Life sentence handed down in “mysterious” shooting of auto store clerk

rparsons@mercedsun-star.comSeptember 23, 2013 

A Merced man has received a life prison sentence for the attempted murder last year of an auto parts store clerk.

James Ray Mooney, 24, was sentenced to serve 34 years to life in state prison for the Aug. 13, 2012, shooting of the 42-year-old clerk. Judge Marc Garcia handed down the sentence on Friday in Merced Superior Court.

“It’s still pretty mysterious why he (Mooney) did it,” Deputy District Attorney Matthew Serratto said Monday. “I think it’s an appropriate sentence, especially when you think of the impact (the shooting) had on the victim and his livelihood.”

The victim’s name has been withheld out of potential safety concerns.

In May, a Merced Superior Court jury convicted Mooney of felony counts of attempted murder, assault with a firearm and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Prosecutors described the incident as a “badly botched robbery,” but the same jury that convicted Mooney of attempted murder also found him not guilty of attempted robbery.

Investigators said Mooney went into the O’Reilly Auto Parts store at 40 West 16th St. just before 10 p.m. and fired a single round at the store clerk, striking him in the abdomen. The gunman then ran away.

Defense attorney Paul Lyon said he believes there are problems with the case.

“The witness and the victim himself were unable to identify (Mooney) as the suspect before the case went to court and were only able to identify him in the courtroom,” Lyon said Monday.

An appeal is in the works.

The store’s surveillance camera was broken the night of the shooting and witnesses initially struggled to identify Mooney as the gunman to police investigators, authorities said.

Mooney has denied responsibility for the shooting from the beginning.

“The only conclusion you can reach from the jury decision is that (Mooney) entered the store and shot the clerk for no reason at all,” Lyon said.

Mooney acknowledged being outside the store and discussing a robbery minutes before the incident, but said he left the area before the shooting started, Lyon said.

During the trial, the defense relied on the expert forensic testimony of Robert Shomer, who said the photographic suspect lineup used by investigators was flawed and the victim’s in-court identification of Mooney was questionable.

Serratto disagreed and said witnesses positively identified Mooney as the suspect and that Mooney acknowledged being outside the store just before the incident.

“There’s no doubt to me that he did it,” Serratto said. “When you put that evidence together with other circumstantial evidence it’s clear.”

Serratto said investigators located a friend of Mooney’s who was also in front of the store during the shooting. That man, who was never charged with any wrongdoing, was found in possession of the exact same type of ammunition used in the shooting.

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