A jury is about to decide what kind of killer Eldon Gale Samuel III was the night he shot his father and then attacked his younger brother with guns, a knife and a machete in their tiny house in Coeur d’Alene.
Was he an abused and neglected 14-year-old boy acting out of self-defense and uncontrollable rage, as his defense team has argued in the three-week murder trial in 1st District Court?
Or, as prosecutors have portrayed, did Samuel kill willfully and deliberately – and savagely when it came to his 13-year-old brother Jonathan, an autistic child cowering in his refuge under his bed as their father bled to death a few feet away.
The interpretation of what drove the eighth-grader to lash out so violently the night of March 24, 2014, will guide whether Samuel, now 16, spends the rest of his years in prison, or if he has a chance of one day being a free man.
The lawyers will present their closing arguments Friday morning and the jury will begin deliberating later that day.
Samuel is charged with first-degree murder in his brother’s death and second-degree murder for killing his father, Eldon Samuel Jr. He shot his father in the upper abdomen, a fatal wound for the 46-year-old man. Samuel shot his father twice more in the cheek and once in the head, but he already was dead, according to an autopsy.
He then went after his brother, shooting him 10 times with a .45 semi-automatic handgun and a shotgun, stabbing him with a knife and hacking him with a machete, experts testified. Jonathan bled to death from numerous wounds, and many of the knife and machete strikes were delivered after the boy succumbed, according to the medical examiner.
Kootenai County Public Defender John Adams has attempted to establish that Samuel shot his father in self-defense because the elder Samuel hit and threatened the boy and had a history of abusing him.
The father also abused prescription drugs and that night was on medication that made him act crazy, ranting about zombies preparing to attack and firing a gun outside the home, according to the defendant’s admissions to police investigators and additional court testimony.
Eldon Samuel III feared his father would kill him, so he took the gun and shot his father instead, according to the defense case. Then the boy snapped and went into a rage, killing his brother, Adams told jurors at the start of the trial.
A psychologist who assessed Samuel’s mental health and testified for the defense told jurors Samuel went into survival mode and did not kill intentionally or understand what he was doing at the time of the attacks. That opinion was countered Thursday by another psychologist, testifying for the state, who met with Samuel and concluded the teen was aware of what he was doing, knew his actions would harm the victims and understood the consequences for himself.
The defense team called dozens of witnesses to talk about the Samuel family’s rough and chaotic life in California and after the father and two boys moved to Coeur d’Alene in 2013. The parents were often high on prescription drugs and frequently moved upon eviction from filthy apartments, and the boys suffered from neglect and abuse, according to the portrayal by defense witnesses. Eldon Samuel III was left to look after Jonathan and grew to despise his brother’s behavior, the defense asserted.
Their father was obsessed with zombies, in movies and games, to the point he trained his older son how to use knives and guns to prepare for a zombie apocalypse, family members said.
Prosecutors are relying on the forensic evidence in the case – the weapons, the blood spatter, the spent shells and crime scene photos – as well as Samuel’s admission, first in his call to 911, then in a lengthy late-night interview with police after his arrest, that he killed his brother and father. Under questioning at the Coeur d’Alene Police Department headquarters, Samuel at first lied, saying his father killed his brother. In time, Samuel admitted he alone attacked Jonathan, adding that he just didn’t want his brother around anymore.
To convict Samuel of first-degree murder in Jonathan’s death, the jury must determine the killing was a willful, deliberate and premeditated. They do not need to reach that determination for the second-degree murder charge for his father’s death.
Conviction on either could result in a life sentence. The minimum sentence in Idaho for murder is 10 years.
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