Santa Ana, CA -- Opening statements signal the official beginning of a trial, but there is actually quite a bit of work that goes on before either prosecutors or defense attorneys make any statements in open court. Pretrial hearings, jury selection, and, of course, criminal investigation all precede the beginning of a trial, but opening statements are the first part of a criminal case that is available to the general public and the first time each side outlines its case to the jury.
The trial of Steven Matthew LeClaire, Jr., 26, began on Wednesday with both sides making their opening statements in court. LeClaire has been charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder along with sentencing enhancements for personal discharge of a firearm causing death and great bodily injury. According to prosecutors, LeClaire, an Army Specialist who was away without official leave from his post in El Paso, Texas, shot Marques Murray, Raymond Eligan, and his father Steven Francis LeClaire, Sr. in at the Cypress Lodge on Lincoln Ave in February of 2011. Murray was killed and Eligan and LeClaire's father both were injured.
The prosecution said that the shooting was motivated by LeClaire's anger at discovering that had given alcohol to his 14-year-old sister, and that it was a premeditated act of revenge. LeClaire's attorney, Gassia Apkarian, is arguing that although her client did shoot the victims, it was due to her client's instability and drug abuse, and that LeClaire did not premeditate the attack. According to Apkarian, LeClaire has been abusing drugs and alcohol since his teens and went AWOL after failing a drug test in El Paso before coming back to Cypress to live in his father's motel room.