EVERETT — The suspect in what police believe was a road-rage homicide in Everett on Saturday was acquitted of a traffic-related shooting in California 28 years ago that left a man paralyzed.
Simeon Berkley, 74, a mechanical engineer who lives in Everett, was arrested for investigation of second-degree murder in connection with the shooting in Everett.
Everett District Court Judge Tam Bui set bail Monday afternoon at $750,000.
A Los Angeles Times article from 1991 reported that Berkley shot and paralyzed a man but was later acquitted of attempted murder, attempted manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon.
Everett police said that Saturday’s homicide took place shortly after a crash in the 5200 block of Glenwood Avenue. Berkley was driving a Honda passenger car when he was rear-ended around 7 p.m. by a Lincoln SUV, according to a police report filed in Everett District Court.
Witnesses who pulled over to check on the collision told officers that they heard two gunshots. Steven A. Whitemarsh, 49, was found dead in the driver’s seat of the Lincoln. He was a well-liked manager at a local Safeway, a Snohomish County deputy prosecuting attorney said in court Monday. Officials had not released his name Monday afternoon.
A medical examiner reportedly described a gunshot wound to Whitemarsh’s face and another in the back of his head. It appeared the bullets had been fired from about three feet away through an open car window, police wrote. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his death a homicide, a medical determination, not a legal finding.
Berkley didn’t leave the scene, court papers say. He was found standing on the sidewalk nearby, talking on a cellphone. After witnesses pointed him out, officers allegedly found a loaded .380-caliber pistol in his pocket. A bullet was in the chamber.
The gun’s ammunition appeared to match two casings found near Whitemarsh’s vehicle.
Berkley spoke briefly with an officer, according to the police report.
“I’ll make your job easy, it was self defense,” he reportedly said. “He was chasing me.”
Later, the suspect’s wife told police that he’d left home to pick up dinner from a restaurant in Mukilteo. She said he didn’t say what happened but told her that she needed to call the restaurant and tell them that he was going to be delayed in picking up their food.
According to witnesses, Berkley got out of his car after the crash, walked up to the driver’s side of the SUV and held up a handgun. He allegedly fired once, paused, then fired again, according to their statements, which were detailed in court papers.
One of the witnesses approached the scene with a camcorder and reportedly interviewed the suspect.
Berkley allegedly said there was no point in helping the victim because he shot him twice in the head, according to the police report.
He said that the Lincoln had been tailgating him, the witness reported. Berkley said he slammed on his brakes to allow the other driver to pass, according to court papers, but was rear-ended instead.
The witness said no explanation was given for the shooting. He didn’t hear any arguing happen before the shooting, according to the police report.
“Nothing at the scene or statements provided by witnesses indicated that Berkley was in any danger at the time of the shooting,” an officer wrote.
Arguing for lower bail, Berkley’s defense attorney said the witnesses only saw the tail end of the encounter between the two men. He also said the suspect didn’t have any criminal history, while Whitemarsh had a DUI and various assaults in his court record. Berkley’s bail was originally set at $1 million.
In 1991, Berkley allegedly shot a man in the back after a near-crash on a freeway, partially paralyzing him, according to the Los Angeles Times.
He didn’t deny shooting the man, but the jury acquitted him of attempted murder based on his claim of self defense. Jurors said they believed Berkley feared for his life when the other man approached his car.
However, a juror reportedly issued a warning:
“You keep that gun out of your car,” he said, according to the Times. “We didn’t feel that what you did was right at all, but we had to follow the law.”