WEST CHESTER — The jury hearing the trial of a West Goshen man who shot and killed his next door neighbor while arguing in front of their homes is expected to begin deliberating on the case Thursday.
Attorneys for the two sides in the case, which involves a tale of long simmering animosity between the defendant, Clayton Carter III, and his neighbor, G. Brooks Jennings, are scheduled to give their closing arguments first thing in the morning, with legal instructions afterwards from Common Pleas Judge Ann Marie Wheatcraft.
Before the trial broke for the day, Carter told Wheatcraft that he would follow the suggestion of his attorney and not take the stand to testify in his own defense. Asked whether that was his own decision and not simply that of his counsel, Joseph P. Green Jr., Carter said, “He’s a good attorney and I am going to take his advice.”
The jury, however, has already heard from Carter.
On Tuesday, the prosecution showed an hour and 45 minute long video tape of his interrogation by detectives the morning of the shooting. During that session, Carter repeated over and over that he had shot Jennings twice — first as a reaction to seeing a knife blade at his stomach and then the second time when he thought Jennings was “faking” being shot.
Both shots struck Jennings in the head.
The panel of eight women and four men have heard four days of testimony surrounding not only the events that led up to the Jennings’ fatal shooting but also various episodes of bickering back and forth between the two men, including two incidents in 2015 during which Carter displayed a gun after getting into a squabble with Jennings.
Carter, 53, is charged with first-degree murder, third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and related charges in the Aug. 8, 2017, death of Jennings, a 51-year-old father of one who was described by his wife as a friend to all of his neighbors — with the extreme exception of Carter, who lived next door with his wife, their daughter, and his father-in-law, who owned the home.
The prosecution contends that Carter, armed with a small, .380 caliber handgun, attempted to goad Jennings to cross onto his property in the early morning hours of that day so he could shoot him, setting him up for a “cold-blooded, calculated execution,” and then fabricated a tale that he was acting to protect himself from an attack.
The defense, on the other hand, asserts that Carter was acting in self defense of Jennings’ own drunken provocation that night, badgering that included filming him with a cellphone and shining bright lights at him while he was trying to park his car in his driveway. He shot him twice in the head, once while he was lying on the ground, believing that Jennings planned to stab him with a knife that was found at the scene.
Testimony on Wednesday included that of Carter’s daughter, Colleen Carter, about an incident that occurred in May 2015.
Called to the witness stand by her father’s attorney, the 22-year-old Colleen Carter said that she was home that evening when Jennings approached the front door of the home and tried to open it in order to continue an argument he was having with her father.
But she said her father had gotten a “long gun” from inside the house and pointed it at Jennings, causing him to stumble backwards and retreat. Her father told him to get off the property, which he eventually did. The incident was part of previous testimony by West Goshen police, who were called to the Box Elder Drive neighborhood where the two men lived the evening of May 25, 2015.
Under cross examination by Deputy District Attorney Thomas Ost-Prisco, Colleen Carter said that when she was questioned in August 2017 after Jennings’ fatal shooting, she did not mention Jennings trying to force his way into the home in the 2015 incident. She also acknowledged that she was afraid, but more of what her father might do than Jennings’ behavior.
“You were afraid that your dad was going to shoot Mr. Jennings, right?” the prosecutor asked, a question she agreed with, saying that Carter had pointed the weapon he had at Jennings’ head. “You had no idea what he was going to do.”
Other testimony involved whether and how much Jennings had been drinking the day before the shooting, and how close Carter was when he fired the second shot into Jennings’ head.
Green’s contention is that Jennings was heavily intoxicated throughout the day, and that his condition made him more forceful in confronting Carter, whom he had started referring to as “Sponge” because he felt Carter was taking advantage of his father-in-law, William Magill.
Jennings made a cellphone video of Carter playing horseshoes in his backyard with his grandson, cursing at him and calling him vulgar names, while also wondering why the two couldn’t be better neighbors. Carter called West Goshen police, complaining about the invasion of privacy, and police responded to tell the two men to leave one another alone.
Wheatcraft, reiterating a previous ruling she had made on a motion by the prosecution, prohibited Green from eliciting testimony from his toxicology expert, Gary Lage, about the effects that alcohol had on behavior, and whether his high level of intoxication — his blood alcohol content was found to be .198 at the time of his death — made him more belligerent. She also denied Green the ability to show photos of Jennings drinking beer at a Reading Phillies’ game the morning before the shooting.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Carter faces a mandatory life sentence in state prison without parole. The jury could also find him guilty of manslaughter if they find that Carter had acted improperly even though he thought he was being attacked, so-called “imperfect self-defense.”
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.