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Trial starts for two charged in shooting death

Fri., June 22, 2012

The murder trial is under way of a man and woman charged in the shooting death late last year of a man who called police as he was dying from a gunshot wound in his bedroom.

Melinda R. Barrera, 32, and David C. McLaughlin, 22, are charged with second-degree murder in connection to the Dec. 7 shooting death of 46-year-old Robert A. Nelson. Their trial opened Wednesday.

Barrera had told police that she fired the shot after an altercation with Nelson. She said she found a gun, loaded it and “somehow my finger pulled the trigger,” according to court records.

Defense attorney Tom Krzyminski, who is representing McLaughlin, said his client was a neighbor who was summoned to the apartment at 1328 W. Dean Ave. after witnesses saw Nelson – who stood about 6-foot-2, 300 pounds – assault Barrera.

According to court records, McLaughlin admitted to police that he hit Nelson with a baseball bat because he had thrown a phone at Barrera and hit her in the head.

“They tried to get Mr. Nelson to calm down. He closed his door and they left,” Krzyminski said.

Defense attorney Derek Reid, who is representing Barrera, acknowledged that his client, who was described as Nelson’s caretaker, did fire a .22-caliber pistol into a closet, but she was not intending for the shot to hit Nelson.

The attorneys said they will present evidence showing the shot into the closet door. But Spokane Police Detective Tim Madsen testified that the shot that killed Nelson was fired through his bedroom door at more or less a straight angle.

It’s possible Barrera’s shot somehow ricocheted into the bedroom, but that has not yet been determined at trial, both attorneys said.

“Nobody thought he’d been shot,” Krzyminski said. “It may have been reckless or even negligent, but it’s not a murder case.”

The case before Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen is expected to last most of next week.

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