Shooting suspect pleads not guilty
October 19, 2005
Eric Alan Stoneman, 14, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder Wednesday in District Court after a day-long hearing in which the only eyewitness told of a day when arguments turned deadly.District Court Judge Thomas Ossola found probable cause to charge Stoneman with premeditated murder. The boy allegedly shot and killed Taylor DeMarco, 9, on July 20 inside a mobile home in Battlement Mesa.During the hearing in Glenwood Springs, Taylor’s father, Bill DeMarco, placed a small container with some of his son’s ashes on the railing. He also propped a picture of his son against the container facing the judge, the attorneys and Stoneman.Stoneman, wearing a blue shirt with white stripes, turned repeatedly back toward his mother and father, who were sitting behind him. At times, he smiled and mouthed words to them. But as the hearing wore on, his head dropped to his chest.At a morning recess, DeMarco, who had watched the exchanges, said to Stoneman, “I don’t think you have a whole lot to smile about. I’ll wipe that smile off your face.”DeMarco then left the courtroom clutching his son’s picture to his chest. As he left, he said, “I don’t trust myself. There ain’t a guy in there that can stop me. I don’t trust myself.”As in earlier hearings, security was tight both inside and outside the courtroom. DeMarco was ejected from an earlier hearing when he threatened Stoneman and his family. People wishing to sit in the courtroom had to pass through a metal detector, and had coats and bags searched.Deputies were posted inside the courtroom and surrounded the defense table where Stoneman sat after DeMarco made his comments.In a courtroom taut with drama, witnesses recounted the moments just after Taylor DeMarco’s death. The most stunning testimony came from the only eyewitness to the shooting. Eric Warde, 13, said the three boys were in a bedroom of his mobile home playing video games and had been arguing off and on during the day. Stoneman left and about 10 minutes later returned with a handgun, according to Warde. He said that he and Taylor hid in a bedroom, locking the door, then retreated to a bathroom, again locking themselves in.Warde testified that Stoneman said, “This gun can go through the door.”Warde eventually unlocked the door and the boys came back into the living room. There, Warde said, Stoneman pointed the gun at both Warde and Taylor, and at one point handed the gun to Taylor, assuring him the safety was on and it wouldn’t go off.Warde said Stoneman pointed the gun at him, then held it to his own head and put it in his mouth. Warde said he was frightened and was looking down at the time, then heard a shot go off.”Taylor screamed and opened the [front] door and ran out,” Warde said.Taylor DeMarco died outside in a pool of blood on the steps of the mobile home.Under cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Vince Felletter, Warde admitted he has told conflicting versions of the incident.”Isn’t it true that the defendant threatened you, not just on that day, and that once he had you in a headlock and made you pass out?” Felletter said.In a low voice, Warde said, “Yes.” Warde also agreed Stoneman had pointed a gun at Warde before July 20. During his testimony, Warde portrayed Stoneman as an angry boy who made threats that he would kill both Taylor and Warde, and carried them out on Taylor on that hot July day.Felletter asked Warde if he’d told an investigator that Stoneman told Taylor, “I’m going to kill you” when he pointed the gun at the boys and that he said it “in the strangest way.” Warde answered, “yes.”Stoneman’s public defender Greg Greer, however, questioned Warde’s statements about Stoneman making repeated threats to kill both the boys. “He told you he was just trying to scare you and [the shooting] was just an accident,” Greer said.Warde agreed.Felletter argued that the shooting was premeditated and Stoneman deliberated before doing so. And although “there are some inconsistencies” in Warde’s statements to investigators, “he did make plenty of statements that Eric Stoneman said he would kill Taylor DeMarco. It wasn’t just kids playing around.”Stoneman, he said, went back to his home and retrieved the .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun from between the box spring and mattress of his parents’ bed and took it back to Eric Warde’s house, pointed it at their heads and said to Taylor DeMarco, “‘I’m going to shoot you.’ He doesn’t say it like he’s playing around,” Felletter said.Greer, however, argued the first-degree murder charge should be thrown out because Warde also said “over and over” to investigators that Stoneman was only trying to scare Taylor and didn’t intend to shoot him.”There isn’t enough evidence by any standard” for a first-degree murder charge, he said. “Deliberation does not exist in this case. Intent does not exist in this case. First-degree murder is not a charge that should go against this 13-year-old boy.”In making his ruling, Ossola said he found, from Warde’s statements, there was enough evidence to support a charge of first-degree murder.After the ruling, Greer said Stoneman would plead not guilty to the charges against him, including first-degree assault and menacing with a deadly weapon. If convicted, Stoneman faces the possibility of life in prison without parole.He will appear in court Nov. 3, when a date will be set for his trial. Felletter said he expects the trial could run for two weeks.