NAPLES — James Menard was terrified.
The 24-year-old Naples resident on trial in the slaying of Jake Couture said Thursday he was worried about his safety on Jan. 1, 2010. That fear caused him to pull a .40 caliber Glock firearm from his waistband and fire it at least five times during a confrontation at the Brittany Bay Apartments in North Naples, he said.
“I was scared for my life. I had another weapon drawn on me,” Menard testified when he took the stand in his defense in Collier County Circuit Court.
He faces a top charge of second-degree murder in connection with the death of Couture, 17. Couture was shot and killed, and two others — Michael Fleitas, 16, and Brandon Standifer, 22 — were injured, at the North Naples complex last New Year’s Day.
Menard’s trial continues today with closing statements and could continue through the weekend if it isn’t wrapped up today.
Menard described a chaotic scene on the night of Jan. 1, 2010. Tim Moffitt, Menard’s attorney, told jurors in his opening statements that he planned to call Menard to the stand so he could tell them what happened in his own words.
Menard described an uneventful day of hanging out with friends Philip Markel and Jacob Markham, before picking up another friend, Carlos Narzco, from work. After a brief trip to Menard and Nazco’s home that night, Menard said the foursome headed to the Brittany Bay Apartments to visit Narzco’s sister.
Instead of going directly to the girl’s home, Markle and Markham suggested they stop at a friend’s house, Menard said.
Menard said Thursday he did not know the name of the person whose home they were visiting, but Narzco on Wednesday testified the pair said they wanted to stop at the home of Brandon Morales.
The decision to stop at Morales’ home is what likely propelled the confrontation between the two groups of teenagers, one including Menard and the other including Couture, and eventually led to the shooting.
Menard said he got out of his car to smoke a cigarette, while Markle and Markham knocked on Morales’ door. When no one answered, Menard told jurors the men said they wanted to wait around to see if someone was home.
Around the same time, Couture, Fleitas, Morales and Standifer returned to Morales’ apartment in Couture’s white Mercedes from a convenience store to buy beer for an underage neighbor, witnesses testified Wednesday.
Menard said the men walked past him without incident, but after dropping off the beer a man — later identified as Standifer — took off his shirt and aggressively approached him. An argument between the other men in the group also began at this time, and Menard said he heard someone yell “get the fire, or something like that.” Menard told jurors Standifer continued to come toward him, and began to push him. He also said he saw someone — later identified as Morales — coming toward him with a weapon.
That weapon was later determined to be a toy Uzi-like gun, that Morales told jurors Wednesday was given to him by Couture and was broken.
But Menard, who testified to being a skilled gunman and has a license to carry a concealed weapon in the state of Florida, said he didn’t know it was a toy, and felt like his life was in danger.
“I had no opportunity to leave,” he said. “I had a weapon pointed at me, and another (person) aggressing toward me. … I was scared for my life.”
Menard said Standifer pushed him, and he fell to the ground. Menard said Morales was also approaching him with the gun drawn.
That’s when Menard drew his weapon and opened fire, while moved toward his truck.
Menard got into his truck, where his friends were already waiting, and left the complex and returned home.
“My adrenaline was pumping, I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I wanted to get out of there.” He did not contact deputies until Jan. 5, when several people told him deputies were looking for him.
That four day lag, combined with the belief Menard first shot Standifer, who was unarmed, was the focus of the prosecution’s cross examination.
Assistant State Attorney Mara Marzano on Thursday said Menard “never called the police until they were hunting you down because you killed a 17-year-old boy who was running away.” Couture was shot in the back, and the details of his autopsy were also discussed Thursday.
Manfred Borges, the county’s deputy chief medical examiner, said the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the torso, and that Couture’s death had been ruled a homicide.
Family members left the courtroom in tears Thursday during Borges testimony, and several teared up while Menard recounted the night’s events.
Menard was the defense’s only witness, and his testimony capped off a day-long session that focused primarily on the forensic evidence of the case.
JAKE COUTURE SHOOTING
- Teens, 2 from Palmetto Ridge High, questioned in Jake Couture slaying; named suspected shooter
- $3M bond set for Jake Couture's accused killer James Matthew Menard
- James Matthew Menard arrested in triple shooting, Jake Couture slaying
- VIDEO: Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk announces an arrest in the New Years Day triple shooting that led to the death of Jake Couture.
- 23-year-old charged in triple shooting, Jake Couture slaying
- 1,400 attend funeral for Gulf Coast High’s Jake Couture
- 911 calls from Jake Couture shooting reveal chaos at scene
- Gulf Coast High deals with shock of shooting death of student; Jake Couture funeral tonight
- Gulf Coast High provides counselors to those mourning fellow student’s death
- Editorial: Collier County Sheriff’s Office ... agency should air video from fatal-shooting site
- 3 suspects sought in slaying of Gulf Coast High student; Report says 1 shooter, 5 shots
- Family, friends hold vigil for slain Gulf Coast High student
- Teen, 'friends with everyone,' shot, killed at North Naples apartments; 2 others injured
- 1 killed, 2 injured after shooting at North Naples apartment complex
- Press Conference: Arrest made in Jake Couture slaying
- Photo Gallery: January 5, 2010 - Jake Couture Service
- Photo Gallery: January 3, 2010 - Vigil for Jake Couture
- Facebook.com Gallery posted by family and friends of Jake Couture
- Ongoing photo gallery with photos of Jake Couture posted on Facebook.com by friends and family members
- NBC 2: Bond for teen's accused murderer set at $3M
- NDN VIDEO: Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk announces an arrest in the New Years Day triple shooting that led to the death of Jake Couture.
- NBC 2: Sheriff's office: Arrest made in teen's murder
- NBC 2: Funeral held for murdered teen
- NBC 2: One dead, two injured in North Naples apartment shooting
- NBC 2: Collier teen killed in apartment shooting remembered
- NBC 2: 9-1-1 tapes released after fatal shooting
- Read the obituary for Jake Couture and sign the online guest book
- Read the Collier County Sheriff's Office report on the Jake Couture incident (.PDF file)
- Facebook Page: R.I.P Jake Couture. Gone But Never Forgotten
- Initial Collier County Sheriff's Office media release on the incident
- Collier Sheriff's Office Blog: Arrest Made In Triple Shooting
- Download and listen to 911 calls from scene of the Jake Couture shooting. Call #1: Four minutes, seven seconds. (.mp3 file)
- Download and listen to 911 calls from scene of the Jake Couture shooting. Call #2: Seven minutes, forty-two seconds. (.mp3 file)
- Download and listen to 911 calls from scene of the Jake Couture shooting. Call #3: Two minutes, thirty-four seconds. (.mp3 file)
- The Daily News has posted the 911 tapes, acquired from the Collier County Sheriffs Office, to help readers understand the series of events and confusion surrounding Friday night’s fatal shooting at a North Naples apartment complex. 17-year-old Gulf Coast High School junior Jake Couture was killed by a gunshot wound, and Michael Fleitas, 14, and Brandon Standifer, 21, were injured. Some moments of silence exist on the tapes due to sections that have been removed by the sheriff’s office. We caution listeners that some of the content is graphic, and some of the language used may be considered profane and offensive.