December 9, 2011 in City, News

Woman says she accidentally shot W. Central neighbor

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Nez Perce County Jail photo

David C. McLaughlin was arrested for theft in Nez Perce County in June 2010. He was arrested for second-degree murder in Spokane County on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011.
(Full-size photo)

A Spokane woman accused of shooting her neighbor to death in a fight late Wednesday told police she didn’t mean to pull the trigger.

Melinda R. Barrera, 31, said she found a gun and loaded it but “somehow my finger pulled the trigger,” according to court documents released Friday.

The bullet hit Robert A. Nelson, 46, who called 911 and said he’d been shot and needed help.

Officers arrived at 1328 W. Dean Ave. minutes later and found Nelson dead in his bed with a phone cradled in his hand.

Barrera and her boyfriend, David C. McLaughlin, 21, are in the Spokane County Jail on $500,000 bond after appearing in Superior Court Friday for second-degree murder.

Court documents filed Friday to support the charges describe a murder scene that began as a chaotic fight with no clear motive.

Barrera told detectives McLaughlin entered Nelson’s apartment as they were arguing and hit Nelson with a baseball bat “to protect her,” according to the documents.

McLaughlin said he hit Nelson with a baseball bat because Nelson had thrown a phone at Barrera and hit her in the head, detectives say.

Police were called to the home at 11:29 p.m. after Nelson called 911 and said “I need help” and “I just got shot in the chest,” police say. Another extension picked up the phone and dispatchers heard what may have been a female voice.

Timothy M. Steggall, who said he was at the apartment building to trade jewelry for methamphetamine, tolddetectives he saw Nelson fighting with another man over an iPod. Steggall said Nelson threatened to throw everyone out of the apartment before McLaughlin showed up with the baseball bat and Barrera pulled out a gun. Steggall, who was arrested on a Department of Corrections warrant, said he didn’t realize Nelson had been shot until police told him so.

Nelson died of a single gunshot wound to his upper chest, the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office said Friday. His body also showed signs of blunt force trauma.

Detectives took Barrera in for questioning when she returned to the apartment to get ready for work at a local McDonald’s. She first provided an alibi but changed her story after seeing McLaughlin in an interview room.

“I shot him, I did it,” Barrera told detectives, according to court documents. “I’ll write it all down.”

Barrera wrote what detectives described as a confession and said she didn’t know Nelson was dead but “just thought she shot the door.”

Detectives told Barrera that others inside the apartment said McLaughlin was the one with the gun, but Barrera cried and said “I can’t go there,” indicating she was reluctant to implicate anybody but herself, documents say.

Police believe Barrera and McLaughlin fled to a home at 1004 E. Garland Ave. after the shooting. McLaughlin was sleeping on the couch when police arrived. They recovered clothing worn by Barrera there, as well as a towel, according to search warrants field Friday.

Barrera has no criminal record; McLaughlin has a misdemeanor theft conviction in Nez Perce County in 2010.

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