Santa Ana, CA – Opening statements signal the official beginning of a trial, but there is actually quite a bit of work that goes on before either prosecutors or defense attorneys make any statements in open court. Pretrial hearings, jury selection, and, of course, criminal investigation all precede the beginning of a trial, but opening statements are the first part of a criminal case that is available to the general public and the first time each side outlines its case to the jury.
The trial of Steven Matthew LeClaire, Jr., 26, began on Wednesday with both sides making their opening statements in court. LeClaire has been charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder along with sentencing enhancements for personal discharge of a firearm causing death and great bodily injury. According to prosecutors, LeClaire, an Army Specialist who was away without official leave from his post in El Paso, Texas, shot Marques Murray, Raymond Eligan, and his father Steven Francis LeClaire, Sr. in at the Cypress Lodge on Lincoln Ave in February of 2011. Murray was killed and Eligan and LeClaire's father both were injured.
The prosecution said that the shooting was motivated by LeClaire's anger at discovering that had given alcohol to his 14-year-old sister, and that it was a premeditated act of revenge. LeClaire's attorney, Gassia Apkarian, is arguing that although her client did shoot the victims, it was due to her client's instability and drug abuse, and that LeClaire did not premeditate the attack. According to Apkarian, LeClaire has been abusing drugs and alcohol since his teens and went AWOL after failing a drug test in El Paso before coming back to Cypress to live in his father's motel room.
On the night of the shooting, LeClaire was drinking with the three other men when he reportedly became violent and opened fire, striking each man with multiple gunshots. Afterwards, he is said to have expressed remorse and was arrested by an off-duty CHP officer.
According to Orange County murder defense attorney at the Law Office of Michael L. Guisti that sometimes the matter that is in dispute at a criminal trial is not the defendant's actions, but the charges that have resulted. For example, if a defense attorney is unable to secure a plea deal for their client before the case goes to trial, they might attempt to argue that their client is guilty of a lesser crime like second-degree murder or manslaughter rather than first-degree murder. An opening statement is an attorney's first chance to explain their strategy to a jury and a well laid out opening statement is one of several components that can help to build a successful courtroom defense.
At the Law Office of Michael L. Guisti, our team of dedicated and passionate Orange County criminal defense attorneys has been defending clients against all kinds of felony and misdemeanor charges in Southern California Courts for over 16 years. In that time, we've accumulated the experience necessary to take on any criminal case. When you come to our firm, your case will receive the kind of individual attention that it takes to have the charges against you reduced or dismissed. We've helped hundreds of clients across Southern California, and we're ready to put our experience and knowledge to work for you.
Our high standards of professional ethics and personal integrity have put our firm on the map and we've built up strong relationships with local courts that allow us to obtain the best results for our clients. We have offices in Santa Ana, Irvine, Garden Grove, and Newport Beach to better serve Orange County's state and federal courts. We're proud to serve Southern California's diverse communities by offering foreign language assistance as needed.
Salazar, Denisse. "Trial begins for soldier charged in Cypress motel murder." http://www.ocregister.com/articles/leclaire-629095-father-apkarian.html. Orange County Register. July 16, 2014, updated July 17, 2014.