Trial set back for accused murderer as COVID-19 spike leads to cancellation of all trials

Posted 11/27/20

John Paul Beckmeyer’s request for a speedy trial on charges of first-degree murder were dashed Friday after Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Keith Harper announced he had canceled all …

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Trial set back for accused murderer as COVID-19 spike leads to cancellation of all trials

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John Paul Beckmeyer’s request for a speedy trial on charges of first-degree murder were dashed Friday after Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Keith Harper announced he had canceled all criminal and civil trials until late January because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beckmeyer was arrested in August after allegedly shooting a neighbor following an argument at a barbecue in Nordland.

Beckmeyer, 59, allegedly shot and killed James McDonald, 24, during a barbecue Aug. 26 after witnesses said he told his girlfriend to turn down a loud radio and she didn’t. 

Beckmeyer then allegedly struck his girlfriend in the face, which resulted in an argument between Beckmeyer and McDonald and another woman at the barbecue, both of whom admonished Beckmeyer for striking a woman. Beckmeyer retreated to a nearby fifth-wheel trailer where he was living, threatening to get his .45 caliber pistol.

McDonald, meanwhile, walked to a house on the property and came back a few minutes later, holding an open double-barrel shotgun. Beckmeyer then started shooting out an open bedroom window from inside the fifth-wheel with a .22 caliber pistol, hitting McDonald twice in the chest, according to court records.

Beckmeyer has been in custody in Jefferson County Jail since the day of the shooting. He faces one charge of either first- or second-degree murder, as well as several charges of assault, and has entered a pleading of not guilty to first-degree murder, claiming self-defense. 

He made his first in-person court appearance Friday for a pretrial hearing.

Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Ashcraft said issues of discovery remain in the case, but added that a trial was still expected at some point.

“This is a case that’s going to trial,” Ashcraft said.

Richard Davies, Beckmeyer’s attorney, told the judge he wasn’t ready for trial to begin on its scheduled start date of Dec. 7, but that Beckmeyer wanted it to get underway soon.

“He doesn’t want to give up his right to a speedy trial. He wants this matter resolved as quickly as possible,” Davies said.

“Despite what Mr. Beckmeyer’s wishes are, I’m not ready to proceed to trial,” Davies added.

Given the court’s announcement on the cancellation of trials, Davies added that it didn’t sound like the trial would stay on track as scheduled earlier.

“He still doesn’t want to give up his right to a speedy trial,” Davies said.

Davies also advocated for Beckmeyer to be released before the start of the trial.

“Mr. Beckmeyer has no criminal history. Zero,” Davies said.

“He’s asserted self-defense in this matter and I think will make a strong showing of that when this matter does go to trial,” he added.

Beckmeyer’s jury trial had been set for Dec. 14, but the judge said he was striking the date.

Harper set a hearing for Dec. 4 on potential conditions for Beckmeyer’s release. The judge added that discovery issues, and the issue of a speedy trial, will be addressed.

“When we come back on Dec. 4 we need to know where we are, speedy trial-wise,” Harper said.

Harper signed his administrative order that canceled all trials in Jefferson County Superior Court on Friday, Nov. 20. The order put off all trials that were scheduled to start before Jan. 25.

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