CARLSBAD — A 23-year-old Escondido man who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in connection with gunning down an Oceanside man during a fight in downtown Carlsbad was sentenced to 21 years in prison March 20.
As part of David Jonathon Sumner’s plea agreement, he received 11 years for the voluntary manslaughter charge and 10 years for a firearm allegation.
The shooting occurred after Sumner and James Wendel, 44, got into a physical altercation shortly after midnight Jan. 19, 2007, while walking through the Village Faire Shopping Center in the 300 block of Carlsbad Village Drive.
After more than a week of deliberation last May, jurors told Superior Court Judge Joan Weber they were deadlocked 11-1 in favor of a guilty verdict on the lesser-included charge that Sumner committed second-degree murder. Earlier that week the panel found Sumner not guilty of the first-degree murder of Wendel.
In a courtroom filled with supporters of both families, Sumner addressed the court March 20 apologizing for the incident, which he called an “accident.”
“No words can fix or repair the pain or loss you feel,” Sumner said. “I wish it never happened.”
Sumner’s statement struck a chord in Weber, who had presided over the trial. She told the young man that if she would have ruled on the case he would have been convicted of second-degree murder.
“This was not in any sense an accident, sir, and it is offensive you would say that today,” Weber said.
Wendel’s two sons made it clear to the court they were dissatisfied with Sumner’s plea to voluntary manslaughter.
In a letter to the court, Landon Wendel, 24, said, “I don’t think Sumner is getting a fair sentence. He is able to be out in 18 years, but I’m still going to be missing my father.”
Devin Wendel, 21, spoke at the sentencing. He said it was disheartening to know that his newborn baby will never get to know his grandfather. “I pray that whatever caused you to do this haunts you for the rest of your life,” Devin Wendel said.
According to witness testimony, Sumner drew the handgun quickly after the verbal altercation escalated into a fistfight, but was disarmed of the weapon moments later by Wendel’s friend who sat the handgun on a nearby table. Sumner later recovered the gun after breaking away from the fight.
Defense attorney Jan Ronis told jurors in his closing statement that Sumner was acting in self-defense when he turned and fired the five rapid shots that killed Wendel. Ronis said his client had been beaten severely and was trying to “extricate” himself from the situation but Wendel kept coming at him.
The lawyer cited two verbal altercations, one stemming from a prior driving under the influence arrest with authorities, to support his argument that Wendel had a propensity for aggressive behavior while intoxicated.
Wendel had a blood alcohol level of .19 and Sumner was also very intoxicated, Ronis said.
Prosecutor Richard Madruga argued through out the trial that Sumner had been looking for trouble the entire evening and that his aggressive antics, like trying to pick fights with people throughout the evening, are proof of that.
Madruga also accused the defense of trying to deflect the blame onto Wendel by referencing a couple of poor judgments from his past because self-defense wasn’t applicable in the case.
Sumner’s mother, Elizabeth Sumner, said in an e-mail she was “saddened” and felt grief for Wendel’s family. She said coincidentally her brother was killed by someone wielding a gun.
Now that the case is over, Elizabeth Sumner said her family is embarking on a “new chapter” in their life and that “we will all have to make due with the outcome of the trial.” She said from the start, her son was “sorrowful and apologetic,” even asking if he could send flowers to Wendel’s family.
Elizabeth Sumner said her son had been preparing his statement for several weeks prior to the sentencing to ensure he conveyed the “right words” for the sorrow he felt. She said she felt it was unnecessary for the judge to dismiss his comments as being “worthless.”