By Amy Schwanhausser
In closing arguments, the defense and prosecution debated whether a man criminally threatened to kill his wife while brandishing a shotgun, or if the alleged threat was merely an unadvisable and reckless argument.
James Curtis Sled is accused of criminal threat, attempted criminal threat, and intimidating a witness to prevent them from calling the authorities. He was also charged with firearm enhancements in both of the threat allegations.
On the morning of February 12, 2019, Mr. Sled admitted to starting a fight with his wife. He cussed at her, called her derogatory names and berated her. These notes of anger had become common over the last two years as their marriage deteriorated. However, both sides disagreed over Mr. Sled’s exact words and intent.
For the prosecution, Deputy District Attorney Matthew De Moura argued that Mr. Sled intended to instill fear with his words and actions. Mr. Sled allegedly told his wife he should “kill you now and get it over with” or “I’ll just end you first.” The exact wording was debated, but Mr. Sled admitted he said something akin to those statements.
Furthermore, Mr. Sled’s decision to retrieve the shotgun from another room and aim it at his wife proved that he intended to seriously scare her. Attorney De Moura argued that there was no place for a shotgun in an argument, except to cause fear. It was only reasonable then that the wife interpreted Mr. Sled’s words, actions and demeanor as a serious threat.
The wife managed to get the gun away from Mr. Sled, locked it in her car and dialed 911. However, partway through the call, Mr. Sled told her to hang up the phone. He also did not want her to answer the phone when 911 returned her call. Mr. De Moura suggested that these statements indicated Mr. Sled’s intent to stop her from contacting the authorities.
Due to these circumstances, the wife felt that Mr. Sled was “unpredictable” and uncontrollable. She never expected to be threatened with a gun and has sustained fear about what he could do next.
Attorney De Moura concluded that Mr. Sled voiced a clear and purposeful intent to kill his wife, used a shotgun to show he was capable of fulfilling that threat and tried to prevent her from calling 911. Mr. Sled’s words and actions were intended to cause his wife to fear for her safety. For these reasons, Mr. Sled is guilty.
For the defense, Deputy Public Defender Jose Gonzalez argued that the context of Mr. Sled’s words was misconstrued and that the wife’s fear was not sustained.
In particular, Mr. Gonzalez argued there were discrepancies among the original statement given to the police officer on the scene, in the paperwork for the restraining order, and in the testimony from the preliminary hearing. For example, when Mr. Sled said, “Let’s just get it over with now,” he was referring to the arrival of the police. This was not intended as a threat to end his wife’s life. Overall, Mr. Sled’s comments were attributed to poor word choice and misunderstanding.
Next, Mr. Gonzalez argued that the wife called 911 because she was worried Mr. Sled was going to destroy important items from around the house, not because she feared for her safety. At the time of the 911 call, the shotgun had been locked up in the car and was no longer a concern.
Mr. Gonzalez posed two questions regarding her proclaimed sustained fear. First, why would she choose to go back inside when she could just drive away in her car? Second, when she did go back inside, why did she decide not to lock up the second firearm?
According to Gonzalez, her actions revealed that she did not consider Mr. Sled to be a serious threat.
In fact, the wife stated, “I wasn’t in fear for my life after he put the gun down.” Although Sled was acting erratically, his wife was not fearful for her physical safety. Therefore, there was no sustained fear.
However objectionable it may seem, Mr. Sled had a habit of instigating fights and making idle threats. These fights never became physical, and both sides affirm there was no history of domestic violence. This was just another incident where he acted in “idiotic anger” and it was not an attempt to seriously threaten his wife.
There was no clear verbal threat, the fear from the gun quickly disappeared, and the 911 call concerned damage to furniture and other items. For these reasons, Mr. Sled is innocent.
In his rebuttal, Attorney De Moura reminded the jury that domestic violence starts with one incident. Mr. Sled suddenly progressed from idle threats to brandishing a shotgun. In the moment, the wife reasonably feared for her safety and she remains fearful now.
The jury will have to decide if Mr. Sled intended to instill fear and if the alleged threat occurred. They were sent to deliberate shortly before noon on May 22, 2019.