After five hours of deliberation, a jury convicted Shelter Cove man Eric Lively, 46, of second degree murder on Thursday afternoon for fatally hitting his neighbor Jesse Simpson with a pickup truck in May 2017. He faces 15 years to life in prison and is set to be sentenced on March 7.
Juror No. 3, who did not wish to be named, said the verdict derived from Lively’s history of conflict with Simpson and Simpson’s brother, which included death threats and accusations by Lively of infidelity and burglary. The juror said that while Lively may not have known that Simpson, 42, was trimming weeds near the intersection of Eileen Road and Debbie Lane in Shelter Cove on May 3, 2017, Lively had other options he could have taken rather than driving at Simpson.
“It all boiled down to ‘Do you think he intended to do it?’ ” Juror No. 3 said Friday. “That was where we had a little bit of disagreement at first. If he had alternatives, which could have included driving to the left of the victim or turning around and going back up the road, those alternatives existed and they were not taken.
“I don’t think we believed that [Lively] planned on it,” Juror No. 3 continued. “... But when the opportunity came he didn’t avoid the situation.”
Reached Friday, Deputy District Attorney Adrian Kamada who prosecuted the case said he appreciates the jurors’ time throughout the three-week trial.
“The Shelter Cove community members who came forward to participate in this prosecution, and the thoughtful investigation conducted by the officers of the California Highway Patrol, and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department are the reason for this conviction,” Kamada wrote in an email to the Times-Standard. “Our office will now move forward with preparing for sentencing.”
This reporter’s attempts to contact Lively’s attorney Russell Clanton on Friday were not returned.
The prosecution attempted to paint the case as a fatal climax to a history of conflict between two neighbors. Witness testimony from Lively’s co-workers, neighbors, former girlfriend and Lively’s own teenage daughter stated Lively had made numerous death threats to Simpson whom he accused of stealing from him. Co-workers testified that Lively had made statements on the day of Simpson’s death like “Like go kill my neighbor?” and accusations that Simpson had stolen from him.
The defense argued that the fatal collision was a “tragic accident” that Lively had attempted to avoid.
Clanton said Simpson had walked out in the middle of the road, blocking Lively’s way, as a form of intimidation after he and Lively made eye contact on May 3. Clanton said Lively had begun driving forward and attempted to turn right to avoid Simpson, but Simpson had made a miscalculation when he decided to swing the weed trimmer that was attached to his chest at the truck.
Clanton argued that a crash analysis by his defense expert Steven Walker had shown the collision occurred in the middle of the road and that there were marks on the truck that showed Simpson had hit the truck.
Clanton also sought to discredit the prosecution witnesses by pointing out inconsistencies in their statements, accusing of them of having ulterior motives and accusing them of lying.
Juror No. 3 said the jurors all questioned the validity of the witnesses’ testimony and said that there “was not a good set of witnesses, period.”
“But to believe everybody is lying is a little bit hard for the average person to accept,” the juror said.
Juror No. 3 said that they went through other lesser charges that Lively could have been convicted for including manslaughter.
“I don’t think there was ever a time where the jury thought he was totally innocent,” the juror said.
Kamada had been seeking a first-degree murder conviction, but Juror No. 3 said they didn’t see any evidence that Lively knew Simpson was at that intersection that day and had planned to kill him.
Juror No. 3 said that everyone on the jury was emotionally bothered by the fatal crash.
“There were so many ways in the community and in the neighborhood that this might have been avoided,” the juror said. “It looked like a collision course that nobody was going to avoid.”
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.