Just before he shot his father in the back, Daniel Cartwright said his plan was to steal the old man’s car to get away from his incessant nagging about the teenager’s dropping out of high school, hanging out with potheads, drinking in the park and breaking into his dad’s bedroom to steal stuff.
The son told detectives he wasn’t entirely sure why he killed his dad, only that when Richard Cartwright slapped him around over another bedroom pilferage, he gripped the handgun he’d just lifted out of there and dropped his father with a pistol shot to the middle of his back.
“He pleaded for help and he pleaded for me to call 911, but I said no, I wasn’t going to,” Daniel told the detectives the day of the killing. “And he tried to take out his cellphone. I – I took it out of his hand and then he said he was feeling paralyzed and he told me to call 911, and I said no. … And he slowly passed away.”
Cartwright, who has since turned 20, is now on trial for murder in Sacramento Superior Court for the Nov. 6, 2012, killing of his father in the Rosemont apartment the two of them shared. He spent Wednesday and Thursday on the witness stand, testifying in his own behalf and fully admitting to what he did, but coloring it with pretext he never provided to detectives – that his father was physically, psychologically and almost sexually abusive.
His attorney, Paris Coleman, told the jury that the killing did not amount to murder. But Deputy District Attorney Valerie Brown, in an effort to raise questions about the defendant’s explanation for patricide, questioned Cartwright about pictures she showed the jury of him and his father laughing and joking together on outings to Lake Tahoe and of the two of them playing bean bag toss and hanging out with other family members at Christmastime. She said the killing was premeditated and willful.
One of the prosecutor’s best pieces of evidence was a Daniel Cartwright selfie snapped about an hour before he killed his father and posted on Facebook just minutes before he pulled the trigger. It depicts Cartwright wearing sunglasses indoors and looking at himself in the mirror, his Raiders cap turned backward and him holding a .38.
“I guess you could say it’s a fashion statement,” Cartwright testified, “trying to be cool with everybody else.”
Richard Cartwright, 40, worked two jobs, as a landscaper and unloading cargo planes for UPS at Mather Airport. He raised his only son by himself after the breakup of his marriage to Daniel’s mother, who had descended into a drug-addicted lifestyle not long after the birth of their boy, according to the trial testimony of the woman’s maid of honor.
Daniel testified that after his parents broke up, he had been sexually abused by the older son of one of his mother’s boyfriends.
He said he hasn’t seen his mother since he was about 7 years old, when his father gained custody of him.
“I just remember my father picking me up one day and never going back,” he told the jury.
He said his relationship with his father was pretty good while they were living in his home state of Arizona, but that it deteriorated beginning about when they moved to Sacramento when he was 12.
His lawyer showed pictures of Cartwright as a boy on an outing with his father to Lake Tahoe and on a hike with him on Mount Diablo. He testified he had good times with his dad “to a small extent … but there was more bad.”
Mostly, his dad just yelled at him as he progressed into his teens, Cartwright said, in frustration over the shortcomings of his own life.
“It would be him telling me he didn’t have a social life because of me, that he couldn’t keep up a steady relationship with any women because of me,” Cartwright told the jury. “He blamed his money problems on me. He said he couldn’t afford to have any fun because of me.”
Cartwright testified there were occasions when his father became overly rough and inappropriate. One time when his dad “smacked me” in a discussion over his defiant behavior, Cartwright said he cursed at his father. Richard Cartwright “kind of snapped,” the son said, and ordered him to drop his pants.
“He reached and grabbed me by the testicles and asked me if I thought I was a man now,” he testified.
He said his father at times referred to him by an anti-gay slur and asked him if he’d ever been sodomized. Typically, he said, his father berated him verbally, “mostly yelling and cussing at me and questioning my masculinity.” He testified that when his father once caught him drunk at home, he made him stand naked for two hours.
None of this about his father ever made it into the confession he gave Sacramento sheriff’s detectives on the day of the killing.
“I wasn’t ready to tell anybody,” Cartwright said. “I didn’t want to embarrass myself, have people judge me.”
He said, “I didn’t mean to kill anybody,” and that his plan was only to steal his father’s car at gunpoint, go pick up a girl he knew in Texas and run away to Seattle.
In her cross-examination, Brown accused Cartwright in a question of “deliberately trying to minimize any affection or fun you had with your father.” Cartwright denied it, but he admitted he had a stable school history while living with his father and that his dad also enrolled him in tae kwan do and took pictures of his son’s successes at his martial arts tournaments.
The prosecutor also displayed a text Cartwright wrote about 10 months before the shooting where he said he had become so angry with his father that “I need to talk to ppl before I kill my dad.”
The shooting two years ago this month took place around 7:30 in the morning, Cartwright said, when his dad came home and found out his son had broken into his bedroom again – this time, to steal the father’s handgun.
When his dad cornered him and slapped him in the face, “I felt I lost control,” Cartwright said, which the prosecutor questioned, given the nearly pinpoint location of the fatal gunshot wound.
“It just so happened I hit him in the center of the back,” Cartwright said.
He told detectives that while his father was dying, he turned up the volume on the “screamo” music he had playing on the computer “and went back and told him to be quiet.” Then he messaged a couple of friends, disassembled his father’s cellphone and about three hours later called 911.
The trial resumes Monday in front of Judge Sharon A. Lueras.