A man who gunned down a 47-year-old Lake Elsinore store clerk and tried to shoot the victim's co-worker was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A Murrieta jury in February convicted 28-year-old James Curtis Coon of first-degree murder for the 2017 slaying of Eric Whitecomb of Wildomar.
Along with the murder count, jurors also found Coon guilty of attempted murder, armed robbery, burglary and a special circumstance allegation of killing in the course of a robbery.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Paul Dickerson imposed the sentence required by law for the offenses. 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 the defendant 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.
Coon 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 said that Coon, who had worked at the store several years earlier until he was fired, scooped up 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.
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Whitecomb was struck by two rounds and collapsed onto 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 that he had suffered a psychotic episode and was not responsible for his behavior at the time of the shooting, according to the brief. He had no prior felony convictions.