Rhonda Parker / @ 7:46 a.m. / Courts

LIVELY TRIAL, DAY NINE: The Defendant Takes the Stand, in Tears; Says ‘I Wasn’t Looking for Any Trouble’


Murder suspect Eric Jason Lively was on the witness stand all afternoon Tuesday, portraying himself as the long-suffering victim of unruly, thieving neighbors and a meth-crazed ex-girlfriend.

Lively, called to testify by his attorney Russ Clanton, denied the claims of several witnesses that he had threatened to kill his neighbors, specifically Jesse Simpson. He said he had never walked toward Simpson’s house carrying a baseball bat, bragging that he was going to straighten Jesse out. He denied he drove away from home one night with a baseball bat and knife, warning his ex-girlfriend she’d better “have my back” if he came home with blood on his hands.

As for May 3, the day his pickup truck struck and killed Jesse Simpson, Lively testified Simpson had been weed-whacking but started walking toward the street as soon as he saw him driving up.

“As I rounded the corner we saw each other,” Lively said. “And he went into motion toward the street.”

Asked what he noticed about Simpson, Lively said “He had a running weed-whacker strapped to his chest.” Because the two men had “issues” in the past, Lively testified, he thought Simpson might be trying to start a confrontation. Simpson was standing in the road blocking his left turn toward home, so “I decided to steer to the right, to go right and get out of there. … As I was going past Jesse swung the weed-whacker at the windshield.”

Lively said he flinched and ducked, taking a minute to recover before he hit the brakes. He realized his truck had hit Simpson.

Clanton asked Lively what he was thinking. Lively was crying, taking off his glasses to wipe away tears.

“Oh Lord have mercy,” Lively recalled thinking. “I just wanted to get out of there. I wasn’t looking for any trouble.”

He said he got out of his truck and saw Simpson on the ground. The weed-whacker was still attached to him and still running. Lively said he turned it off.

“Was it a surprise to you that he lunged at you with the weed-eater?” Clanton asked.

“Yes, Sir.”

No one has disputed that Lively was frantic after the collision and tried to help Simpson. But plenty of other facts are in dispute. Clanton didn’t ask Lively about what he told police: that after Simpson was hit he said he wanted to go home and managed to make it across the road. The doctor who conducted Simpson’s autopsy testified last week that Simpson would have been immediately unconscious, “then dead.”

After he hit Simpson, Lively first drove to the Shelter Cove Volunteer Fire Department and then home. He denied his teen-age daughter’s testimony that he told her not to call the police and unplugged the phone.

Lively indicated he’d been suffering for years with the noise from a nearby cul-de-sac, where people like Jesse Simpson would gather on weekend nights, staying up all night and making an ungodly amount of noise.

Many times, Lively said, he went over to the intersection and asked people to leave, telling them his four kids were trying to sleep. Once he and Jesse Simpson got into a physical fight, he said.

Lively recounted years of chaos with his former girlfriend Crystal Worthy, who he said was a meth addict who would clean up briefly, then start using again. He was convinced Worthy was sleeping with a number of men, including Jesse Simpson’s brother. He also believed she was in cahoots with a “tweaker network” that stole from his house constantly.

Worthy had testified Monday that she cleaned up in 2013 and relapsed only once, for a couple of days in the summer of 2016. She described Lively as abusive and said she heard him make death threats toward the neighbors more than once.

Lively denied ever making death threats. Worthy and his co-workers said he did.

Lively said his ex-girlfriend told him Simpson was a meth-dealer, and he has a low opinion of meth.

“I just think it leads to a chaotic lifestyle,” he said. “Just the loss of teeth alone.”

Under cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Adrian Kamada, Lively said he’d probably had 10 to 20 confrontations with Jesse Simpson over several years. But he said that for the past couple of years they pretty much ignored one another.

Still, Lively thought Simpson was part of a “tweaker network” that stole from him. He listed an astonishing number of items taken from his house on a regular basis: food, tools, light bulbs, clothing, blankets, laundry detergent, soap, dish detergent, scissors. He also told the prosecutor people were tapping into his electricity and his bill had “gone up dramatically.”

“They were coming by while I was sleeping and plugging in extensions and stealing electricity,” he said.

“Light bulbs were impossible to keep around. Pens. It got to the point where I started counting Tri-tips. It got to the point it was just getting outrageous.”

Once, Lively said, he had “an entire room of (marijuana) harvest stolen.”

He blamed ex-girlfriend Crystal Worthy for being “the keeper of the keys,” because all these things were stolen and there was never a sign of forced entry.

“So Jesse Simpson and other neighbors broke into your house without actually breaking things and stole things like two out of eight Tri-tips?” Kamada remarked.

On the day Simpson was killed, Lively reportedly found his dead-locked bedroom door open, his locked safe open and $3,000 in cash missing. All with no signs of forced entry. His daughter says he was ranting about Jesse robbing him.

Then, when he drove to work, Lively had an unnerving confrontation with Jesse Simpson’s brother Thomas. Lively said he had driven almost all the way across a one-lane bridge when Thomas Simpson pulled onto the bridge and blocked him. He waited a few minutes for Thomas Simpson to back up, which is “bridge etiquette,” but he finally backed up himself.

The incident worried Lively enough that he drove to the sheriff’s substation in Garberville to report it. Except he told the deputy a completely different story.

“You said Thomas had jumped out of the brush and you had to swerve to avoid him,” Kamada pointed out. Also, Lively reportedly told the deputy his truck wasn’t damaged when he swerved off the road because he managed to avoid hitting any trees.

“I think (the deputy) mismanaged the report and based it on recollection rather than the actual facts I presented him,” Lively explained.

Testimony was expected to continue today before Judge Christopher Wilson, with the prosecutor continuing his cross-examination of Lively.

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