At the request of the prosecution, a voluntary manslaughter charge was dismissed Monday against a man accused of gunning down a Desert Hot Springs teen more than two decades ago.
The District Attorney’s Office could not immediately be reached for comment on dropping the case against Joseph Ray Messer, who has maintained the July 27, 1996, shooting of 17-year-old Jamie Brown was in self-defense. He was 20 at the time.
Messer, now 42, had initially been charged with murder, but a judge who presided over Messer’s preliminary hearing earlier this year ruled that there was only sufficient evidence to hold him to answer on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
Messer previously was charged with murder in 2014, but prosecutors dropped the case then after concluding the evidence wasn’t strong enough at the time to convict him.
According to an arrest warrant declaration, Messer approached the victim’s younger brother and several other teens while they were riding skateboards just after 1 a.m. outside the Brown home on Ramona Drive.
After being asked for a cigarette, Messer allegedly stared down the group and said “I’ll smoke you, fat boy.” He then allegedly added, “I’ll smoke all of you guys,” while keeping his right hand at his waistband and concealing it behind a baseball cap.
Jamie Brown was inside the home when the confrontation started, but went outside when another teen said there was a “crazy guy out front,” according to the declaration. Brown and some of the other teens followed Messer into an open desert area north of the home, where the defendant fired a shot into the air, then three to four gunshots directly at the group, striking Brown, who died at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs from a single gunshot to the abdomen, according to prosecutors.
A .38 caliber revolver was recovered later that day by a resident, who told police that Messer, appearing “extremely agitated,” asked him for a ride out of town, then tossed the gun and ran after a police car drove past, according to the declaration. The gun, which matched the weapon used to kill the teen, was found to be registered to one of Messer’s relatives, the declaration states.
Messer later told an investigator that the shooting was in self- defense, according to the document. He denied confronting the teens and claimed that one of them said “Let’s kick this dude’s ass” as he walked past the house. The group then chased him with “bats, bottles and everything,” he said, forcing him to fire on them when they wouldn’t back off.
Investigators have said that witness accounts and physical evidence from the scene do not support Messer’s account.
Messer was identified early on as a person of interest in the case, but a “lack of positive suspect identification” prevented prosecutors from charging him in 1996, according to the declaration.
Messer was re-arrested last November at a courthouse in Northern California’s El Dorado County, where he was attending a sentencing hearing for his brother in a robbery case, according to the District Attorney’s Office.