Murder trial of ex-Marine who fired 48 shots at Tacoma gas station goes to jury

Robert Grott told a jury he fired 48 rounds toward a Tacoma gasoline station in self-defense, because he believed a man he feared was reaching for a gun.

But Pierce County prosecutors argue there’s no evidence the other man, who was killed in the volley, had seen Grott.

“You don’t get to go up to someone you think might kill you in the future, and kill them,” Deputy Prosecutor John Sheeran said Friday during closing arguments in Grott’s murder trial, before the case went to the jury.

Grott is charged with first-degree murder in the February 2016 death of 23-year-old Julian “Jay” Thomas.

The dispute between the two men started when Grott believed Thomas had stolen his gun, attorneys said. It escalated when someone fired a bullet into Grott’s home, narrowly missing him, and Thomas took credit for the shooting.

Three months later, Grott saw Thomas at the Arco gasoline station at 3601 Center St. Prosecutors said Grott started shooting, emptying multiple clips as he advanced toward the car Thomas was sitting in.

Sheeran told jurors it was lucky no one else at the crowded gasoline station was hit, and that it was obvious why Grott killed Thomas.

“He told us,” Sheeran said, pointing to the statement of a witness who testified Grott said: “You don’t get to shoot at my house and get away with it,” as he fired.

Defense attorney Michael Frans told jurors Grott had lived in a state of paranoia and fear of Thomas in the months before the shooting. He slept with a loaded gun and checked the house at night instead of sleeping.

Meanwhile, Frans said, others told Grott that Thomas was making threats, including: “When I see Rob, it’s me or him.”

So Grott feared for his life and defended himself when he saw Thomas and believed he was going for a gun, Frans said, adding that investigators found a loaded gun under Thomas’ hand in his car.

As for the number of shots fired: “Does 48 rounds seem excessive?” the attorney asked. “Of course it does, viewed out of context.”

But the former Marine acted consistent with his training, which “teaches them to pin the enemy down, don’t let them get that shot off,” Frans said.

He also asked jurors to consider how post-traumatic stress disorder might have affected Grott that day.

He lost a friend in Afghanistan, and later a drive-by shooting killed his cousin in California. Then Grott moved to Tacoma and found himself in similar peril, Frans said.

He told the jury that finding Grott guilty of manslaughter, instead of murder, would be appropriate if they determined he feared for his life and shot in self-defense, but ultimately acted unreasonably.

In his rebuttal, Deputy Prosecutor Jesse Williams argued there was zero evidence of self-defense. Nothing showed that Thomas saw Grott before the shooting started, Williams said.

Grott had alternatives, he suggested, including an industrial steel dumpster nearby that he could have used for cover.

“This isn’t a situation where you just get to start shooting,” Williams said.

In arguing the murder was premeditated, the prosecutor reminded jurors that that doesn’t mean Grott spent days or months planning it. State law says premeditation can be just a moment in time.

Grott, he said, had 48 of them.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell