Jake Couture slaying: James Menard says he fired out of fear for his life

Video from NBC-2

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.

CLICK HERE TO SEE A SPECIAL SECTION ABOUT THE JAKE COUTURE SHOOTING »

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