A man who gunned down a 47-year-old Lake Elsinore store clerk and tried to shoot another employee was convicted Thursday of first-degree murder and other offenses.
A Murrieta jury deliberated less than two hours before finding 27-year-old James Curtis Coon guilty of the 2017 slaying of Eric Whitecomb of Wildomar.
Along with the murder count, jurors also convicted the defendant of attempted murder, armed robbery, burglary and a special circumstance allegation of killing in the course of a robbery.
Coon is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole when he’s sentenced by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Paul Dickerson on April 17 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta. The defendant is being held without bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.
The prosecution and defense made their closing statements Thursday, after which Dickerson sent jurors behind closed doors to begin weighing evidence from the weeklong trial.
According to a trial brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Jon Brandon, Coon went to the Circle K at 16331 Lakeshore Drive about 5 a.m. on June 14, 2017, intending to kill the lone clerk at the counter, steal whatever cash was on hand and take whatever items he could grab.
However, the plan changed when Coon got there and encountered a second clerk, identified in court documents as “R.D.,” stocking shelves, as well as several customers coming and going, the brief stated.
The defendant milled around for 20 minutes, ultimately deciding to simply take items without paying for them.
Security surveillance videotape showed Coon approaching the counter, dumping a handful of goods in front of Whitecomb, then opening his wallet and pretending to fish for money. Coon later admitted to sheriff’s investigators that he was strapped for cash, Brandon said.
He alleged that Coon, who had worked at the store several years earlier until he was fired, retrieved the items, told Whitecomb to “follow protocol” — meaning don’t interfere during a hold-up — and walked out the door toward his Chevrolet Trailblazer.
“Whitecomb ran around the counter toward the door … holding his cell phone, as if he were attempting to take photos or video of the suspect and his vehicle,” the prosecutor said.
He said that Coon turned and saw what the victim was about to do and pulled a .357 Magnum revolver from his waistband, leveling it at Whitecomb and opening fire.
Whitecomb was struck by two rounds and collapsed to the floor of the store.
“Whitecomb was lying on the floor, writhing in pain,” Brandon said. “Coon then walked to the front door, kicked the shattered glass from the door, aimed and took additional shots at Whitecomb, shooting him in the head.”
The victim died at the scene.
The defendant then fired at least two rounds in the direction of R.D. and a female customer, both of whom had taken cover behind a food stand toward the back of the Circle K.
Coon fled to his residence in the 3400 block of Driftwood Lane, just under a mile from the store. Within 12 hours, detectives had confirmed his identity, and he was taken into custody at his home without incident.
The defendant told investigators he had suffered a psychotic episode and did not know what he was doing at the time of the deadly attack, according to the brief.
He had no documented prior felony convictions.