Murder trial opens in robbery-related shooting

A San Antonio police officer who had been on the force for a year and a half, William Karman was trained to shoot when he felt his life was threatened. He found himself in that position, he told a jury Tuesday, when he interrupted what appeared to be an armed robbery.

A man had pinned another man to the ground with a gun, then pointed the gun at Karman and advanced, the officer testified.

“‘San Antonio police, drop the gun'; I know for sure I yelled it three times,” Karman said. “And he didn’t. That is when I fired.”

Time passed “very slow,” Karman said, as he shot two rounds that hit the man in the upper torso and stomach.

The man kept coming, he said, so Karman fired two more rounds, hitting him in each leg, but still the man stepped forward.

After a fifth shot, the man fell.

“He didn’t drop the gun until he hit the ground and it bounced off his hand,” said Karman, 29.

But the final bullet hit the man being robbed, James Lee Whitehead, 45, still on the ground with his hands in the air, prosecutor Miguel Najera said in an opening statement at the murder trial of Jesse Ramon, accused of being the assailant in the robbery.

Whitehead was a female impersonator, but authorities concluded the robbery wasn’t a hate crime. He died later at a hospital.

And though Ramon, 24, didn’t pull the trigger, he was charged under a provision of state law that if someone committing a felony does “something dangerous to a human life and somebody ends up dying, … the person who was committing the felony is guilty of that murder,” Najera said.

Ramon could face up to life in prison if convicted.

Karman was flagged in the 600 block of Ogden near San Antonio College about 3 a.m. Aug. 30, 2009. He saw two men robbing and beating Whitehead, Najera said.

One of the assailants ran to an SUV that Karman had seen driving slowly in the area. Authorities say its occupants were Michael Martinez and Fernando Rodriguez, both 21 at the time, who also face murder charges in Whitehead’s death.

Ramon didn’t flee but pointed his gun at Karman and advanced, said Cynthia Kopecki, a Family Assistance Crisis Team volunteer who was accompanying Karman and watched from his vehicle.

“He looked angry,” Kopecki said. “They were slow in pace, but full steps.”

Defense attorney Richard Langlois did not give an opening statement but will have a chance to later. He asked Karman if he heard gunshots before firing. Karman hadn’t.

If Karman, upon arriving at the scene, “had the opportunity to shoot Ramon to prevent him from shooting (Whitehead),” why didn’t he take it, Langlois asked.

“He was too close. I didn’t want to hit Mr. Whitehead,” Karman said, looking down and shaking his head.

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