Mother recounts meeting neighbor before shooting
By LARRY KELLER
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
WEST PALM BEACH — Janet Murphy's first meeting with new neighbor Jose Tapanes was no harbinger of the horror that was to follow several hours later, she testified Wednesday.
As she and her family spent the day moving from Broward County into their new home in The Acreage, Tapanes walked over with one of his dogs from his house across the street, shook her hand and welcomed her to the neighborhood, Murphy said. He said his name was "No Way Jose," she added.
Hours later, Murphy was bent over her son as his life ebbed away in the pre-dawn hours near Tapanes' front door. Her new neighbor had fired two blasts from his shotgun into the torso of Christopher Cote, 19.
"His eyes were closing. You could tell his breathing was becoming more shallow," Murphy testified.
Meanwhile, Tapanes, 63, was standing nearby, chanting something, she said. "I told him to shut up because this might be the last time with my son alive," Murphy said.
Now Tapanes is on trial for first-degree murder. He and Cote had a verbal confrontation in which Cote told his family that Tapanes had pointed a gun at him while Cote was walking his own dog. After his family declined to call police, an angry Cote got in his Jeep, pulled into Tapanes' driveway with his headlights shining on the man's house. He knocked or banged on the front door. When Tapanes opened it, he shot Cote.
Tapanes maintains he acted in self defense - that he feared Cote was about to harm him. Even if true, he had no legal justification for shooting Cote a second time, after the first, nonfatal shotgun blast knocked Cote to the ground, prosecutors contend.
Murphy and other family members were called to testify on Wednesday about events leading up to the deadly shooting. Tapanes' attorneys have been trying to show through their questioning of witnesses that Cote was in a rage when he went up to Tapanes' door sometime after 3 a.m. Prosecutors have elicited responses from some witnesses aimed at proving that Cote was agitated, nothing more.
Cote's mother was probably the last person with him before he died. When sheriff's deputies arrived, they instructed her to stand back. One of them leaned over her son, then stood back up right away rather than assist him, she said.
"I knew he probably had stopped breathing," she said.