A Kootenai County jury took about seven hours Friday to convict a 16-year-old boy of murdering his father and brother in a bloody attack inside their Coeur d’Alene house almost two years ago.
Eldon Gale Samuel III was found guilty of first-degree murder for killing 13-year-old Jonathan Samuel and second-degree murder for killing Eldon Samuel Jr., 46. He committed the crimes when he was 14.
Samuel could be sent to prison for the rest of his life. First District Judge Benjamin Simpson will impose the sentence in about 10 weeks.
The jury of eight men and four women began deliberating just after noon Friday and reached a verdict shortly before 7 p.m. Samuel stood for the verdict, and Kootenai County Public Defender John Adams stood with his arm around him.
“I am heartbroken that yet again Eldon has been let down by adults that should have protected him,” Adams said in a statement Friday night.
Samuel, who sat stoically throughout the three-week trial, showed no emotion when the guilty verdicts were read by the court clerk. His mother, Tina Samuel, sat behind him in the gallery. She declined to comment.
Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh said afterward, “I’m satisfied that after a long, hard-fought case, the jurors agreed with our sense of the case.”
McHugh added that his office will review a lot of information about Samuel, including a social investigation ordered by the judge, “that will impact our sentencing recommendation.”
Lawyers on both sides gave the jury their final arguments Friday morning.
Art Verharen, a Kootenai County deputy prosecuting attorney, told jurors they had sufficient evidence to conclude Samuel intended to kill his family members on March 24, 2014, in the small emergency housing unit where the three lived.
He focused first on the slaying of Jonathan, the autistic brother shot repeatedly with a .45 semi-automatic pistol and a 12-gauge pump shotgun, then stabbed with a knife and hacked with a machete over 100 times.
There was no legal justification for Samuel to kill Jonathan, Verharen told the jury.
“What do you call a killing that is prolonged and purposeful,” and which involves multiple weapons used against a helpless victim posing no threat, he asked.
“What do you call a killing that is motivated by jealousy and hate, and accompanied by mutilation?” he said, noting that Samuel told police he long had hated his brother and blamed him for his mother leaving the family in California.
Samuel moved a box spring and mattress to reach his brother hiding under a bed, reloaded the shotgun, and retrieved and changed weapons – all of which gave him time to think and reflect on his actions, and which is proof of the willful and deliberate nature of the crime, the prosecutor said.
He reminded jurors of the numerous cutting wounds, most of which were administered after Jonathan had bled to death. “It takes time, it takes effort and it takes determination to do to his brother what he did with that knife and that machete,” Verharen said.
As for the father’s death, the prosecutor reminded the jury that Samuel shot his father once in the stomach, which proved to be the fatal wound. But after the father crawled, bleeding, across the house to Jonathan’s bedroom, where he died, Samuel followed him and shot the man three more times – twice in the cheek and once in the temple.
Those final shots negate any argument that he killed his father in self-defense, Verharen said.
Adams argued that the jury should conclude the teenager justifiably killed his father in self-defense because he feared that his father, portrayed as a violent drug addict, was about to seriously harm or kill him.
Samuel shot his father after the father twice hit the boy that night, Adams said.
“Eldon snapped. He wasn’t going to take another beating. He wasn’t going to be killed by his father,” he said. “He was entitled to protect himself from that lunatic, from that dangerous, violent man.”
Samuel then shot his father in the head “because that is what he was trained to do,” Adams said, touching on the “zombie apocalypse” aspect of the case. Through Samuel’s admissions to investigators and testimony from family members, the defense asserts that Samuel was heavily influenced by his father’s obsession with zombie movies and video games, as well as his father’s belief that zombies were real and the family must prepare to defend themselves when the zombies one day attack.
“This guy’s brain was so fried that he believed it,” Adams said.
He told the jury they needed to consider what effect this had on the developing brain of a young boy raised in isolation and desperation by an abusive man.
Verharen dismissed the zombie defense as “ridiculous” and cast doubt on the credibility of Samuel in discussing it with a psychologist who testified for the defense, as well as the credibility of Samuel’s mother who talked about her late husband’s preoccupation with zombies.
Adams also said there was no basis for finding Samuel guilty of murder in the death of Jonathan. He both loved and hated his brother, and Samuel grew up as the primary caregiver for Jonathan, who needed a lot of attention, Adams said.
Jonathan died because Samuel went crazy and attacked him, he said. “Eldon’s world explodes. His entire universe explodes,” Adams said. “He was hacking away at him long after he was dead.”
Adams dismissed the prosecutor’s contention that Samuel contemplated killing Jonathan. “You know this was not a cold-blooded event,” Adams told jurors. “It’s simply not murder.”
The attorneys also touched on conflicting interpretations of Samuel’s mental state at the time of the killings.
Adams talked about Samuel’s symptoms of emotional detachment or dissociation – a disorder he believes was brought on by an unstable, dysfunctional, unhealthy and violent upbringing.
Verharen told jurors Samuel was “perfectly calm and rational” throughout his police interview in the hours after the killings. He also reminded the jury how Samuel that night initially lied to investigators about killing his brother, saying it was his father who had attacked Jonathan. It takes rational thought to “dream up a lie” like that, he said.
If Samuel had the mental deficit the defense describes, he didn’t exhibit it in his behavior around police that night, Verharen said.
Adams reminded the jury of testimony indicating Samuel’s father gave Samuel inappropriate prescription medicine to help him sleep, which may have produced an intoxicating effect on the boy.
Verharen questioned whether Samuel was acting under the influence of drugs the night of the killings. He cited several apparently lighthearted or playful comments Samuel made when he was taken into custody outside the house, driven to the police station and later taken to jail to be booked.
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