BROOKSVILLE — Lured into a dangerous situation by an unshakable crack-cocaine habit, James Ray Booth was fending off a pair of aggressive debt collectors when he accidentally shot and killed a man in October 2006, his attorney told a Hernando County jury Wednesday.
During her 45-minute closing argument, Tricia Jenkins tried to paint a picture of Booth as a weak man unfairly targeted as the lead suspect in Kenneth LaPointe's shooting death by both an unreliable witness trying to avoid jail and a careless group of Hernando County investigators.
Booth, 58, faced charges of first-degree murder, armed burglary and three related charges. He faced life in prison if convicted.
"Mr. LaPointe is dead and we're in this courtroom trying to figure out what happened," Jenkins said. "Wouldn't it be nice if the process had been done correctly and we all knew what happened?"
Jenkins and Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino spent nearly 2 1/2 hours Wednesday making their final pleas to the panel of four women and two men. The jury went into deliberations at about 6 p.m. and returned later after finding Booth guilty of murder in the third degree with a firearm causing death, and aggravated assault with a firearm.
He was found not guilty on burglary and aggravated battery charges.
Prosecutors say Booth went to 21330 Canal Drive in DaMac Estates on the afternoon of Oct. 21, 2006, to pay off a drug debt. Booth left the home and returned later with two rifles, leaving one on the kitchen table and pointing the other at Thor Richmond, who has been described as the enforcer for a local drug dealer.
Booth and Richmond began to struggle, and the rifle fired two to three times. The fight spilled into the front yard, where a neighbor, Denny Webb, overhead Booth tell Richmond, "I killed before. I will kill you (too)."
The homeowner, Kenneth LaPointe Sr., 56, was sitting at the kitchen table when the shooting began. One of the bullets struck him in the chest.
As Richmond and Booth took the battle outside, LaPointe staggered to a couch where he fell over and died. Outside the house, Richmond had finished the fight with the gun in his hand; Booth drove off to his girlfriend's house.
Magrino said Wednesday that Booth initiated the trouble by returning to the home with the rifles.
"Folks, he's the one who brought the guns to the gunfight," Magrino told the jury. "He's the aggressor with regard to the shooting at (LaPointe's) home."
But Jenkins argued that much of the prosecution's case rested on the shaky testimony of Richmond, who told investigators that he was angry that Booth had bought drugs from someone else when he owed Richmond $150 for crack cocaine.
"Mr. Booth was acting in self defense," she said. "He did not mean for Mr. LaPointe to die. He meant to defend himself from a man who was willing to put everybody in danger to collect money that wasn't even his. It makes me wonder how much his testimony is worth."
Jenkins also was critical of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office forensics unit, which she claimed hurt the entire investigation by not thoroughly securing the crime scene.
"We don't know whether (LaPointe) was shot in the living room or not," she said. "In that mess, we had a hard time finding any evidence at all. . . . There are a lot of things we don't know because the crime scene wasn't processed correctly."