Opening arguments, witness examinations begin in Rancho Sequoia murder trial

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EUREKA- The alleged gunman in a fatal Southern Humboldt shooting last July appeared in court Tuesday for the first day of jury trial.

Matthew Brown of San Bernardino County is accused of killing 49 year old Alderpoint resident Neil Decker in the Rancho Sequoia area on July 18.

During opening arguments Tuesday prosecutor Kelly Neel told the jury that Brown was armed with a shotgun the night he allegedly shot Decker. Decker was unarmed and according to the prosecution, was non-threatening. However the defense disagreed, asking the jury to look at this case with an open mind, relating the area to that of the wild west where having a gun on your person is "a fashion statement." The defense claimed Brown was antagonized by Decker until he felt he had no other choice but to shoot.

The prosecution then called the first witness, Neil Decker's girlfriend Melisa Toner. Toner explained what she saw the moments following the shooting, including Neil Decker falling to the floor after being shot in the chest in the bedroom of a close friend's home. She also shed light on previous physical altercations between Brown and Decker, specifically an incident involving pepper spray.

Late in Tuesday's trial the prosecution called Johanna Hames to testify. She was present during the shooting and was the girlfriend of the property owner, Scott Johnson. Johnson was found shot dead just three days later near a cabin Brown was found hiding inside.

Hames shed light on Brown and Johnson's relationship close relationship, noting that Brown would refer to Johnson as dad, and knew him prior to moving to the area. According to Hames, Brown lived on Johnson's property in a trailer with another woman. When Brown and the woman broke up, Hames said she discouraged him from visiting the property.  She also said she believed Brown was jealous over Decker and Johnson's friendship, the two having a mutual dislike for each other.

Brown's trial will resume Wednesday morning. There, the defense will have a chance to examine Hames.