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Jury Finds Womble Guilty

James Womble, center, sits in Coconino County Superior Court last Thursday at the start of his jury trial in the stabbing death of his landlord, Peter Gillespie, on July 25, 2017.

Less than three hours after deliberation began on Friday morning, a jury found James Womble, 23, guilty of second-degree murder for stabbing Peter Gillespie, 63.

The jurors in the case were asked on late Thursday to consider both closing arguments from prosecutor Bryan Shea and Womble’s attorney Adam Zickerman. On Friday, Womble dressed up in the courtroom, making time to take deep breaths and talk to people who showed up in support of him.

After the verdict, Womble accepted his aggravation charges for causing emotional harm to Gillespie’s family, meaning his possible sentence will increase. The sentence can range from 10 to 25 years in prison.

The stabbing happened in July 2017 when Gillespie came to collect overdue rent from Womble and his roommates, and ended with Womble stabbing Gillespie eight times with scissors.

Gillespie had several family members present during the trial and on the day of the verdict. His four sisters — Susan Knesel, Lynne Braine, Ethel Standlee, Paula Porreca — said they appreciated the work done by the investigators, prosecutors and victim advocates.

 “We feel the jury listened and understood a complicated case,” they wrote in a statement to the Arizona Daily Sun. “They did a good job to see justice for our brother was served. Our brother will be missed, but the verdict was just.”

Prosecutor Bryan Shea argued to jurors on Thursday that Womble had lied multiple times at multiple moments to multiple investigators in order to create a better look for his case.

“Eight stabs to the torso in response to a chair? A 63-year-old man?” Shea said to the jury. “Ladies and gentleman, there’s no reasonable person that would believe in the worst version of his story that it was necessary to stab Peter over and over again.”

Second-degree murder can be committed when a person, without premeditation, intentionally causes the death of another person, among other conditions, according to the Arizona Revised Statutes.

“You’re only allowed to use deadly physical force in self-defense to meet the other person’s unlawful deadly physical force,” Shea said. “There isn’t a version of these facts, isn’t a story the defendant told, that puts Peter using unlawful deadly physical force.”

According to police interviews, when Womble first spoke to police at the scene of the crime, Womble said Gillespie came at him with clenched fists. Later, Womble said that Gillespie had come at him with a chair during their fight.

Shea posed to the jurors that forgetting about a chair before you stab someone is “a pretty big detail” to forget about.

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“It’s hard to maintain made-up facts in subsequent recitations of stories. One, because other facts will prove, they’re at fault; two, because you can’t remember the stuff you said when you can’t remember what you heard or said previously.”

County Attorney Bill Ring, Shea’s boss, was present for the closing arguments and thanked the jury for their service in a statement to the Arizona Daily Sun.

“We emphasize that, in all cases, mere quarrels are not resolved through murder,” Ring said. “Law-abiding citizens understand this, and our community is safer tonight because Mr. Womble’s guilt has been determined beyond any reasonable doubt.”

In his closing arguments, Zickerman described to the jury a scene with Womble coming home from work to get his inhaler and a “quick-tempered” Gillespie. The lawyer argued that the intent Womble was required to have in order to satisfy a second degree murder charge was not present.

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Zickerman described Gillespie as the aggressor, citing Womble’s testimony that Gillespie chest-bumped him first.

“That is in and of itself the beginning of all of this,” Zickerman said. “That is Pete being the aggressor.”

He further attempted to defend conflicting facts by addressing a stab wound Gillespie received that came down at a downward angle at his chest, when Womble testified to only stabbing horizontally at his stomach. The stab wounds and their trajectory were recorded and presented by the Coconino County Medical Examiner’s Office.

“This is not second degree murder. This isn’t intent, even if the state says this is reckless,” Zickerman said. “This is self-defense.”

Zickerman told the Arizona Daily Sun after the case that despite his efforts, he respected the jury’s decision and the system.

 “The jurors had a hard decision, a lot of facts and things that they had to consider,” Zickerman said. “They came up with what they felt was appropriate. I know my client disagrees with it.”

Womble’s sentencing is currently set for June 5 at 1 p.m. in Judge Mark Moran’s courtroom.

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Scott Buffon can be reached at sbuffon@azdailysun.com, on Twitter @scottbuffon or by phone at (928) 556-2250.

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Senior Reporter - Cops, Environment

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