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Justin McLeod found not guilty of shooting Josh Deraitus

Justin McLeod, right, confers with his attorney Kevin Donnelly. McLeod was found not guilty of shooting Auburn resident Josh Deraitus in a road rage incident. - Shawn Skager/Reporter
Justin McLeod, right, confers with his attorney Kevin Donnelly. McLeod was found not guilty of shooting Auburn resident Josh Deraitus in a road rage incident.
— image credit: Shawn Skager/Reporter

To audible gasps and tears from Josh Deraitus’ family, a King County Superior Court judge found Justin McLeod not guilty Monday of all charges related to a road-rage shooting in Federal Way two years ago that cost Deraitus his left eye.

“The issue of this case and the evidence that must be viewed through the lens of the law is identity,” Judge Hollis Hill said in her decision. “Does the admissable evidence establish the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? Or does the admissable evidence leave room for one, or several reasonable doubts of the truth of the charge that this man, Justin McLeod committed this crime?”

Prosecutors accused McLeod of shooting Deraitus in a road-rage incident at South 304th Street and Military Road South in Federal Way on Jan. 2, 2010.

Deraitus, a 30-year-old Auburn man, said he was on his way to pick up his 4-year-old son when he inadvertenly cut off a black luxury sedan near Military Road South and South 288th Street. The car tailgated him for a couple of miles, trying to pass him on the left and the right on the two-lane road. At a redlight at South 304th Street, Deraitus said, the car pulled into the lane on the passenger side of his truck.

“I looked because I wanted to see the guy who was tailgating me, and as I looked, he pulled up slow,” he said. “The first glimpse I got of him, he already had the gun out. He didn’t say anything or try to scare me with the pistol or flash the gun. He just fired one shot and basically hit me right between the eyes.”

The bullet smashed through the passenger window of the truck and hit Deraitus in the face, taking his left eye. Doctors would need more than half a dozen surgeries to rebuild his nose and face.

“This is a case about that man’s suffering, brought upon him by a heartless, vicious, complete stranger, who evidently did not think for a moment or two about causing such harm, for no reason whatsoever,” Hill said in her verdict. “This is a deeply disturbing story.”

According to Hill, however, there just wasn’t enough evidence to convict McLeod.

Chief among her reasons was her belief that Deraitus didn’t get a long enough look at his shooter at the time of the crime, and that too much time – eight months – had elapsed between the shooting and Deraitus’ positive identification of McCleod. Hill said this, coupled with a lack of details in the victim’s initial description given to police, was enough to “raise doubts as to the accuracy of the identification.”

Hill also found reasonable doubt with the connection between McLeod and the black sedan used in the crime, as well as with the .40 caliber shell casing found at the scene.

“So through the lens of law which this court is sworn to uphold, that is to require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, this court finds the defendant not guilty,” Hill said.

 

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