Former Marine who fired 40-plus bullets in gas station homicide says he was defending himself

A man accused of firing nearly 50 rounds during a homicide at a Tacoma gas station argued Monday that the fatal shooting was in self-defense and consistent with his military training.

Jurors heard opening statements in the trial of 31-year-old Robert Grott, who was charged with first-degree murder and seven counts of first-degree assault in the February 2016 shooting.

Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor Jesse Williams told jurors that Grott killed Julian “Jay” Thomas in retaliation for a missing gun and a related confrontation that happened months before the fatal shooting.

“This is not a man who is afraid,” Williams said of Grott. “This is not a man who is on the defensive.”

Defense attorney Michael Frans said Grott believed 23-year-old Thomas was reaching for a gun, and Grott reacted the way he’d been trained to when he was a Marine.

When he believed his life was in danger, “Rob did not hesitate,” Frans said.

Many gunshots rang out Feb. 1, 2016, and many witnesses reacted to the homicide at South Union Avenue and Center Street in Tacoma.

Grott joined the military in 2009, the attorney told the jury, and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after he deployed to Afghanistan, where he was responsible for 36 Marines.

He moved in with cousins who were close friends of Thomas in January 2015, and Thomas spent time at the residence. Later that year, Grott’s handgun went missing, and he believed Thomas had taken it.

During a dispute Oct. 31, 2015, someone fired a bullet into Grott’s home that nearly hit him, according to court records. Grott believed Thomas was responsible, and afterward Grott’s “paranoia is through the roof,” Frans said.

The attorney asked jurors to consider whether the shooting Feb. 1, 2016, was in self-defense, and how PTSD might have affected Grott’s belief that self-defense was necessary.

Deputy Prosecutor Williams told jurors Grott and Thomas had a chance encounter at the Arco gas station at 3601 Center St. As he advanced toward Thomas’ vehicle, Grott fired repeatedly, going through several clips, Williams said.

It was an “act of anger and revenge from a man who stewed and stewed and stewed,” Williams said.

No one other than Thomas was hurt, but the deputy prosecutor said Grott was charged with assault because others were present and could have been hit.

Some rounds went into the AM-PM convenience store at the gas station, where there were two clerks and multiple customers, Williams said.

According to charging papers, Grott grabbed his skateboard after the shooting and left.

Prosecutors accused his brother, 23-year-old Rashaad Grott, of driving him out of state after the shooting.

Both men later turned themselves in to police near Los Angeles.

The younger Grott pleaded guilty March 1 to attempted first-degree rendering criminal assistance, and Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin sentenced him to 90 days in jail.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

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