Valley News -

Jury deliberations begin in trial of man who allegedly killed store clerk


Last updated 2/7/2019 at 4:13pm

Riverside County Sheriff's Department

James Curtis Coonis is accused in the 2017 slaying of Eric Whitecomb of Wildomar.

MURRIETA - Jury deliberations got underway on Thursday, Feb. 7 in the trial of a man accused of gunning down a 47-year-old Lake Elsinore store clerk during a robbery, firing several rounds into the victim after he fell to the ground, then trying to shoot another employee taking cover.

James Curtis Coon, 27, of Lake Elsinore could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of the 2017 slaying of Eric Whitecomb of Wildomar.

Coon is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, burglary and a special circumstance allegation of killing in the course of a robbery.

The prosecution and defense closed their cases following a week of testimony at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Paul Dickerson sent jurors behind closed doors this afternoon to begin weighing evidence.

According to a trial brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Jon Brandon, Coon went to the Circle K at 16331 Lakeshore Drive about 5 a.m. on June 14, 2017, allegedly intending to kill the lone clerk at the counter, steal whatever cash was on hand and take whatever items he could grab.

However, the plan changed when Coon got there and encountered a second clerk, identified in court documents as "R.D.,'' stocking shelves, as well as several customers coming and going, the brief stated.

The defendant milled around for 20 minutes, ultimately deciding to simply take items without paying for them, according to the prosecution.

Security surveillance videotape showed Coon approaching the counter, dumping a handful of goods in front of Whitecomb, then opening his wallet and pretending to fish for money. Coon later admitted to sheriff's investigators that he was strapped, Brandon said.

He alleged that Coon, who had worked at the store several years before until he was fired, retrieved the items, told Whitecomb to "follow protocol'' -- meaning don't interfere during a hold-up -- and walked out the door toward his Chevrolet Trailblazer.

"Whitecomb ran around the counter toward the door ... holding his cell phone, as if he were attempting to take photos or video of the suspect and his vehicle,'' the prosecutor said.

He said that Coon turned and saw what the victim was about to do and allegedly pulled a .357 Magnum revolver from his waistband, leveling it at Whitecomb and opening fire.

Whitecomb was struck by two rounds and collapsed to the floor of the store.

"Whitecomb was lying on the floor, writhing in pain,'' Brandon said. "Coon then walked to the front door, kicked the shattered glass from the door, aimed and took additional shots at Whitecomb, shooting him in the head.''

The victim died at the scene.

The defendant then fired at least two rounds in the direction of R.D. and a female customer, both of whom had taken cover behind a food stand toward the back of the Circle K, the prosecution alleged.

Coon allegedly fled to his residence in the 3400 block of Driftwood Lane, just under a mile from the store. Within 12 hours, detectives had confirmed his identity, and he was taken into custody at his home without incident.

The defendant told investigators that he had suffered a psychotic episode and did not know what he was doing at the time of the deadly attack, according to the brief.

Coon, who has no documented prior felony convictions, is being held without bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.


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