A jury began deliberations on Tuesday in the murder trial of a man accused of shooting and killing his 14-year-old son in the Henderson apartment where the boy lived alone.
On Nov. 2, 2017, Wendell Melton took a gun with him to confront his son Giovanni after learning that the boy had not gone to school that day.
During closing arguments on Tuesday, prosecutors accused Melton of intentionally shooting the boy, while defense attorneys said the gun accidentally went off during a struggle.
“This is a tragedy,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Binu Palal said. “But make no mistake, the author of this tragedy is Wendell Melton.”
Melton, who was 53 at the time of the shooting, is charged with murder with a deadly weapon and two counts of child abuse in Giovanni’s death. Court records show that at the time of the shooting, Melton was prohibited from possessing firearms because of a prior domestic battery conviction.
Immediately after Giovanni was shot, Melton called 911 to report the shooting at an apartment on the 900 block of Seven Hills Drive. In recordings of the 911 call played by prosecutors on Tuesday, Melton is heard telling the dispatcher, “I shot my son.”
“This wasn’t an accident,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Jacob Villani said. “The defendant drew this gun, cocked it, fired it and shot Giovanni through the chest.”
Monique McNeill, one of Melton’s defense attorneys, told jurors that Melton drew and cocked the gun after a quarrel with his son had turned into a physical fight in order to discourage Giovanni from further attacking him. But prosecutors said Melton did not have any noticeable injuries from a fight.
Standing in front of the jury, McNeill and Jonathan MacArthur demonstrated how a struggle for the gun could have resulted in Giovanni being shot in the chest at close range. McNeill said Melton did not intend to shoot his son.
“At the time that it happened, it was an out-of-control situation, and he was in fear,” McNeill said.
Earlier in the trial, MacArthur said Giovanni was a “troubled child” whose life was “chaotic” in the year leading up to the shooting.
Giovanni and his brother were sent to live with Melton, who defense attorneys said did not have room for them in his house with his wife and daughter. Giovanni then bounced between houses, staying with friends, relatives or his boyfriend.
McNeill said Giovanni was having problems at school and had a history of getting into fights with caregivers. She said Melton got him and his older brother the apartment, but the brother soon left after a fight between the siblings.
“That decision to put his 14-year-old in an apartment does not make him a murderer,” McNeill told the jury. “It might make him a not-great dad, but it doesn’t make him a murderer.”
Palal said Melton’s story “doesn’t make sense,” and the prosecutor expressed doubt that Melton was afraid of the 135-pound Coronado High School freshman. Once he was arrested, Palal said, Melton acted in “self-preservation.”
Prosecutors said Melton lied to the police about the gun immediately after the shooting. He first said that instead of bringing the gun with him to the apartment, he pulled it out from under a couch. But when police went to investigate the furniture, they found that the couch was flat against the ground, with no space underneath for a gun.
“There is no context, there is no corroboration and there is no common sense that justifies lying to the police in the investigation of your dead 14-year-old son,” Palal said. “There simply is not, unless you know who’s responsible for the death of your 14-year-old son, and it’s you.”
Contact Katelyn Newberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.