Nearly 30 years ago, Simeon Thomas Berkley was charged with attempted murder and attempted manslaughter in San Diego County after prosecutors said he shot and partially paralyzed a driver who approached his car following a near-collision.
The jury ultimately acquitted Berkley, believing he thought his life was in danger. But in a rare statement, some jurors said they didn’t feel good about the case’s resolution and were concerned about Berkley having a gun in his car, according to a 1991 article published by The Los Angeles Times.
“You keep that gun out of your car,” the article quoted one juror as saying. “We didn’t feel that what you did was right at all, but we had to follow the law.”
Now, Berkley faces similar accusations, this time in Everett: On July 9, the now-74-year-old Everett resident was charged with second-degree murder in Snohomish County District Court. Everett police say Berkley fatally shot a man who rear-ended him on July 6.
Police said multiple witnesses told them Berkley got out of his car, walked to the driver’s-side window of the other vehicle, pulled a gun out and shot the driver. The victim, 49-year-old Steven A. Whitemarsh of Everett, was shot multiple times in the head, according to the Snohomish County medical examiner.
Whitemarsh’s three children and his mother, who lives with the family, are struggling to understand why Whitemarsh is dead, said Nicole Pratt, the children’s mother.
“I’m so angry about what happened. I want the world to know Steve was a good guy, that he didn’t deserve this,” Pratt said. “Why was somebody who tried to kill someone once before allowed to carry around a gun? I’m not an anti-gun person… but he shouldn’t have had that.”
Everett police said they know of no restrictions that would have prevented Berkley from legally carrying a gun.
Berkley’s attorney, Laura Shaver, said her client acted in self-defense. She said those who use deadly force to protect themselves experience significant trauma.
“It is tragic that Mr. Berkley has had to experience a threat to his life a second time, however, he acted in self-defense and I am confident we will clear his name,” she said in an emailed statement.
Berkley was released from Snohomish County Jail Wednesday after posting a $750,000 bond, according to jail records. Prosecutors have until July 26 to file charges in Snohomish County Superior Court.
According to the probable-cause statement, which outlines Everett Police’s case against Berkley:
Several people called 911 to report a collision and shooting around 7 p.m. on July 6. In the 5200 block of Glenwood Avenue, police found a crash scene in which it appeared an SUV had rear-ended a car. There was nobody in the car, but officers found Whitemarsh in the SUV with gunshot wounds to the head. He died at the scene.
Berkley was standing on a nearby sidewalk. Officers said he acted as if he wasn’t involved and was talking on the phone. His wife later told officers Berkley asked her to call a restaurant and tell them he’d be late to pick up an order.
Officers detained Berkley after witnesses told them he was the shooter. Police said they found a loaded pistol in his pocket, whose caliber matched cartridge casings found in the victim’s car.
In the probable-cause statement, police said, “Berkley then made a statement similar to, ‘I’ll make your job easy, it was self-defense. He was chasing me.’ “
Witness accounts differed from Berkley’s, according to police.
A family told police they pulled to the side of the road after seeing the collision. According to police, the family said Berkley got out of his car, approached the driver’s side of the SUV, drew a handgun and shot at the driver, then walked to the sidewalk.
Another witness told police he saw the same thing, and that he didn’t hear any arguing or see the victim try to get out of the SUV before the shooting.
The witness told police that when he went to check on the SUV driver, Berkley told him there was no point checking on him. He told police that when asked what happened, Berkley told him the SUV had been tailgating him and that he slammed on his brakes to allow the man to pass him but was rear-ended instead.
The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office found a bullet between Whitemarsh’s lower lip and chin, which it determined to have come from close range, and another in the back of his head near his ear, according to the probable-cause statement.
“Nothing at the scene or statements provided by witnesses indicated that Berkley was in any danger at the time of the shooting,” an officer wrote in the statement.
Berkley was arrested and booked into Snohomish County Jail.
Police arrived at Whitemarsh’s home later that day to tell his family what happened, Pratt said. Whitemarsh’s mother and two of his children — his 7-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son — were there.
Pratt was with their 8-year-old daughter when she got the call from her son, who was hysterical.
“Their dad was everything to them,” she said.
Pratt and Whitemarsh were together 15 years before separating, but were still friends and co-parented. She said Whitemarsh was a devoted father who spent all the time he could with his children when he wasn’t working as a manager at Safeway.
“My family is going to be suffering forever,” Pratt said. “I’ll never understand. It just doesn’t make sense.”
The children used to stay with Whitemarsh during the week, but will now live full-time with Pratt, who also has a 7-month-old and her fiancee’s three kids at home. The family is discussing how to best support Whitemarsh’s mother.
Pratt’s sister has set up a GoFundMe to help support the family.
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.