A 62-year-old Rotterdam man started a fight with the boyfriend of his live-in niece in December 2009 as a pretext to shoot the boyfriend, a prosecutor told a Schenectady County Court Jury Tuesday.
The defendant’s attorney didn’t dispute that his client, Brian Simmons, shot the boyfriend. But the shooting was justified, attorney Steve Kouray told the jury. Simmons was defending his wife and home from a man who had been told previously that he wasn’t welcome in the home.
Attorneys for both sides gave their opening statements Tuesday afternoon in Simmons’ first-degree assault trial.
If convicted on the assault count, Simmons faces up to 25 years in state prison.
The case is expected to turn on Simmons’ intent at the time of the shooting and why his victim was in the home at the time.
Prosecutor Amy Monahan told the jury Simmons’ intent was clear.
“The defendant instigated an argument with someone he didn’t like so he had an excuse to shoot him,” Monahan told the jury.
Kouray argued Simmons had every right to shoot.
“Brian Simmons rightfully and legally protected probably the two most important things in his life,” Kouray told the jury, “the physical safety of his wife and the sanctity and peace of his home.”
Shot early Dec. 8, 2009, at 1021 Outer Drive was 24-year-old Joel M. Winkler of Rotterdam Junction. Winkler suffered a 4-inch hole in his armpit as a result of Simmons’ shotgun blast, prosecutor Monahan told the jury. Winkler was unarmed, she said.
Winkler was the boyfriend of 18-year-old Erika Barrett, Simmons’ niece. Barrett had lived with Simmons since turning 18, months before the shooting. Her own parents didn’t approve of the relationship with Winkler, Monahan told the jury.
Winkler’s relationship with his girlfriend’s aunt and uncle soon soured as well.
Monahan argued that that was as a result of crude comments made by Simmons to his niece about the relationship. Simmons was often drunk, Monahan argued.
Monahan also portrayed the couple as dutifully following Simmons’ rules, which included a 9 p.m. curfew on the 18-year-old.
Kouray argued that Simmons and his wife tired of Winkler’s “behavior and attitude” and barred him from the house. At one point, days before the shooting, Winkler chased Simmons into the house, threatening to kill him, Kouray said.
On Dec. 7, 2009, Winkler dropped off Barrett at the 9 p.m. curfew, after an evening of video games at Winkler’s residence, Monahan said.
Simmons was drunk and Barrett responded by going to her room, Monahan said. Then, shortly after midnight, Simmons went to her room and announced she had seven days to leave. She was creating too much tension in the home, Monahan said.
Barrett responded by calling Winkler to pick her up.
By the time Winkler arrived, however, Simmons’ wife, Penny Simmons, was preventing Barrett from leaving, blocking her way. Monahan said Barrett let Winkler inside. Kouray argued that Winkler entered on his own.
The ensuing struggle and shooting was caught on 911 tapes. Winkler tells Penny Simmons to take her hands off of him, Monahan told the jury. Penny tells him that the police are on their way. Winkler responds by saying he welcomed the police.
Then came the shotgun blast, Monahan said.
In the immediate aftermath, Brian Simmons allegedly boasted, “Let’s see if you ever set foot in my house again,” Monahan said. To police, Simmons allegedly explained that he didn’t intend to kill Winkler; if he did, he would have shot him in the heart.
Kouray asked the jury to focus on how Winkler ended up inside the house. The proof, Kouray told the jury, would show no one gave him permission to enter.
The trial is expected to last a week. Presiding is acting Schenectady County Court Judge Polly Hoye. Simmons is free on bail.
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