceding 21 days they were together, Apkarian maintained.
LeClaire was said to be an expert marksman who aimed his weapon that night at spots he assumed were non-lethal, according to Apkarian, who added her client was disenchanted with the Army, abused bath salts (a combination of methamphetamine and cocaine) and was given to fits of paranoia.
"Am I saying excuse him? No," the attorney said. "What he's guilty of is voluntary manslaughter."