Wrestling coach Jeret Needham ordered to stand trial in shooting death of assistant Robert Colegrove

SAN DIEGO - A Madison High School wrestling coach accused of fatally shooting an acquaintance -- a former assistant coach -- at the victim's Bay Park home must stand trial on murder charges, a judge ruled Monday.

Jeret Thomas Needham faces 50 years to life in prison if convicted in the Sept. 24 death of 45-year-old Robert Colegrove, who was shot once in the chest.

San Diego police homicide Detective Desiree Spurlock testified that investigators found a bullet hole in the back gate of a residence where Colegrove lived.

Homicide Detective Ron Newquist said officers found a 9mm shell casing in the alley behind the home in the 2200 block of Denver Street.

Colegrove's longtime girlfriend, Terra Jones, testified that Colegrove had worked for Needham previously but quit when he found out that Needham was a "drunk."

Jones testified that about four months before Colegrove was killed, Needham groped her from behind as she made the bed in Colegrove's room -- a converted garage -- behind the home on Denver Street.

"He (Needham) violated me," Jones testified, saying that Colegrove pushed the defendant out of the door afterward.

On Sept. 24, Needham called about 1 p.m. and asked to come over to talk to Colegrove, Jones testified.

"We both presumed he (Needham) was coming over to apologize," said Jones, who Colegrove often referred to as his wife.

She said Needham showed up drunk, pushed his way past her and sat down in Colegrove's chair.

When Needham, 42, refused to get out of the chair, Colegrove slapped him in the shoulder, then punched and kicked the defendant after he fell to the ground, Jones said.

She said Colegrove told her that Needham was trying to hit him with a stick, and she told Colegrove not to hit Needham with it.

The two wrestled each other before Needham left, according to the witness, who said Colegrove told the defendant, "Keep your hands off my wife."

About an hour later, Jones said she heard a "big loud bang" and found Colegrove on the ground in the backyard. Colegrove died at the scene. Investigators found a small knife under his body.

Tiffany Ponce, who lived at the Denver Street home part-time, testified she saw Needham leave after the 1 p.m. encounter, and heard him repeating "You shouldn't have done that" as he left.

Ponce said Needham looked like "he was in a weird state."

A neighbor testified that he heard a bang about 2:30 p.m., and then saw a man he later identified as Needham speed off in a gray minivan.

Around 3:30 p.m., police surrounded a home on Firestone in Clairemont and ordered Needham to come out with his hands up. The defendant surrendered peacefully about 6 p.m.

San Diego police Officer Jaime Conti testified that as he handcuffed Needham, the defendant said, "I know I (expletive) up." Conti said he asked Needham about some welts on his face and he responded, "I got my ass beat with a baseball bat."

During a search of the defendant's home, police found a Russian-made 9mm handgun and ammunition matching the shell casing found in the alley, Newquist said.

Needham had worked as a "walk-on" coach for the Clairemont Mesa school for the past three years, said Jack Brandais, spokesman for San Diego Unified School District.

Superior Court Judge Melinda Lasater found that enough evidence was presented at the preliminary hearing for Needham to proceed to trial. He will be back in court Dec. 30 for arraignment and to get a trial date.

After the hearing, Needham's attorney, Kerry Armstrong, said It's not a question of who done it.  

"It's a question of why it was done," said Armstrong.

Armstrong is weighing several options as he prepares to defend Needham at trial. His best defense may be self-defense.

"There was definitely a knife found under his (Colegrove's) body when he was rolled over. That goes to self-defense, if nothing else," explained Armstrong, who said there's a lot of DNA evidence that he hasn't had access to.  

Armstrong wants to know whether Needham's blood was found on the stick his client claims Colegrove hit him with.

"We heard today from Miss Jones that the stick was waved over him. She denied seeing an actual hit, but I definitely think it happened," said Armstrong.

Armstrong said Needham got a concussion during the fight with Colegrove, which may have caused him to act violently.

"There's also some things my client said to police that did not come out today that I think will really help me out with a potential self-defense theory," said Armstrong.

Armstrong said Needham has dozens of people who support him.  

"People love him. He gets emails almost every day from ex-students, from other teachers at the school. He lets me read some of them and it's just amazing how many people still support him, even after he's been arrested for murder," said Armstrong.

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