Lawyer asks jury to acquit Becker Prosecutor says he's guilty of murder
BY TOM KNAPP, and CINDY STAUFFER, Staff Writers
The story Matthew Becker told to police about the shooting death of his pregnant girlfriend is "not improbable. It is not implausible. It is impossible," the lead prosecutor told a jury Monday afternoon.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Fetterman told the jurors there's no way the bullet that killed 21-year-old Allison Walsh and her unborn daughter was fired accidentally, and scoffed at the defense's portrait of Becker as a gun novice who didn't know what he was doing when he pointed the weapon at Walsh.
Defense attorney Dennis Charles argued that the 22-caliber pistol used to kill Walsh is "dangerous. This gun is an accident waiting to happen," he said, arguing that Becker is guilty of nothing more than "simple negligence."
Prosecutors are asking for a verdict of first-degree murder for the August 2011 shooting and will seek the death penalty if Becker, 23, is convicted of that charge.
During closing arguments Monday afternoon, Charles reminded jurors that the burden of proof lies with the commonwealth.
"Aren't we supposed to be looking for justice? A fair result?" he asked. "If you pause or hesitate ... you have reasonable doubt and you must acquit."
Charles said the prosecution based its case on a story of "guns, lies and murder. What nonsense."
He ridiculed the prosecution's attempts to establish a history of violent behavior by putting a former girlfriend on the stand who said Becker used to shoot her with a pellet gun when he was angry.
Pellet guns are sold in toy stores, Charles said. "What's next, a squirt gun? A Smurf toy?"
Becker did nothing illegal, Charles said, but committed "excusable homicide by misadventure."
"It's the square peg of an accident, and they're trying to ram it through the round hole of homicide," he said.
Charles recounted Becker's testimony, in which he said he had removed the magazine from the pistol and didn't know there was a bullet in the chamber when he pointed it at Walsh.
"In his mind, the gun can't fire," Charles said.
"He tried to apply what he knew of his other pistols to this gun. Well, guess what? This gun's too dangerous."
Fetterman, in his closing, reminded jurors that Becker told police the shooting was "dumb (expletive) luck."
"But this was not dumb luck," Fetterman said. "This was murder, make no mistake about it."
Fetterman said Becker was a gun expert who owned many firearms, was a gun-shop regular, spoke the jargon, had assembled his own assault rifle from parts and had plans to become a gunsmith.
It's unusual, Fetterman said, for a gun owner to load a firearm before cleaning it, as Becker said he was doing. The prosecutor noted there was no cleaning kit to support Becker's story.
He also said that, if Becker's claim that he removed the magazine before shooting Walsh was true, police could not have found a fresh bullet in the chamber.
"It is impossible for this to have happened the way Mr. Becker said," Fetterman said. "Impossible."
The assistant district attorney said defense counsel paid a consultant to dispute police testimony about the weapon used.
Becker didn't call 911 until his parents came home, Fetterman said, and he showed little emotion when questioned by police.
"His memory gets shaky and selective five days later, when the police start confronting him with facts," Fetterman said.
"Use your common sense and logic," he said. "There is one conclusion, and one only. He did this on purpose."
Closing arguments did not go off without a hitch.
At one point Charles quoted a passage from the Bible. Lancaster County President Judge Joseph Madenspacher interrupted Charles, then rebuked him after the jury had been led from the room.
Madenspacher said counsel is prohibited from making biblical references in their arguments, a fact of which Charles said he is unaware.
"If the prosecution had done that, you'd be asking for a mistrial right now," Madenspacher said.
Charles did later move for a mistrial, saying that Fetterman appealed to the jury's sympathy by referencing Walsh's family in the gallery, that he prejudiced the jury against the defense by calling their case "a smokescreen" and that he made inappropriate claims that Becker lied in statements to police.
Madenspacher denied the motion, noting that both attorneys gave "very aggressive" closings.
The trial is expect to resume today at 9 a.m., when Madenspacher will give the jurors his final instructions before they begin deliberations.
Testimony, which opened March 4, ended Monday morning after Becker's parents took the stand.
Testifying in their son's defense, Jodi and James Becker described what they saw and did on the night that Becker shot Walsh.
Both said they had taken Jodi Becker's mother, Becker's 16-year-old sister and a friend to Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg. They returned home at 11 p.m. and were greeted by their son, who ran out of the room he shared with Walsh.
"He was frantic and hysterical," Jodi Becker said. Both parents said their son fell to the floor, crying and saying he shot Walsh.
"I thought he was kidding at first," Jodi Becker said. She ran into the couple's room and saw that Walsh had a gunshot wound to her forehead.
Jodi Becker, who is a licensed practical nurse, said she checked Walsh for a pulse and felt a faint one in her wrist. She yelled for her husband to call 911 and told her son to do "rescue breathing" for his girlfriend.
Jodi Becker said Walsh's mouth was full of saliva and "debris" and that, although she has been trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, she couldn't bring herself to do the rescue breathing herself.
"I said, 'This is your girlfriend. You gotta do what you can,' " she said she told her son.
Becker tried a few times, but Walsh's chest was not rising with the resuscitation. Then he was gagging and could not continue, she said.
Emergency workers arrived, she said, but asked first for the gun, which they gave to a firefighter who also had arrived.
Jodi Becker said she and her son were screaming that Walsh was pregnant and the emergency workers needed to help her. The workers felt for a pulse, said Walsh had none, then did little to help the woman or her unborn baby, Jodi Becker said.
Her son was so distraught that he punched out the glass in a hutch, she said.
"He was saying, 'This is my wife and baby. Why aren't you doing anything?' " she said.
James Becker said his son was upset and ran out of the house. He said he followed his son into a neighbor's yard. His son had a gun, he said.
"He said he was going to shoot himself. He had no reason to live," James Becker said.
The father said he put his arms around his son's arms, trying to calm him.
After his son went inside, James Becker said he later retrieved the gun his son had been holding and put it under a couch cushion, saying he did not want his son to find it again. He also said he moved rifles from the room where his son and girlfriend stayed to get them out of the way of emergency workers.
James and Matthew Becker then went to Hershey Medical Center, where Walsh had been taken, he said.
Police came into the room and asked Matthew Becker to stand up, then started emptying his pockets, finding a bullet that Becker said was for himself.
Then they started handcuffing his son, James Becker said.
"I was just getting up out of my chair," James Becker said, adding, "I like to walk around when I get agitated."
Police used a stun gun on him three times, he said, before releasing him. James Becker was not charged in regard to the incident.