EVERETT — It was not in question whether Simeon Berkley shot to death Steven Whitemarsh on an Everett street in July 2019.
Prosecutors asserted it was road rage. After four days of trial testimony and a few hours of deliberation, a jury agreed the act was a crime, not self-defense. Berkley was found guilty of second-degree murder Thursday in Snohomish County Superior Court.
The defendant was acquitted in a similar case 30 years earlier in California.
Berkley, 75, testified that Whitemarsh had been aggressively tailgating his car around 7 p.m. July 6, 2019. Whitemarsh’s Lincoln Navigator crashed into the back of Berkley’s Honda Accord on Glenwood Avenue.
Berkley got out of his car. He walked over to the Lincoln as Whitemarsh, 49, remained in the front seat. According to Berkley’s testimony, the other driver did not display a weapon or make any explicit threats, but Berkley still felt threatened by him. He shot Whitemarsh twice in the head with a .380-caliber pistol, killing him.
Berkley claimed he fired in self-defense.
On the witness stand this week, Berkley was asked why he walked up to the other driver while armed with a pistol, rather than calling the police or driving to a nearby fire station.
“I don’t know what good it would have done,” the defendant said on the witness stand. “When you’ve got a crazy guy out there, and you’re having to deal with him, just because you’ve got people around (isn’t) gonna change anything.”
The 75-year-old mechanical engineer didn’t always carry his gun, he testified this week. He had been putting it in his “pocket” before doing yard work to protect himself from coyotes he’d seen near his house.
Family members of Whitemarsh wept when the verdict was read aloud.
The deceased man was a Safeway manager and father of three. He died in the driver’s seat, still wearing his seatbelt. Family described him as “a great friend, co-worker, dad, son and brother” in a statement in 2019.
Berkley also claimed self-defense in the shooting 30 years ago. In 1991, a jury found Berkley not guilty of attempted murder, attempted manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon, after he shot and paralyzed a man after a near-crash on I-8 in San Diego County, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In an unusual public statement in court, the California jury offered advice to the defendant after that trial.
“You keep that gun out of your car,” an unidentified juror told him, according to a Los Angeles Times story. “We didn’t feel that what you did was right at all, but we had to follow the law.”
The Snohomish County jury did not hear about the 1991 case under a pre-trial agreement between prosecutors and the defense. They also did not hear about Whitemarsh’s history of driving under the influence, or how police suspected him in a fatal crash involving a pedestrian in 2017.
The defendant told jurors this week that he couldn’t predict what Whitemarsh would do, so he shot him.
“It was not something I really wanted to do,” Berkley testified during cross-examination Wednesday. “But I don’t think Steven Whitemarsh, with his behavior, left me a choice.”
The jury began deliberating in the late afternoon Wednesday, then went home for the day. They returned the guilty verdict around noon Thursday.
The jury concluded Berkley’s actions were “outside the realm of reasonable,” deputy prosecutor Matt Hunter said Thursday.
“I maintain that the entire event could have, and should have, been avoided,” Hunter said. “But that ship sailed when the trigger was pulled.”
Berkley is expected to face 15¼ to 22½ years behind bars, the prosecutor said.
A sentencing hearing is set for April 16.
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterellen.