Santa Claus-costumed Halloween shooter faces first sentencing day

Jennifer Beard on the stand_1549329222873.JPG.jpg

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The first day of sentencing for the man convicted of shooting several guests of a 2017 Halloween party began Monday.

Monday morning, several witnesses and victims took the stand to give their accounts of the nightmarish Halloween costume party that began as a relaxed evening around a bonfire and ended with gunshots in the early morning, leaving several injured and one dead.

The guests of the party faced the gunman, Randall Jones, who, according to witness accounts became drunk and belligerent at the party and then — dressed as Santa Claus — emerged from a bedroom with his finger on the trigger of a handgun.

First to take the stand was Paul Phalen, a friend of Jen Beard, the party’s host — and Jones’ roommate — who delivered his memories of the party. According to Phalen, the costume party began winding down and Jones drunkenly set fire to wood palettes and scattering the ashes (and as state prosecutors would later find out, inadvertently, but unapologetically burning another party guest). 

“He was pretty intoxicated. He just had a lot to drink,” Phalen recalled.

As Phalen was saying his goodbyes and hugging Beard and her girlfriend, Nancy Richardson, he said Jen screamed from over his shoulder and he turned to find the still-costumed Jones standing in the hallway with a pistol pointed.

The second witness, Lacey Ward, a friend of the host, reported in her testimony that earlier in the night, Jones burned her while burning the wood palettes. She tried addressing it and Jones replied “It doesn’t matter anyway.” She ignored him the rest of the night and left between 5 and 6 a.m., before the shooting began.

At 11:20 a.m. Monday, Richardson took the stand to offer her recollection of the night that ended with her being shot. Richardson explained that she woke up to the sound of gunfire, walked out of the bedroom and found her girlfriend, who had just been shot twice in the chest. Around this time, according to testimony, Jones shot Richardson in the leg, hitting a main artery. 

While Richardson tried to apply pressure to Beard’s wounds — and simultaneously tending to her own — she noted that Jones was outside, staring at the house and holding the gun.

Beard, Randall’s roommate took the stand in the afternoon, where she started at the beginning of her history with Jones. She’d met Jones at a music festival in February of that year and he moved in some time later. The two were friends and had a good relationship until the summer, when he’d displayed disturbing rage issues at her lake house. She recalled that Jones would often come home from work and angrily beat a punching bag.

Beard’s friends, including Richardson, never liked Jones. “His temper and his attitude scared her [Jen].”

Before the party, Beard said she told Jones to store his handgun in her safe for safety reasons and he refused. She, however, was afraid to press the issue. The party was lowkey, according to Beard, but Jones had begun drinking heavily early. After the incident when he had burned Lacey, he become angry at the thought of everyone thinking he was a “jerk” for not apologizing.

“I saw him shoot me,” Jen would later say as she bled on the floor. According to her testimony, she saw Jones shoot her twice in the chest and then — believing she was about to die — moved to her bedroom to tell Richardson goodbye and ask her to tell her sister goodbye for her. Jones’ bullets hit her liver and intestines. 

One witness who was not present at the sentencing was Michael “Ted” McCloskey. According to witnesses, after the shooting began, McCloskey bearhugged Jones and the two fell into Jones’ bedroom. The guests then recall hearing more gunfire before Jones exited the house. 

Through a haze of gun smoke and the blare of a smoke alarm, Andrew Nickel, Jen’s neighbor, described in his testimony that he found McCloskey severely wounded from his abdomen. His intestines were exposed. 

As McCloskey bled out, Nickel recalls the man asking for a cigarette and for him not to be left alone. Nickel would later tell police he told McCloskey he had to leave to speak to officers. When the officers arrived, he gave the phone to the man and told McCloskey to tell hunting stories to the operator.

According to an APD release at the time, Jones had placed the gun on a neighbor’s ‘Welcome’ mat and waited for police to arrive, still clothed in the bloody Santa suit.

While Jones still awaits his sentence, his victims live with daily reminders of the incident. 

Richardson has a leg scar covering up a projectile still inside her. Beard spent several months in rehabilitation. Today, biomedical mesh holds her intestines in place. She suffers from chronic pain in addition to heightened anxiety and constant fear. Her emotional and physical states have left her with no income and sadness and guilt over the death of McCloskey. 

“I don’t feel like I know who I am anymore,” Beard said Monday.

Nickel remembers McCloskey fondly, saying “I never met anyone who didn’t like him. I miss my friend. He was a good dude.”

In the courtroom, according to reports, Jones sat motionless and stoic, with his eyes down. He showed no reaction from the testimonies of his victims.

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