Deptford officer pleads not guilty in killing of friend

Bill and Maureen Compton, David Compton's parents, with their daughter Tracy Sharpe (right) and her husband, John, at the Gloucester County Courthouse after James Stuart's plea.
Bill and Maureen Compton, David Compton's parents, with their daughter Tracy Sharpe (right) and her husband, John, at the Gloucester County Courthouse after James Stuart's plea. (LORI M. NICHOLS / South Jersey Times)
Posted: November 20, 2013

WOODBURY A Deptford Township officer pleaded not guilty Monday to murder and related charges in the shooting of a friend in his home in January.

James Stuart, 29, of Deptford, was charged with aggravated assault after David Compton, a 27-year-old mechanical engineer from Woodbury, was shot in his left cheek early Jan. 5.

The charge was upgraded to murder after Compton, who had known Stuart since high school, was taken off life support and died on Jan. 11.

It's the first time in nearly a quarter-century that an officer in the county has faced murder charges. Stuart, who was off-duty at the time of the incident, has been suspended without pay since then.

In September, a grand jury indicted Stuart on charges of murder, aggravated manslaughter, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.

On Monday, Stuart's attorney, John Eastlack Jr., declined to comment after the arraignment in Superior Court.

Stuart has been out on bail.

About three dozen family members and friends of Compton, a Widener University graduate, attended the arraignment. Some wore shirts in his memory.

In a statement released by the family Monday, they thanked the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office "for their diligence and hard work in digging for the truth surrounding our son David's death."

Stuart and Compton arrived at Stuart's home around 2:30 a.m. Jan. 5 after hanging out at Lazy Lanigan's, a Sewell bar, Compton's family has said. They planned to watch a DVD of Judge Dredd together.

In an emergency call Stuart made to his department some time after 5 a.m., he said Compton was "playing with a weapon, it was loaded, and . . . there was a shot fired."

He did not say who fired the shot.

Eastlack has described the shooting as a "horrible accident."

Compton's family members have rejected Stuart's version of events, and the family said the murder charge contradicts Stuart's comments on the 911 call.

Compton's parents have said their son was right-handed, and they learned from his doctors that the bullet had traveled in a downward trajectory, piercing his lower left check, shattering his jawbone, nicking his carotid artery, and lodging against his spine.

In an interview Monday outside the courtroom, Compton's father, Bill, characterized Stuart's call as "dispassionate" and "uncaring."

Their son's "so-called friend just didn't care; there was no concern in his voice," Bill Compton said.

Bill Compton and his wife, Maureen, who also have a daughter, adopted David Compton as a baby from South Korea.

On Monday, his mother said: "We love David. We miss him more and more every day."


dsimon@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @darransimon

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|