Jerry Lee King Jr. heard Uncle Will’s dirt bike screaming up the driveway of their 10-acre eucalyptus-shaded hideaway in rural Herald and he knew it meant trouble.
Earlier in the day, King ran his mom off the property at the point of a knife, investigators say. Now her brother Willis Griffin had come back to have a word with his nephew, maybe more. So King grabbed the Mannlicher 7mm bolt-action rifle out from under his mother’s bed and he stood on the porch of their trailer while Griffin screeched to a halt.
“You’re going to shoot me?” Griffin asked as he got off the bike and made his way toward his nephew, according to King’s testimony this week in Sacramento Superior Court.
That is sure enough what King did, and the single shot to the chest ended Uncle Will’s life right there in the driveway of their place on Purvis Road in the rural south county and left the nephew facing a first-degree murder charge in front of Judge Michael P. Kenny.
King testified he didn’t mean to kill his beloved uncle. Deputy District Attorney Sheri Greco has charged otherwise. Today, she and defense attorney Charles Bauer, after putting on six days of testimony between them, will deliver their closing arguments to the jury.
King, 32, after changing his mind twice before finally deciding to testify, took the stand Tuesday and told a story nobody had heard in public before about how he shot and killed Griffin, 50, at 4:23 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2012.
The day of the killing, King told Sacramento sheriff’s detectives that he had no idea who killed his uncle. He said somebody inside a gray truck sped past their isolated spot in the Herald outback and fired the fatal shot.
A couple of days later, after they arrested him, King went on television and cried to the camera how investigators mistakenly blamed him.
“I just hope that they honestly find the person that really did this,” King told KOVR Channel 13. “I asked the investigators not to stop until they do, at least for justice for my uncle.”
Fairly soon in the investigation, detectives grew suspicious of King’s story. A neighbor told them that earlier on the day of the shooting , he came across King’s mother, and that she was hysterical after King confronted her with the knife because she wanted him out of the trailer where they lived.
Detectives learned that Griffin kept the rifle they called “the cannon” under his sister’s bed, but King at first told them he didn’t know about any guns in the house.
The day after the killing, they found the rifle hidden in some bushes about 100 yards behind the trailer. Then they arrested King.
He stuck with his truck story into the trial, but switched up Tuesday when he took the stand.
Under questioning from Bauer, he told the jury in the days leading up to the killing, he’d been helping his mom and fixed her car and had been sick and was trying to get better so he could go find work in Alaska.
The night before he shot his uncle, King said he was trying to sleep in his bedroom when he overheard his mother and her brother talk about how she wanted him out – right in the middle of Christmas season, when he had no place to go.
“It tore me up inside,” King testified.
He denied threatening his mother with a knife. All he was going to do, he said, was slash her tires.
That afternoon, he fell asleep on the couch, watching the 49ers beat Miami, 27-13.
The sound of Griffin on a dirt bike woke him up.
He said his first thought was, “Oh, crap. He’s going to come tell me I’ve got to leave.” Then he grabbed “the cannon.”
“I’ve seen my uncle do some pretty mean things,” King testified. “I just wanted to go outside and have him talk to me without getting physical.”
Griffin stumbled hopping off the bike, then cursed his nephew when he saw him with the gun. King said his uncle, who outweighed him by 50 pounds, lit after him “like a football tackle.”
Then, “I pulled the gun up and it went off. It’s not like I aimed it at something. It was an accident. I said, ‘Oh, crap, Uncle Will.’ ”
King testified that he called 911, hid the gun in some bushes and came back to administer CPR to Griffin.
“I don’t know why I lied” to detectives, he said. “I was scared.”
Greco, on cross-examination, found it curious this was the first time King ever made these admissions.
“I felt my jury deserved to know the truth,” he told her.
She also wondered about his attempt to conceal the rifle.
“I was running,” he said. “I was going to keep running. I went back to help my uncle.”
Greco asked a question or two about his raising of the rifle. King said that he didn’t mean to kill anybody.
“The gun just went off,” he said.