Rhonda Parker / @ 6:26 p.m. / Courts

GUILTY: Jury Finds Eric Lively Guilty of Second Degree Murder After Less Than Five Hours of Deliberation; Sentencing Scheduled for Early March


It took under five hours of deliberation for a jury to convict Eric Jason Lively of second-degree murder in the slaying of Jesse Simpson, who died shortly after Lively ran over him with his pickup truck on May 3 at an intersection in Shelter Cove.

The jury acquitted Lively of first-degree murder but still opted for a murder conviction rather than the many other options such as manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter.

“He could have chosen a different path,” juror Susan Wentworth said outside the courtroom after the verdict was read shortly before 5 p.m. today. “He could have turned around.”

Instead, after long-time enemies Lively and Simpson made eye contact, he peeled out and hit the 42-year-old Simpson.

Wentworth and jury forewoman Susan Tappan said the case came down to just those few moments at the intersection, when Lively made the decision to drive toward Simpson instead of stopping or turning around. Lively had told a California Highway Patrol officer he didn’t intend to stop, which was a major factor for the jury.

From the start, when the jury first started deliberating yesterday afternoon, every juror believed Lively was guilty of something. Not one person believed he deserved an acquittal, the women said.

After that was determined, it came down to choosing the appropriate crime.

The defense contended Simpson had jumped out in front of Lively’s truck and swung at it with the weed-whacker he’d been using.

“That was a hang-up for a lot of people,” Wentworth said. “But it still came down to a weed-whacker versus a truck.”

Defense attorney Russ Clanton also brought up that Simpson had a toxic level of methamphetamine in his system when he was struck and killed.

“The fact that he had a business and was a functioning part of the community kind of counteracted that,” Tappan said.

Despite the murder conviction, Tappan and Wentworth weren’t impressed with the credibility of prosecution witnesses.

“We kind of all thought they were so-so,” Wentworth said.

Lively also testified during the trial, saying he hadn’t meant to hit Simpson and that all the people who said he made death threats against him were lying.

Asked whether the jury believed Lively, Tappan said “Not completely.”

Lively is scheduled for sentencing on March 7. Second-degree murder carries a penalty of 15 years to life. In terms of how much time people actually spend in prison, there’s little difference between a conviction for first-degree murder and second-degree murder. Few convicted murderers are granted parole.

During the trial, several prosecution witnesses testified that Lively often talked about how his neighbors were stealing from him, and several times he mentioned killing Jesse Simpson and his brother Thomas.

Even if Lively had been acquitted, he would have little to return to in Shelter Cove. He was widely disliked for his violent behavior and threats, while Jesse Simpson was a beloved member of the community. A few days after Lively’s arrest someone burned down his house on Debbie Lane in Shelter Cove. His parental rights have been terminated, and his three oldest children are being adopted by their aunt in Arizona. And his youngest child is with Lively’s former girlfriend, who testified against him at trial.

The case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Adrian Kamada. His last words to the jury before they began deliberations were “It is not remotely reasonable that this was an accident.”

The jury obviously agreed.

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