James Hamiel says he’s examined hundreds — if not thousands — of guns during his time as a firearms expert with the Department of Justice. However, the firearm used in the May shooting death of 33-year-old Arlie Druen had a malfunction he’s never seen before, Hamiel testified in San Joaquin County Superior Court on Tuesday.
Richard Welker, 33 — who is charged with first-degree murder, intentional and personal discharge of a firearm, and using a firearm in commission of a felony — appeared in court for the first day of a two-day preliminary hearing.
Today, Welker will learn whether San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Humphreys will order him to stand trial on charges of murdering Druen in their Lodi home on May 14.
On Tuesday, Welker sat in an orange jumpsuit and shackles listening to testimony from Lodi police officers, witnesses to the shooting, and Hamiel, who described the erratic and unpredictable malfunctions he discovered while testing the Colt semiautomatic pistol that fired the round that killed Druen.
Hamiel said he found that when the slide of the pistol — used to load a bullet from the magazine into the chamber — was pulled back and released, the firearm could discharge without pulling the trigger. In addition, when the firearm discharged, it could fire not just one bullet, but all the bullets in the magazine “very, very rapidly,” Hamiel testified.
“There was a malfunction in that firearm that caused it to discharge without the trigger being pulled,” Hamiel said.
After arriving at the home on the 700 block of South Central
Avenue around 7:45 p.m., officers and paramedics found Druen suffering from two gunshot wounds, one under his right armpit, and clinging to life. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, Druen died.
Officers testified on Tuesday that during the investigation they found three casings inside the home. A fourth was later found lodged inside Druen.
Witnesses testified that during interviews shortly after the shooting, officers were skeptical that Druen’s death was an accident — which Welker claimed, according to Lodi police — because they found multiple bullet casings.
However, defense attorney Victoria Vossi used Hamiel’s testimony to explain why officers found multiple casings.
With San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Conley standing beside Hamiel and holding the pistol to demonstrate multiple scenarios that would cause the weapon to discharge, Hamiel said a component of the pistol, which was supposed to prevent it from discharging unless the trigger was pulled, was so frayed that even hitting the firearm hard enough could cause it to fire if cocked and loaded.
Hamiel was able to replicate an accidental discharge during more than half his tests, he said.
Hamiel added that this was the “first malfunction of this type” that he’s seen while examining firearms, describing it as a “fully automatic firearm.”
In the courtroom Tuesday, witnesses said Welker was showing off his two guns when the pistol discharged.
“Arlie grabbed his side and says, ‘I think I’m shot,’” said one man as tears fell down his face.
Welker lifted his shackled hands to wipe away his own tears as the witness described Welker holding Druen’s hand and trying to comfort his friend who was laying on the floor, slipping into unconsciousness.
The 19-year-old witness testified that Welker told him to lie to police about the shooting and say that Druen came home with a gunshot wound and collapsed inside the house.
Conley later asked the witness if it was true that he didn’t want to see Welker convicted.
“Yes,” the witness responded.
Vossi then asked whether he didn’t want to see Welker convicted because he “believes it was an accident.”
Again, the witness responded, “Yes.”
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.