Hatred and suspicion of his neighbor Jesse Simpson had been simmering for months in Eric Lively’s mind, and on May 3 Lively finally acted on his many death threats and murdered Simpson at an intersection in Shelter Cove, the prosecutor told jurors in his closing argument today.

Eric Lively

Deputy District Attorney Adrian Kamada, with a photo of Lively’s smashed Toyota truck featured prominently in the courtroom, said Lively deliberately ran over Simpson with incredible force, enough to crumple the Toyota’s front end and cause devastating injuries to Simpson.

Noting that a defense expert estimated Lively was driving 20 mph when his truck hit Simpson, Kamada said “You can believe the expert or you can believe your own eyes.”

Kamada said Lively’s motivation to kill Simpson is “well-established.” Lively believed Simpson was part of a “tweaker network” that was constantly stealing from him, and also suspected Simpson of being one of numerous men he thought were having sex with his former girlfriend. Many witnesses, including the ex-girlfriend, testified about Lively’s death threats to Simpson and his brother.

On the day of the killing, one of Lively’s co-workers suggested that if there was someplace else he’d like to be, then “by all means” go there.

“You mean like kill my fucking neighbor?” Lively reportedly said. And before he left work that day, according to testimony, Lively told co-workers that if something happened to him, they should sell his belongings and give the money to his kids.

“You say something like that because you know something’s going to happen,” Kamada said.

Once he arrived home, Lively announced to his daughter that Jesse had robbed them. He called the Sheriff’s Department to report that $3,000 and other items were missing from his safe. Looking out his window, he could see Jesse Simpson mowing his brother’s lawn next door. Jesse was the prime suspect. According to Lively’s daughter, her father left the house looking “angry and determined.”

Minutes later, Simpson lay dying at the intersection of Debbie Lane and Eileen Road.
Kamada noted that when Lively spoke with California Highway Patrol Officer Juan Lopez shortly after the collision, he told a much different story than the one he’s telling now.

Lively told Lopez he got off work and stopped by the General Store in Shelter Cove. For some reason he decided to drive around the block before going home, and that’s when he saw Simpson weed-whacking at the corner of Debbie Lane and Eileen Road.

The scenario presented now is that Lively bought gas at the store to put in his daughter’s truck because he knew it was on empty and she needed to drive to work. As he was putting gas in, he heard his dog barking and dropped everything to go get the dog before it annoyed a neighbor. While on the dog-hunting mission, Lively happened to see Simpson.

Kamada pointed out today that when one of the first witnesses arrived and saw Simpson lying on the ground, a loose dog was hanging around the wounded man.
“(Lively’s) dog came down (to the accident scene) afterward,” Kamada said. The story does make sense for a defense “grasping at straws,” he said, because Lively had no good reason for being at the intersection where his truck hit Simpson.

Defense attorney Russ Clanton has said Lively hit Simpson accidentally when he jumped in front of Lively’s truck, swinging at it with his weed-whacker. But Kamada says it’s more likely that Simpson was trying to jump out of Lively’s way as the truck sped toward him.

Kamada acknowledged Simpson had a high level of methamphetamine in his body when he was struck. But experts weren’t there and didn’t see how Simpson was behaving, he said, so they can only guess how the meth might have affected him.

“Genetics, tolerance, age” all play a role, the prosecutor said. All that’s known about his behavior that day is from witnesses. At 11:30 a.m. he was happy and energetic, the woman who hired him to cut her grass recalled. At 1:30 p.m., when Lively called the sheriff to report the theft from his house, Simpson was mowing his brother’s lawn. And at about 4:30 p.m., when he was hit, he was weed-whacking.

Lively, testifying on his own behalf, said he was out of his mind with despair after his truck hit Simpson. But, as Kamada noted today, when the first neighbor showed up he saw Lively picking up pieces of his bumper and throwing them in the back of his truck, as Simpson was “struggling for life” on the street corner. Lively went home to get water and a towel, but Kamada suggested he washed blood from his hands and truck before going back to help Simpson.

The prosecutor said it’s possible Lively may have had an ‘Oh my God what have I done’ moment after he ran over Simpson, but he seemed mostly concerned with protecting himself.

The day of the killing, Lively reported to police that Thomas Simpson, Jesse Simpson’s brother and also a perceived enemy, jumped out of the bushes at him. He said he had to drive off the road to avoid hitting him. Later the same day, he claimed Jesse Simpson jumped out in front of him.

Kamada also reminded jurors that back in 2013, Lively used the same truck as a weapon when he drove at his neighbor Trampus Danhaur, screaming that he was going to kill him.

Jurors have many options in this case: Today Judge Christopher Wilson read instructions on the law for first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence.

Today Clanton, scheduled to present his closing argument this afternoon, will undoubtedly argue for the option of acquittal.