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A man accused of fatally shooting an East Palo Alto community activist in San Mateo in 2010 pleaded not guilty today in San Mateo County Superior Court and sought permission from the court to fire his attorney, according to prosecutors. Gregory Leon Elarms, 60, appeared in court this morning to set a trial date for the murder of David Lewis, who was shot dead outside the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo on June 9, 2010. It was Elarm’s first appearance since Judge Lisa Novak ruled on Aug. 22 that he was competent to stand trial and reinstated murder charges. He was committed to Atascadero State Hospital in July 2011 and criminal proceedings were suspended after questions were raised about his mental health.
Elarms today declined to waive his right to a speedy trial, forcing prosecutors and defense attorneys to prepare for an Oct. 29 trial date, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti. In addition, he filed a motion seeking to fire his defense attorney, Jonathan McDougall. A hearing on that motion was set for Sept. 14. McDougall argued in court on Aug. 22nd that Elarms’ mental competency had not been restored, but Superior Court Judge Lisa Novak found that he could understand the charges against him. Elarms is suspected of following Lewis — whom he knew from growing up in East Palo Alto — from the San Mateo Medical Center to the nearby Hillsdale Mall on the evening of June 9, 2010, and then shooting him once in the stomach with a .44-caliber handgun.
The shooter fled the scene, but when responding police officers asked a dying Lewis who shot him, he managed to mutter “Greg” before losing consciousness, according to prosecutors. Police were unable to make any arrests until December 2010, when a man in Pittsburg contacted investigators with information about the unsolved case. The man — who turned out to be Gregory Elarms — said he needed police protection because David Lewis’ killers were threatening to kill him. Elarms was brought into custody, where under questioning he confessed to shooting Lewis because he believed Lewis had opposed him in a residential dispute, police said.
He also said that at times he had to sleep in the trunk of his car because he believed members of the street gang Nuestra Familia were going to kill him, according to prosecutors. Elarms, who is being held without bail, has been charged with murder, discharging a gun in the course of murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm and the special circumstance of lying in wait. He faces life in prison if convicted.
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