NEWPORT — A Newport man has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for the November 2019 shooting death of 56-year-old fisherman Tony Larson.
Steven Joseph DeMauro, 65, was the sole witness for the defense on the last day of testimony in his trial on Tuesday. He told the court he acted in self-defense when he shot Larson in the chest at point blank range after he refused to leave DeMauro’s apartment a few blocks off the Newport Bayfront on Thanksgiving eve last year.
DeMauro testified that he’d fired two warning shots off the deck where Larson was standing, and he insisted the gun “discharged” when the victim rapidly approached him and possibly made contact with the barrel. On cross examination, he refused to state explicitly that he had fired the gun.
In her closing statement Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney Lynn Howard argued the evidence showed DeMauro had not feared Larson but rather grown resentful over his “taking advantage” of the defendant and his live-in girlfriend.
Howard pointed to inconsistencies between DeMauro’s initial statements and his testimony in court — for instance, he testified he’d called 911 to “get help for Tony” but told the 911 operator the victim was dead. He also told the operator he did not know the victim’s identity or who shot him, and he told a detective at the jail the next day he’d thrown his gun into brush to keep police from finding it.
The prosecutor also pointed out, and DeMauro did not dispute, that Larson did not physically or verbally accost DeMauro before the latter went to his bedroom to retrieve his Smith & Wesson .22-calliber pistol. She said DeMauro gave Larson no escape route when he stood pointing a gun in the doorway of a deck without exit stairs. Howard also noted during cross examination that the weapon was a double-action revolver that DeMauro said was not cocked and would have thus required a firm pull of the trigger to fire.
Defense attorney John Rich told the jury his client feared for his and his girlfriend’s safety because Larson was under the influence of alcohol and methamphetamine (a post-arrest blood test showed DeMauro was, himself, intoxicated). Rich said Larson was “tweaked” and became observably agitated when DeMauro asked him to leave, and the defendant had no choice but to fire when Larson charged him on the deck.
The jury deliberated for less than two hours to reach a verdict after closing arguments on Wednesday, finding DeMauro guilty of second-degree murder. The victim’s brother, Ted Larson, of South Dakota, spoke via phone during the sentencing hearing that followed, and his sister, Michelle Deckert, of Rhode Island, addressed the defendant directly from the far end of the counsel table. Deckert lamented the short time she’d had to get to know her brother — his mother put him up for adoption, and her stepmother only told her of his existence a few years ago.
Speaking through tears, Deckert laid out a timeline. “Sept. 1, 2017, Sept. 24, 2017, Nov. 27, 2019, Sept. 23, 2020, and a future date,” she said. “On the first date, I was told I had an older sibling. On the second date, I spoke to him for the very first time. The next date, Nov. 27, 2019, was when I spoke to Tony for the very last time, at 9:27 p.m., just before you killed him. Sept. 23 is the date the jury found you guilty, and your sentence is being handed down, and when we can all start rebuilding our lives. The future date is for when we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief because you will no longer be on this Earth.”
On the advice of his attorney, DeMauro declined to make a statement prior to sentencing.
Before handing down the statutorily mandated sentence, Bachart said she was compelled to take a moment to acknowledge the loss of life and the avoidable nature of the killing. “This wasn’t a burglar who came into the home at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Bachart said. “This wasn’t someone who busted down the door. This wasn’t somebody that wasn’t invited in. And that’s how you get rid of an unwanted houseguest, by pointing a gun at them? I’m glad that’s not our community standard. I’m glad that’s the message that was sent, that that’s unreasonable. That’s the discussion that our nation is having right now, what’s reasonable under those circumstances to shoot an unarmed man. That’s what riots happening across the nation are about. I’m glad our standard isn’t different.”
Bachart sentenced DeMauro to 300 months in the Oregon Department of Corrections, the mandatory minimum. Because the conviction is for a Measure 11 offense, he will not be eligible for early release. He has been incarcerated since his arrest last November and will receive credit for time served.