Jury hears two versions of self-defense at beginning of Beckmeyer murder trial

Posted 6/23/21

A summertime barbecue, beer and tequila, nine gunshots, and one man dead.

Jurors in the first-degree murder trial of John Paul Beckmeyer in Jefferson County Superior Court have been drenched with …

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Jury hears two versions of self-defense at beginning of Beckmeyer murder trial


A summertime barbecue, beer and tequila, nine gunshots, and one man dead.

Jurors in the first-degree murder trial of John Paul Beckmeyer in Jefferson County Superior Court have been drenched with details of the deadly confrontation between Beckmeyer and his neighbor last August, an alcohol-fueled argument that left James McDonald dead on the ground on the rural  Marrowstone Island property he shared with the shooter.

Beckmeyer’s trial started early last week with both prosecutors and the accused man’s public defender claiming self-defense.

Beckmeyer, 60, has been in Jefferson County Jail since his arrest the evening of the shooting in Nordland Aug. 26.

Authorities allege Beckmeyer killed McDonald, 24, after an argument between Beckmeyer and his girlfriend, Danielle Boucher.

Beckmeyer allegedly struck Boucher in the face after she didn’t turn down a loud radio. McDonald and his girlfriend, Randi Benson, admonished Beckmeyer for hitting a woman and as the argument continued, Beckmeyer allegedly got up from the picnic area where they were barbecuing and went into his nearby fifth-wheel trailer, saying he was going to get his .45-caliber pistol.

McDonald, meanwhile, walked to the main house on the property on Griffith Point Road and came back a few minutes later holding a double-barrel shotgun.

After McDonald returned, Beckmeyer then started shooting a .22 caliber pistol out an open louvered window from the sleeping area in the upper cab area of the fifth-wheel with a .22 caliber pistol, hitting McDonald twice in the chest.


Beckmeyer’s attorney has claimed Beckmeyer was acting in self-defense when he shot McDonald twice in the chest the day of the barbecue and killed him.

But during opening arguments of the trial last week in Jefferson County Superior Court, Deputy Prosecutor Chris Ashcraft told the jury of seven women and eight men that McDonald was the one who was actually trying to defend himself at the time of the shooting.

“This case is all about self-defense,” Ashcraft told the jury, who were seated outside the traditional jury box and instead sat in chairs six feet apart in the audience area of the courtroom that once held benches prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“James McDonald was defending himself when he was shot and killed by
Mr. Beckmeyer,” Ashcraft continued, noting that Beckmeyer himself would claim self-defense in the shooting.

“The facts in this case do not bear that out,” he said of Beckmeyer’s defense claim.

“Mr. Beckmeyer started the fight, he threw the first punch. He struck his girlfriend in the head. And that’s what started this whole incident,” Ashcraft told the jury.

“He was also the first person to escalate the whole incident. When he is confronted for his behavior, when he is called out for punching a woman, being told that’s wrong, he threatens to go get his .45,” Ashcraft continued.

What everybody at the barbecue in front of Beckmeyer’s fifth-wheel knows, Ashcraft said, was the .45 was actually a Colt .45-caliber pistol and that Beckmeyer had in his fifth wheel.


Beckmeyer, his girlfriend, McDonald and Benson, who is McDonald’s girlfriend, were barbecuing in a grassy area that sits between the fifth-wheel and an old RV where McDonald and Benson once lived that was parked directly across from the fifth-wheel.

And as Beckmeyer went inside his fifth-wheel, McDonald went to the nearby home on the property and retrieved a shotgun, Ashcraft said, “to arm himself so that he can protect himself from Mr. Beckmeyer.”

McDonald returns and is about 20 to 30 feet away from the fifth-wheel with the shotgun. The firearm, a JC Higgins double-barrel shotgun, is broke open to be loaded.

“It’s not ready to be fired,” Ashcraft said.

The gun is mostly pointed toward the ground, he said, adding that Beckmeyer then pointed a pistol out of a window in the fifth-wheel and opened fire.

Beckmeyer fired until his handgun was empty.

“Spraying bullets across the scene, over the heads of the two women who were there when the fight started,” Ashcraft told the jurors. “And two of the bullets strike Mr. McDonald and kill him.”


