Murder defense: Suspect was pepper-sprayed first

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Fresno man accused of murdering his neighbor in a southeast Fresno apartment complex is building a defense.

30-year-old Climmett Jackson pleaded not guilty Wednesday.

Jackson allegedly shot and killed 61-year-old Randy Harless at the Ranchwood Apartments during an argument.

But his attorney says it's not as cut-and-dried as it sounds.

Jackson had little to say to a judge as his attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Even though police initially tried to cuff another man after the death of Randy Harless, Jackson's attorney isn't disputing that his client pulled the trigger.

He's carving a different defense.

"There's a dispute as to exactly why and how this came about," said Gerald Schwab. "It's quite possibly a self-defense case and not a murder case."

Schwab says he doesn't have all the police reports yet, but he knows Harless pepper-sprayed Jackson before the shooting.

Legal analyst Ralph Torres says prosecutors will seize on the fact that the two men knew each other.

He says a self-defense argument might require more of a threat, especially if pepper spray was the only weapon Harless had.

"If the man walks away and nobody follows him and puts him in fear, there's no reason to pull out a gun and go back," Torres said. "There's no reason to shoot from further away simply because you were pepper-sprayed."

To act in self-defense, you have to reasonably fear for your life.

So Torres says if Harless was a bigger man threatening to beat up Jackson, a jury might decide Jackson had a right to use a gun, even though he legally couldn't have one.

But he says the defense can make a big difference even if the self-defense argument is imperfect.

"It could be some type of unreasonable self-defense, but that takes you out of murder," Torres said.

Jackson faces up to life in prison with no chance at parole for at least 50 years if he's convicted of first degree murder and as little as 6 years in prison if it's a manslaughter conviction.

He's due back in court in October.
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