Man pleads guilty in fatal shooting of ex-wife in Alpine

Justin Meltzer to be sentenced June 6

EL CAJON, Calif. - A man who shot his ex-wife seven times in the chest in his Alpine home two days before Christmas 2011 pleaded guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder and admitted a gun allegation.

Justin Meltzer, 44, will be sentenced to 40 years to life in state prison at a hearing June 6 at the El Cajon courthouse. Under the terms of his agreement, Meltzer will not be eligible for parole for 40 years.

According to previous court testimony, a friend said 40-year-old Debra Meltzer had taken her two young sons to see their father on Dec. 23, 2011. The children were at a neighbor's house when the gunfire erupted.

At the defendant's arraignment, prosecutor Carlos Campbell told a judge that a man running down the street about 5:45 p.m. saw the defendant with the victim outside the defendant's home on Larkspur Drive.

The witness said the victim was handcuffed, with a dog leash attached to the cuffs, and was yelling, "Help me. He's got a gun, He's going to kill me," according to the prosecutor.

One of Justin Meltzer's neighbors, Kenneth Mohler, testified at a preliminary hearing that he was watching television about 6:30 p.m. when his wife told him that "something was wrong at Justin's home."

A fire alarm was going off and a dog was in the front yard, Mohler testified. He said he went up to the front door, and Debra Meltzer pushed open a security door and took his hand.

"She said, 'Kenny, get me out of here,'" Mohler testified.

Mohler said the defendant, who was holding his ex-wife by the leash, was disoriented and mumbling during the four to five minutes Mohler talked to him.

As Mohler talked to the Meltzers, a shot rang out, sending shrapnel into Mohler's face.

The defendant yanked the victim back into the home and several more shots rang out, Mohler said.

Sheriff's Deputy Cliff Laplant, the first officer to arrive at the scene, said he shot at the defendant with his rifle when Meltzer yelled that he had made up his mind what he was going to do.

"I tried to end it by shooting into the door," Laplant testified.

After hearing numerous shots from inside the home, Laplant said he fired three more shots.

Deputies who went inside found a 9mm weapon emptied out next to the defendant, who was lying next to his dead ex-wife with a gunshot wound to the leg.

The victim's father was in the courtroom as his former son-in-law changed his plea. He did not want to be interviewed, but told 10News his grandsons are doing well and living with an aunt in Utah.

Some of the victim's friends from Sharp Medical Center, where she was a nurse, were also in the courtroom wearing blue scrubs with a pink embroidered heart on them. Blue was Debra Meltzer's favorite color. The heart represented the love she shared with friends and patients.

"Debbie was always smiling and joking and she was the bright light in the department. If you were having a bad day you would just go up to Deb and she would make you laugh," said Theresa Moore, who worked with her for more than a decade.

A lifelong friend of the victim was also in the courtroom. With tears in her eyes, Guinda Casey said she's glad the case will not go to trial because it spared the family the horror of listening to the terrifying details of her death.

"It is a relief to me that he did plead guilty and he sees what he's done and everything like that, but at the same time, I don't think that I'll ever accept the way that she went," said Casey.

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