The people at the barbecue weren’t strangers. Ashcraft said they had been living on the same property together for years. 

They maintain the property, take care of Benson’s grandfather who lives there, and live side by side as the weeks and months come and go, Ashcraft said.

“All the days kind of seem to be the same,” he added.

“They drink; they smoke some weed. They have parties. They work on the property. And sometimes they bicker and fight, and other times they get along just great,” Ashcraft said.

The day of the shooting, Aug. 26, is a day just like any other day. A day of hanging out ends with a barbecue with them all gathered around the picnic table and two barbecue grills across from Beckmeyer’s fifth-wheel.

Everyone is drinking, Ashcraft said.

But he noted that one of the witnesses in the case, Boucher, Beckmeyer’s girlfriend, was drunk. Her blood alcohol level, Ashcraft said, is tested at .30 several hours after the shooting.

Ashcraft noted that another witness, Benson, was also drinking, but has little alcohol in her system when she is also tested along with Boucher later that night.

“She is far and away the most sober person at this barbecue,” Ashcraft said.

The deputy prosecutor then recounted the argument that led to the shooting, when Beckmeyer hits Boucher for not turning down the radio.

Boucher refused: “She might have even told him off.”

After Beckmeyer strikes her, which is described as either a punch or a smack alongside the head, “She’s stunned, she’s in tears.”

McDonald and Benson confronted Beckmeyer, Ashcraft said.

“They are yelling at him. They’re up in his face. You can’t hit her. That’s wrong; don’t do that,” Ashcraft recounted, adding that Beckmeyer gets upset.

“That’s when he says, ‘I’m going to get my .45,’” Ashcraft said.

McDonald goes to get a gun, as well, and Ashcraft said he came back with two  shotgun shells in his hand. “The gun is open; it is not ready to be fired,” he added.

Ashcraft said McDonald then declared he was going to defend himself.

“It’s at that point Mr. Beckmeyer sticks his hand out the window and starts shooting.” 

Ashcraft said McDonald ducked, so low that the end of the shotgun was driven in the ground. The bullets from a Ruger .22-caliber pistol hit him high on his chest, angle down through his body, through his lungs, killing him.

McDonald called out to his girlfriend to call 911, Ashcraft said, and she runs around the trailer, knocks over the two barbecues, and dashes into the house to call 911 from a wireless phone.

McDonald collapsed,and Boucher tried to give first aid.

The shotgun is later recovered by police where McDonald dropped it by the picnic table, with one shotgun shell loaded, and dirt and grass clogging one barrel.


Ashcraft told the jury that the two women who will testify will say basically the same thing, though their versions may differ because of the amount of alcohol each one consumed.

“Those won’t change the ultimate facts of the case of who started all this,” Ashcraft said.

What happened that night all started with Beckmeyer, he said.

“Mr Beckmeyer throws the first punch. He’s the one who threatens to use deadly force, and he’s the one who used deadly force,” Ashcraft said.

Richard Davies, Beckmeyer’s attorney, tells a similar but still different version.

It’s Beckmeyer who is acting in self-defense, Davies said.

And Davies starts by casting doubt on the claim that Beckmeyer got up and said he was going to get a handgun when the argument intensified.

“That’s the fallacy,” Davies said.

“You’ll hear the testimony of the witnesses who were there. Nobody moved. Nobody scattered.

Both girls remained seated where they were,” Davies said.

Benson wasn’t telling the truth, he added.

Davies also noted Beckmeyer’s disabilities, which his attorney said limited his mobility and also his eyesight.

When McDonald came back with a shotgun, it looked to Beckmeyer like the pump-action .22-caliber rifle that McDonald and Benson kept in their bedroom.

Beckmeyer can’t tell if the gun McDonald is holding is the shotgun or the rifle, Davies said.

He knew that McDonald owned both “and they look, from afar, very similar,” Davies said.

Davies recounted that Beckmeyer had “retreated to his home,” and had gotten into bed in the cab-over section of the fifth-wheel.

“And when he peeks out the window, James McDonald has returned to the scene and he is pointing a gun at him,” Davies said.

“Mr. McDonald left the scene and came back to defend himself?” he asked incredulously. “That’s apparently the state’s theory.”

