Arrest in Couture Slaying
Sheriff Rambosk announces arrest in triple shooting
COLLIER COUNTY — The suspect in the slaying of Gulf Coast High student Jake Couture may tell jurors he was defending himself — from what turned out to be a toy gun.
James Matthew Menard, 23, is charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Couture, 17, who was involved in a quarrel between two groups of youth on New Year’s Day. Brandon Standifer, 22, and Michael Fleitas, 14 at the time, were both injured in the shooting.
Menard’s lawyer, Timothy England Moffitt, called the shooting “a clear cut case of self defense.”
“My client was obviously being confronted by a group and was being pushed,” England said. “He did what he had to do to defend himself.”
Court documents show that one of the teens in Couture’s group, Brandon Morales, a juvenile, had a toy gun resembling a Uzi, a submachine gun. Some witnesses said Morales held the gun to his side, while one witness in Menard’s group said he brandished it.
“Yeah he had it pointed, he had it pointed to Matthews (sic),” Carlos Jesus Nazco told detectives, referring to Menard.
The documents comprise investigative reports and interviews with more than a dozen witnesses, many of them participants in the sudden feud. Their accounts shed light on the events preceding the shooting, but they also leave questions such as the role that drugs played in the quarrel and whether the two groups knew each other.
A basic narrative emerges from the documents:
Couture and three friends had just returned to the Brittany Bay Apartments in North Naples, where Morales and his family lived, when the confrontation occurred. It was after 9 p.m., and Couture had driven to a convenience store in his parents’ white Mercedes with Standifer, Fleitas and Morales.
They returned to find three guys standing outside Morales’ door: Menard and his friends Phillip Markle, 17, and Jacob Markham, 16, both Gulf Coast High students. A fourth person, Menard’s roommate, Carlos Jesus Nazco, 17, waited by Menard’s truck, which had been backed into a spot in a corner of the lot.
Menard’s group was seething over a robbery from earlier that day. Markle and Markham were mugged in the Brittany Bay parking lot by four men, they told detectives. One put Markle in a headlock while another lifted his wallet, taking money and a $50 gift card. Markle identified Standifer, Couture and Morales as three of the robbers.
Markle told Menard about the mugging, and the group set out for Brittany Bay. Markle didn’t know Menard had a gun, he told detectives.
“I figured we were, he was gonna go help me try and get my money back, you know, throw some fists, you know, like teenagers do,” Markle said.
But Menard has a concealed weapons permit, and detectives found three guns, including a .40-caliber handgun, when they later searched his apartment. Moffitt, the lawyer, said his client always carries a gun for self defense. In this case, Menard tagged along with his friends to ensure their safety, Moffitt said.
“He was there trying to protect some children he’s known for a very long time and who are family friends,” he said.
Markle told detectives Menard was the one itching for retaliation.
Once at Brittany Bay, Menard’s group knocked on Morales’ door, where Morales friend Korenzo Smith, 18, told them to leave. Smith then phoned Morales, who said his group was returning to the apartment.
Things happened fast when they arrived. An argument ensued. Morales retrieved the gun at some point, either from the car or the apartment. Standifer confronted Menard’s group, telling them to leave. He then took his shirt off and shoved Menard twice.
“Yeah I know I put my hands on him, but that’s only because he was making me angry and he was drawing heat to the spot that I was hanging at,” Standifer told detectives.
Neighbors peered outside. Smith had the door open to watch, and both Couture and Fleitas appear to have stood in the hallway near the door. The next-door neighbor — a juvenile who knew everyone — opened his door and peered out, as well.
With the second shove, Menard stumbled backward over the curb. He immediately pulled a gun and fired several times — detectives found five .40-caliber casings on the ground — striking Couture, Standifer and Fleitas.
Detectives later confiscated an airsoft gun during their investigation, though it wasn’t immediately clear where they found it. It’s also unclear if it had an orange tip or was solid black, as some witnesses recalled.
Questions about the robbery, and whether it involved drugs, remain. Detectives found baggies of Xanax inside Couture’s car, and Markham’s father told detectives his son admitted he and Markle were selling Xanax at Brittany Bay when they were robbed. They also learned that Couture’s group used a gift card at the convenience store, where they apparently bought beer for the next-door neighbor, a juvenile whose name was redacted in reports.
Detectives also subpoenaed phone records from participants to determine if the two groups had any previous contact.
Interviews with Markham weren’t included in the documents, and Markle told detectives he didn’t know anything about the drugs.
A detective interview with Menard ended as soon as it began.
“I need a lawyer,” he told investigators as soon as the questions started.