Originally published 3/12/1999
Jeremy Thomas Clark, on trial for the murder of a 22-year-old man with a history of psychiatric problems, testified Thursday in Sacramento Superior Court that he killed in self-defense during a video game gone wild.
"Gradually the mood changed and I believe it was over the video game," said Clark, who was 16 when he fired two shots into the head of Michael Trout, killing him instantly in Trout's Elk Grove home.
Clark is charged with an open count of murder in the late-night shooting on June 20, 1997. Trout, who lived alone, was found by his mother. He was on his knees with his face on the floor.
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Deputy District Attorney Russ Detrick said Trout was on his knees when he was shot once below the eye and through an ear. He could have been praying for his life, the prosecutor suggested in his opening statement to jurors last week.
In his cross-examination, Detrick challenged the truth of Clark's testimony by pointing out that he lied to detectives about the shooting, telling them at least three different stories.
Clark also has a history of behavioral problems: He has pulled a knife on one man, punched another in the face, stolen a warm-up jacket from a teenager and bragged to others about killing Trout, Detrick said.
In daylong testimony, Clark himself said he regularly carried a gun in his belt "to feel macho."
On the stand, the clean-shaven Clark was wearing a cream-colored pullover sweater and a white shirt. His short light brown hair was combed back.
He denied he ever bragged about the shooting and said he feels remorse.
"Did you want to kill him?" defense attorney Jan David Karowsky asked.
"I didn't want anything, but to get the gun," said Clark, who claims that Trout had lunged at the weapon, which Clark had taken out of his belt in order to sit down comfortably and play the video game.
"Why did you shoot him? Karowsky asked.
"I was scared," said Clark, who later claimed the whole neighborhood knew Trout was a violent person with "mental problems."
At the time, Clark weighed 160 pounds and stood 5 feet 6 inches tall. His victim, Trout, was 6 feet 5 inches and weighed 292 pounds.
In his opening statement, Karowsky said Trout had been hospitalized at least twice for psychiatric problems. He was prone to violent and bizarre behavior when he failed to take his medication, the defense attorney said.
Police reports showed that neighbors accused Trout of terrorizing their otherwise peaceful neighborhood on Mary Ellen Way. Incidents ranged from smashing beer bottles in his driveway to scrawling the word "kill" in the street, testimony showed. He attacked one girl by smashing her head into concrete and punched a Taco Bell employee in the face because he was unhappy with his ordered food, Karowsky said.
The night of the fatal shooting, Trout had worked himself into "an angry state" while playing the video game that had a violent theme, the defense attorney said.
But Detrick scoffs at the notion that Clark fired the fatal shot out of fear or self-defense. He claims Clark is lying out of some "self-preservation instinct."
The trial, before Judge Richard H. Gilmour, resumes Monday.