Jury Deliberations Begin in Trial of Felon Accused of Killing Girlfriend

City News Service Pristine Villarreal

MURRIETA (CNS) – Jury deliberations got underway Thursday in the trial of a convicted felon accused of fatally shooting his girlfriend and then fleeing to Las Vegas, where he was apprehended holding his and the victim’s 2- year-old son.

Celestine John Stoot Jr., 44, of Lake Elsinore allegedly killed 43- year-old Natasha Denise Barlow of San Jacinto in July 2021.

Stoot is charged with first-degree murder, child cruelty, being a convicted felon in possession of a loaded firearm and sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations.

Following more than a week of testimony at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, the prosecution and defense delivered closing statements Thursday morning, after which Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer ordered jurors behind closed doors to begin weighing evidence.

Stoot is being held without bail at the nearby Byrd Detention Center.

According to a trial brief filed by the District Attorney’s Office, Stoot and Barlow were living together at his residence in the 17600 block of Hayes Avenue, along with several of her young children from a prior relationship and their 2-year-old son, also named Celestine, but more commonly called “C.J.”

On July 4, 2021, Stoot and the victim attended a Fourth of July party at a friend’s house, where the couple got into an argument stemming from what the defendant considered her disrespectful attitude, mainly “talking back to him” when he told her to do something, the brief said.

The conflict mushroomed before Stoot and Barlow went to bed, leading to a physical confrontation, during which he allegedly struck her over the head, possibly with a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, court papers alleged.

After hitting her an unspecified number of times, the defendant allegedly shot her through the neck, and she died on the bedroom floor. The bullet went through a wall into the children’s room, but none were injured, according to the brief.

Stoot fled the residence with C.J. but later returned after his cousin, identified in court papers as “D.J.,” picked him up at a gas station in Perris. The defendant retrieved belongings from his house, after which his cousin allowed him to take her vehicle, dropping her at a residence in Moreno Valley before heading north with his son to Las Vegas.

During the predawn hours of July 5, sheriff’s deputies received a report — the person who made the call wasn’t identified in court documents — that Barlow had been fatally shot, and personnel went to the house, immediately identifying Stoot as the alleged shooter based on evidence at the scene and statements from witnesses.

A statewide Amber Alert was issued, asking the public to be on the lookout for the felon and child and providing a description of the car he was driving.

Authorities captured Stoot with his son in Las Vegas the following afternoon. The fugitive was taken into custody and C.J., who was unharmed, was placed in the care of loved ones.

Detectives interviewed Stoot, who gave them different versions of what transpired, including that Barlow had become enraged during their quarrel, grabbing the .45-caliber handgun from a bedroom table.

“(The defendant said) Natasha … pointed it at him and said, `I’m tired of your (expletive),”‘ according to the brief. “He was able to remove the firearm from her grasp, but in doing so, he accidentally pulled the trigger and shot her. He said he did not call for help because he was scared.”

According to court records, the defendant has prior convictions for gun assault, domestic violence, possession of drugs for sale and witness intimidation.

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

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