Instead, Davies said Beckmeyer knew from previous instances that McDonald was “volatile and violent.”


Davies repeatedly stressed the walls of the fifth-wheel did not provide much protection against a gun.

“This case is about John having to defend himself in own his own paper-thin-wall home against a guy threatening him with a gun, pointing it at him,” Davies said.

Beckmeyer had left the barbecue, he added, “to his own little trailer home to escape getting beaten up.”

Davies said the shotgun was loaded when it was pointed at Beckmeyer, again noting again the “paper-thin-walled trailer,” a description Davies would use more than a half dozen times during his opening statement.

He again cast doubt on what McDonald’s girlfriend had seen during the shooting.

“By her own account at the critical moment when James was pointing this double-barrel gun at John in his little paper-thin trailer, she had her back to James,” Davies said.

“Her account is she didn’t see James load that double-barrel shotgun. She also didn’t see James point the shotgun at John in his little paper-thin trailer.”

Instead, Benson had mentioned Beckmeyer’s supposed statement that he was getting his Colt .45 “to justify James running to the house and coming back with a shotgun.”

If somebody said they were off to get a .45, Davies added, “You’d think people would scatter. 

“It wasn’t ever said, and it was John retreating from an altercation, not acerbating it.”


Davies also said Boucher’s testimony shouldn’t be discounted because of the “tremendous amount” of alcohol she had consumed that day.

Beckmeyer’s girlfriend clearly remembered some of the events, he said. 

She had a history of drinking, Davies added, and was conditioned to the effects of alcohol. She had also been treated for alcoholism in the past.

“She was likely a walking .30 for the entire year,” Davies aid.

“And that matters because you can’t just sweep what someone says under the rug because they have a lot of alcohol in their system,” he added.

Davies didn’t discount the argument that led to the shooting, and the fight over the radio.

Beckmeyer wasn’t proud of it, he said.

“John got annoyed with her for playing the radio too loud,” he said. “John said, ‘Could you please turn it down?’”

“She gives some lip back, ‘No, [expletive] you. I like this music. I’m going to play it as loud as I want.’

“She was intoxicated. John got annoyed and he cuffed her on the ear,” Davies said.

Beckmeyer was confronted by the others, Davies added.

“That’s where it should have stopped,” he said. “A cuff on the ear does not allow you to come running back with a shotgun and say, ‘I’m defending myself.”

“It’s an escalation beyond reason,” he added. “Cuff on the ear; shotgun in the face.”


Davies said Beckmeyer had run-ins with McDonald in the past, and recalled “prior frightening acts by
Mr. McDonald” against Beckmeyer and his girlfriend. They were events Beckmeyer had in mind when he retreated to his fifth-wheel.

Some months prior, Beckmeyer had blamed McDonald for the death of Piggy, Beckmeyer’s elderly chocolate Labrador.

McDonald was supposed to be keeping an eye on the dog while the pair were cleaning up the property, but Beckmeyer drove over the animal.

“Piggy gets squished. John is mad; he’s angry. He’s blaming James for not doing what he needed to do,” Davies said, which was to warn Beckmeyer his dog was under the truck.

The incident escalates to the point that McDonald gets a BB gun and points it “right at Mr. Beckmeyer’s face,” Davies said.

Another argument, just six weeks before the fatal shooting, ends with McDonald body-slamming Boucher to the ground “in an out-of-control rage.”

Beckmeyer and Boucher went to the hospital because she thought she had a broken tailbone, Davies recalled.

And then there was the day of the barbecue, when McDonald tried to punch Beckmeyer, Davies said — “a big, full roundhouse swing”— while he was leaving the confrontation.

“Does a guy deserve a roundhouse punch for cuffing his girlfriend on the ear?” Davies asked. “Probably. But that’s what he’s retreating from.”

Beckmeyer fired “in a panic,” Davies said.

The case does revolve around self-defense, the attorney said, but it was Beckmeyer who was trying to protect himself.


Prosecutors called the first officers to arrive at the scene of the shooting, as well as expert witnesses from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office and the Washington State Patrol Crime Scene Team, as their first witnesses.

The women who saw the shooting were expected to testify early this week, followed by the defense from Beckmeyer’s legal team later this week. 

The trial is expected to continue through the week.