CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two stunning revelations came out of a preliminary hearing in the first-degree murder case of 62-year-old Charleston resident William Pulliam, who is accused of fatally shooting 15-year-old James Means and then telling police he took “another piece of trash off the street.”
Charleston Police Detective Chris Lioi testified that witnesses he interviewed said James had been keeping a BB-gun that resembled a handgun in his waistband earlier that day, and that it was later found in a bag. Lioi said that audio obtained from a house near the shooting revealed a voice that he believed to have been Pulliam’s saying, “That toy gun is going to get you f…ing killed” right before the teen was shot.
Lioi also testified that video at the scene revealed the teen was shot once in the chest, fell to the ground, got up and started to run away when he was shot again in the back. The detective said he ran across the street and collapsed on a porch. James was transported to Charleston Area Medical Center’s General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The detective said the 15-year-old had nothing in his hands when he was shot.
After a hearing that lasted almost an hour, Kanawha Magistrate Mike Sisson said there was probable cause to send the case to a grand jury. Pulliam remains in South Central Regional Jail.
Although local officials have said evidence has been turned over to federal authorities to determine if a hate crime would apply in this case, that issue was not part of Thursday’s hearing.
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) December 1, 2016
Members of James’s family were in the courtroom watching the hearing, which also drew media attention from outside West Virginia.
The fatal shooting took place Nov. 21 on Charleston’s East End near the corner of Washington and Nancy streets. Charleston Police were notified about 8:45 p.m.
Pulliam’s lawyer, Richard Hollicker, made the case that he had felt threatened and was reacting accordingly.
“There is absolutely no question that Mr. Pulliam shot Mr. Means. But the fact that Mr. Pulliam shot Mr. Means doesn’t make this first-degree murder,” Hollicker said.
“You have heard that Mr. Means had a gun in his waistband. I don’t know if there was a time when he was holding a gun in his hands or not, but it is clear that there was a gun in his waistband that was visible to Mr. Pulliam. Mr. Pulliam didn’t shoot him; Mr. Pulliam continued to the Dollar General to purchase the items he went there to purchase. After he finished at the Dollar General, he once again started walking down the street, he got to the house where these young men were and he crossed the street to get away from them.
“Mr. Means, the young man who got shot, came across the street toward my client. It’s not clear exactly what happened. Hopefully some day the state will let us see the video so we’ll know what happened. But today we don’t know what happened except the broad strokes. Those broad strokes reflect that Mr. Pulliam walked across the street away from the young men, Mr. Means came toward Mr. Pulliam; don’t know exactly what led up to it but Mr. Pulliam shot Mr. Means. None of that says premeditation.”
Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutor Maryclaire Akers made the case that Pulliam acted in cold blood.
“He comes out of the Dollar General, he walks intentionally down on the side of the street towards where he saw the young men go. He stays on that side of the street and then he crosses towards his apartment. He walks in front of them intentionally.
“He crosses the street. He is headed home. The victim crosses the street. He stands where he crosses. It is the defendant who turns and walks approximately 10 feet back. He goes towards the victim. He stands in front of the victim. He says, ‘That toy gun is going to get your head blown off.’ The boy says ‘No, it’s not’ and then he shoots the boy. The boy falls down. He gets up and tries to run away. He doesn’t shoot the defendant with anything. He’s trying to run away. The defendant shoots him again in the back. The victim then runs to the house from where he came and collapses on the porch. That is not self-defense.”
Detective Lioi was the only one to testify at the preliminary hearing. Much of his testimony concerned surveillance videos he has watched as part of the investigation, as well as his conversations with Pulliam.
“James Means had nothing in his hands that I observed. Mr. Pulliam pulled out a gun and discharged one round. James Means falls to the ground. As he gets up, William Pulliam fires another round,” Lioi testified.
“The victim later runs across the street. Mr. Pulliam then starts to walk toward the residence and then walks back to his apartment.”
Akers, the prosecutor, later asked the detective to describe the shooting step-by-step.
“The first shot that you saw on the video, where did it appear to hit the victim?” she asked.
“The chest,” the detective said.
“And what did he do when he was shot?”
“He fell to the ground. After he got himself up, he began to run away.”
“And after he’s running away, he’s then shot in the back, right?”
The detective testified that he was actually looking at surveillance video about midnight when other investigators informed him that Pulliam had returned home in his vehicle. Pulliam was detained and arrested.
Lioi said Pulliam told him the entire incident began earlier that evening when he was walking to Dollar General and encountered James and three friends.
“He told me he shot him because he was hassling him,” Lioi said.
Pulliam’s lawyer, Hollicker, asked Lioi, “Did you learn during the course of your investigation that the young man who got shot had displayed a gun earlier?”
“Well, I did discover there was a BB-gun,” Lioi said.
“Tell us about that,” responded Hollicker.
“A BB-gun was found in one of the witnesses’s bags,” Lioi said.
“Did my client tell you that earlier in an incident that you say wasn’t captured on video that he flashed this gun?”
“This BB-gun that was found. Can you describe the gun?”
“It was like a black handgun.”
“So it looked like a real gun?”
The BB-gun was referenced in what Lioi described as the final verbal exchange between Pulliam and James, as captured on audio from a nearby home.
“What is your belief that the defendant says prior to the shooting?” Akers asked.
Lioi responded: “Prior to the shooting, there’s a house that has audio and it’s ‘That toy gun is going to get you f….ing killed.’ And James’s response is, ‘No, it isn’t.'”
On his own re-direct, Hollicker asked, “Is James heard other than in those exchanges you just recited?”
Lioi said, “He’s heard screaming.”