The prosecution is expected to rest its case Tuesday in the trial of a Temecula resident accused of fatally stabbing a 19-year-old man during a dispute in a store parking lot that started out as road rage.
James Beckham Fortney, 41, could face 15 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, making criminal threats and a sentence-enhancing weapon allegation for the 2017 slaying of Kevin James Rodriguez in the Walmart parking lot at 32225 Temecula Parkway.
The prosecution opened Wednesday, calling eyewitnesses to the stand then and Thursday. Riverside County sheriff’s investigators were summoned Friday, going over videotape evidence and interviews conducted with Fortney immediately after the deadly attack.
Additional law enforcement officers are slated to testify Tuesday at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, after which the government will likely conclude its case in chief, and Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell will give the defense an opportunity to proceed with its case.
Fortney, who has no prior felony convictions, is free on $250,000 bail.
According to a trial brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Dan DeLimon, the defendant and victim crossed paths for the first and last time on the afternoon of Nov. 29, 2017.
Rodriguez and his girlfriend, identified in court documents only as “J.C.,” were heading to the Walmart with her sister when they encountered Fortney and his wife in a black Land Rover on Temecula Parkway.
DeLimon alleged that the 6-foot-3, 270-pound defendant was incensed with an elderly motorist’s driving and caught the victims’ attention as he blared the SUV’s horn while yelling out the window.
Fortney and his wife reached the Walmart just ahead of J.C., but as she pulled into an entrance, the Land Rover met her from the opposite direction, and the young woman made the indelicate choice to roll in front of the defendant as he was initiating his turn, according to the brief.
DeLimon alleged that Fortney tailgated the woman in an act of intimidation through the parking lot, until each of them went to their respective spaces.
Rodriguez was upset by the behavior and told the women that he wanted a word with Fortney before going into the store, according to the prosecutor. He said Fortney’s wife headed into the Walmart, but the defendant lingered in front of the outlet with a small bulldog on a leash, watching his Land Rover intently.
When he spotted Rodriguez walking toward the SUV, Fortney “stormed” toward the young man, all but dragging his dog behind him and holding his camera phone in front of him to record the ensuing encounter, according to the prosecution.
Rodriguez immediately attempted to break off contact and began walking back to his girlfriend’s vehicle, DeLimon said.
“Fortney was following Rodriguez aggressively from behind … and shoved the camera near Rodriguez’s face,” cursing the young man, the prosecutor said.
When J.C. tried to pull out of her parking stall and pick up Rodriguez in an attempt to escape, Fortney allegedly blocked her path, DeLimon said.
As Rodriguez tried to walk around the bearded, much bigger man, Fortney grabbed the victim by the throat and nearly lifted him off of the ground, the brief alleged. Rodriguez threw a punch, striking Fortney in the chin, at which point the defendant let him go, and Rodriguez stepped back five feet, recovering his composure, according to DeLimon.
“Fortney drew a large-framed six-inch tactical folding knife,” he said. “Giving Rodriguez no warning whatsoever, Fortney then walked toward Rodriguez, lunged and thrust his knife forward in a reaching style stabbing motion. Fortney moved so fast that it appeared … he had some kind of training. Rodriguez tried to backpedal, but he was unable to avoid the swift targeted strike.”
The blade pierced the young man’s heart, inflicting a wound that killed him on the spot in five minutes, according to investigators.
When J.C. initially attempted to come to her mortally wounded boyfriend’s aid, Fortney allegedly shouted, “You’re next!” leading the girl to jump back in her vehicle in fear of her life, court papers stated.
An off-duty police officer and an off-duty medic both tried life-saving measures on Rodriguez, but to no avail, according to the prosecution, adding that Fortney, too, got involved in the resuscitation effort.
He was arrested by deputies without a struggle and gave alternating accounts of what transpired, making himself out to be the victim, using the knife in self-defense, DeLimon said. However, during an hours-long interview, Fortney ultimately acknowledged that Rodriguez never initiated physical contact, according to the prosecutor.