In October 2017, Wendell Melton brought a gun to confront his 14-year-old son, who was living alone in a Henderson apartment.
Inside the apartment, Melton shot his son then called 911, appearing to be “more concerned with getting his story out than he is with administering medical aide to his son,” prosecutors said Wednesday during opening statements in Melton’s trial in the killing.
Melton, who was 53 at the time of the shooting, is charged with murder with a deadly weapon and two child abuse counts in the death of his son, Giovanni Melton.
Although defense attorneys stated that Wendell Melton brought the firearm for self-defense to confront his son, prosecutors questioned why a 6-foot tall, 200-pound man would need a gun against the 135-pound Coronado High School freshman.
“You can’t store your 14-year-old child in an off-site apartment because you’re sick of dealing with him. If you do, that’s child neglect, that’s child endangerment,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Jacob Villani told jurors on Wednesday. “And number two, you can’t shoot your unarmed 14-year-old child. And if you do, that’s child abuse. And if he dies, that’s murder.”
Defense attorney Jonathan MacArthur said Giovanni was a “troubled child” who occasionally had an “aggressive, violent temper.” He said Giovanni had injured his father in a fight in the weeks before the shooting.
“The carrying of the gun and the drawing of the gun, not the shooting of the gun, were an act of self-preservation on Wendell’s part,” MacArthur said. “He did not intend to kill his child. He just wanted to discourage Giovanni from attacking him.”
Giovanni’s mother, Veronica Melton, has alleged that her son was killed because he was gay, although prosecutors on Wednesday did not mention a motive for the shooting beyond a quarrel at the apartment.
Court records show that at the time of the shooting, Wendell Melton was prohibited from possessing firearms due to a prior domestic battery conviction.
In an interview with Henderson Police Department officers, Melton said he stopped by the apartment that day after learning Giovanni had skipped school. Melton said he drew the gun after the quarrel escalated and Giovanni pushed him to the ground, according to his arrest report.
Melton told police that as he got up, the gun accidentally went off, striking Giovanni in the chest.
Prosecutors on Wednesday played Melton’s 911 call for the jurors, during which he told a dispatcher he shot Giovanni after the teenager attacked him. In the recording, Melton was heard uncontrollably crying while the dispatcher asked him to give his son medical attention until help arrived.
“Are you going to help him? If not I need you to step away from him,” the dispatcher asked while Melton cried.
MacArthur said that in the year leading up to the shooting, Giovanni’s life was “chaotic.” He and his older brother were sent to live with Melton, who didn’t have room for them in his house with his wife and daughter, MacArthur said. Giovanni then bounced between houses, staying with his grandparents in California, a school principle, or his boyfriend and his boyfriend’s family.
Melton then got an apartment for Giovanni and his older brother, who was in his early 20s, but his brother left due to fighting between the siblings, MacArthur said.
“We expect that the state will try to insinuate that somehow he just cast his son aside, that he didn’t care what happened, that he could have done a more substantial intervention,” MacArthur said. “But the evidence will show that he didn’t want to call the police on his son… He didn’t want him to have a criminal record, he didn’t want him to be institutionalized.”
Contact Katelyn Newberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.