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Man given 15 years to life for stabbing, killing of another man in parking lot


Last updated 11/19/2018 at 3:06pm

James Beckham Fortney, 41, was convicted last month of second-degree murder for the 2017 slaying of Kevin James Rodriguez.

MURRIETA - A Temecula resident who fatally stabbed a 19-year-old man in a store parking lot in a road rage dispute was sentenced on Monday, Nov. 19 to 15 years to life in state prison.

James Beckham Fortney, 41, was convicted last month of second-degree murder for the 2017 slaying of Kevin James Rodriguez.

Along with the murder count, a Murrieta jury found Fortney guilty of making criminal threats and a sentence-enhancing allegation of using a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony.

Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell denied Deputy Public Defender Brian Cosgrove's petition for a new trial based on alleged deficiencies in the original trial and imposed the mandatory sentence for the murder count, but did not tack on the time for the other convictions, which would have added two years and four months to Fortney's aggregate sentence.

According to Deputy District Attorney Dan DeLimon, Fortney and the victim crossed paths for the first and last time on the afternoon of Nov. 29, 2017, in the Walmart parking lot at 32225 Temecula Parkway.

Rodriguez and his girlfriend, identified in court documents only as "J.C.,'' were heading to the Walmart with her sister when they encountered Fortney and his wife in a black Land Rover on Temecula Parkway. DeLimon said the 6-foot-3, 270-pound defendant was incensed with an elderly motorist's driving and caught the victims' attention as he blared the SUV's horn while yelling out the window.

Fortney and his wife reached the Walmart just ahead of J.C., but as she pulled into an entrance, the Land Rover met her from the opposite direction, and the young woman made the indelicate choice of rolling in front of the defendant as he was initiating his turn, according to the prosecution.

DeLimon said Fortney tailgated the woman in an act of intimidation until each of them went to their respective spaces.

Rodriguez was upset by the behavior and told the women that he wanted a word with Fortney before going into the store, according to the prosecution. DeLimon said Fortney's wife headed into the Walmart, but the defendant lingered in front of the outlet with a small bulldog on a leash, watching his Land Rover intently.

When he spotted Rodriguez walking toward the vehicle, Fortney "stormed'' toward the young man, all but dragging his dog behind him and holding his camera phone in front of him to record the ensuing encounter, according to court papers. Rodriguez immediately attempted to break off contact, DeLimon said.

"Fortney was following Rodriguez aggressively from behind ... and shoved the camera near Rodriguez's face,'' cursing the young man, the prosecutor said.

When J.C. tried to pull out of her parking stall to pick up Rodriguez in an attempt to escape, Fortney blocked her path.

As Rodriguez tried to walk around the bearded, much bigger man, Fortney grabbed the victim by the throat and nearly lifted him off of the ground. Rodriguez threw a punch, striking Fortney in the chin, at which point the defendant let him go, and Rodriguez stepped back five feet to recover his composure, according to DeLimon.

"Fortney drew a large-framed six-inch tactical folding knife,'' the prosecutor wrote in his trial brief. "Giving Rodriguez no warning whatsoever, Fortney then walked toward Rodriguez, lunged and thrust his knife forward in a reaching style stabbing motion. Fortney moved so fast that it appeared ... he had some kind of training. Rodriguez tried to backpedal, but he was unable to avoid the swift targeted strike.''

The blade pierced the young man's heart, inflicting a wound that killed him in five minutes.

When J.C. initially attempted to come to her mortally wounded boyfriend's aid, Fortney shouted, "You're next!'' prompting the girl to jump back into her car in fear of her life, court papers stated.

Fortney was arrested by deputies without a struggle and gave alternating accounts of what transpired, making himself out to be the victim, using the knife in self-defense, DeLimon said. However, during an hours-long interview, the defendant ultimately acknowledged that Rodriguez never initiated physical contact.


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