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Womble Trial Begins

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

The trial began on Monday for James Womble, 23, who is charged with second-degree murder after he killed his landlord during a rent dispute.

Womble admitted to stabbing his landlord Pete Gillespie, 63, with scissors eight times and killing him after the two fought over rent in 2017. His lawyer Adam Zickerman said Womble fought back in self-defense, while the prosecution believes he had intended to kill Gillespie in the heat of the moment.

Gillespie had broken Womble’s bong before the fight and attempted to pay Womble back by giving him “magic mushrooms,” police said. Womble allegedly denied the mushrooms right before the fight and felt he did not need to pay rent because of the broken bong.

A fight ensued where Womble’s arm was dislocated. After putting it back in place, Womble grabbed scissors and allegedly told Gillespie he would stab him if he came near him. Gillespie allegedly charged at Womble, when he was stabbed and killed.

The trial is expected to finish on April 29, with a verdict coming sometime after.

Prosecutor Bryan Shea began his opening statements on Monday talking about Gillespie and his family.

“What justifies killing a person? Peter Gillespie was a person. He was a man with a wife and a family who lived here in Flagstaff," Shea said. "Peter Gillespie was 63 years old in July of 2017. Only on July 25th of 2017, James Womble stabbed Pete Gillespie multiple times in the torso, chest area, killing him.”

Shea said Gillespie had nothing in his hands during the fight and charged Womble with his fists clenched, suggesting that it was unreasonable to think that Womble believed he was in immediate danger of deadly force. Shea then transitioned into showing inconsistencies in the testimony that Womble gave to law enforcement.

“In each description that he gave to police, Pete had nothing in his hands when Womble stabbed him,” Shea said. “The evidence will show that details leading up to the stabbing changed. From the 911 call to the interview with Officer Mari to the interview with Detective Conway and even in the interview, basics stayed the same, details changed.”

Zickerman defended his client, asking jurors to try to remember when they had been in a heated moment.

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“Have you ever been in a spot where something happens quickly? Can you remember every single detail as time progresses? Do you remember?” Zickerman said.

Zickerman then portrayed part of the fight, picking up a chair to show what a witness said Gillespie looked like during their fight.

“According to one of the witnesses, [Gillespie] held it like a lion tamer, held it up,” Zickerman said. “Yes, James had a pair of scissors. At this point in time, it becomes critical when you have somebody with a chair coming at you.”

The lawyer portrayed the event as less than second-degree homicide — either manslaughter or negligent homicide.

“When Pete came at him with a chair, James was armed with a pair of scissors; that is self-defense, that is the essence of this case," Zickerman said. "It’s for you to decide at the end of this. Self-defense carries the day. Second-degree murder is not our way.”

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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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