James Robert Malec was convicted Thursday of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of his stepson, mixed martial arts veteran Justin Eilers, according to a report Friday in the Idaho Statesman. Prosecutors had sought to charge Malec with second-degree murder, punishable by life in prison, but jurors chose the lesser charge after deliberating for eight hours.
Malec could face up to 15 years in prison and/or a $15,000 fine. Sentencing is expected in October, though a date has not been set.
Eilers was at Malecís house for a Christmas party when the two got into a verbal confrontation after Eilers reportedly became enraged at the presence of an ex-girlfriend. According to the report, Eilersí mother and Malecís wife, Gwen Moore, may have been standing between the two when Malec drew a handgun and shot Eilers once in the chest. Eilers died on the scene.
Defense attorneys argued that Malec feared for his life and shot Eilers out of self-defense. During the trial, Malec testified that the MMA veteran had walked him down while threatening to kill him.
"Never lose sight of the fact that Justin tried to make a living by pummeling people into submission," defense attorney Gordon Petrie said.
Prosecutors said Eilers was backing away during the confrontation and Malecís actions were intentional.
"Justin Eilers was acting like a jerk, there's no question," Prosecutor Scott James said. "He was ruining Christmas. He was disrespecting the defendant in his own home. But he didn't deserve to die."
Eilers, a disciple of Miletich Fighting Systems, had a six-year career in MMA and once fought Andrei Arlovski for the UFC heavyweight title. Eilers lost in the first round after blowing his knee out. His last fight was in July 2008 at EliteXC: Unfinished Business, where he lost a title bid against Antonio Silva.
Moore said she dreaded the verdict, but felt it was just.
"Everyone asked me what justice I wanted,Ē she said. ďI want my son back, that's what I want. And I'm not going to get that."