Donald Bango had a plan for when a drug deal went awry, his attorney told jurors Tuesday.
He’d flash a badge from his time as a juvenile corrections officer, and everyone would scatter.
“Nothing bad would happen,” defense attorney Philip Thornton said.
But when Bango tried that in Tacoma’s West End while buying heroin in 2015, things escalated, and he fatally shot the dealer.
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Thornton and Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor John Sheeran told the jury in opening statements at Bango’s murder trial that he had wanted to buy drugs from 33-year-old Jeffrey Shaw of University Place.
Both attorneys said Bango fatally shot Shaw during the deal.
But they differed as to the motive.
Sheeran said Bango, 40 of Puyallup, killed Shaw while trying to rob him. Thornton argued the shooting was in self-defense, after Bango saw Shaw had a gun.
Bango is charged with first- and second-degree murder, as well as criminal impersonation and witness tampering.
He allegedly tried to keep someone from testifying about the shooting, which happened Dec. 13, 2015, outside a convenience store in the 3700 block of North Pearl in Tacoma.
According to investigators, another man drove Shaw there to do the deal, and Bango approached their car and asked Shaw to weigh the heroin.
As Shaw turned to do that on the center console, Bango said he was a cop and showed his badge from a short stint as an officer for the state’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration.
Shaw told his driver, “Go! Go! Go!,” and the car reversed.
“The defendant had two choices at that point,” Sheeran told the jury. “Walk away, or take out a gun, follow that car and shoot. And that’s what he did.”
Bango hit Shaw in the lungs and heart, and he died minutes after arriving at a local hospital.
“When it’s all said and done, you’ll know that the defendant shot Jeff Shaw that night, and that he did so while trying to rob him,” Sheeran said.
Thornton told jurors Bango fired because he saw Shaw pick up a gun and pull the trigger during the deal.
Bango was in the military for 16 years, and is a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the attorney said.
“How does a man who was medically discharged from the military because of injuries he received in combat find himself at a drug deal late at night?” Thornton asked the jury.
Bango took opiates for his injuries, the attorney said, and when the pills ran out, he went looking for more.
That led to treatment, where Bango met a woman.
“A very beautiful woman,” Thornton told jurors, adding she was a heroin addict.
Bango was trying to buy heroin from Shaw for both of them, the attorney said, but when he saw Shaw’s gun and felt threatened, his training took over, and he fired.
“Donald Bango believed that his life was in danger, “ Thornton said, “And he acted accordingly.”