TEMECULA, Calif. - A jury on Monday convicted a Temecula man of fatally stabbing a teen after picking a fight with him last year in a Walmart parking lot, then going on to threaten the victim’s girlfriend and film his dying moments on a cellphone, prosecutors said.
James Beckham Fortney, 41, was found guilty of second-degree murder — with an enhancement of using a knife — and one count of making criminal threats in the Nov. 29, 2017, incident that was allegedly sparked by a road-rage confrontation, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release.
Fortney started the fight outside the superstore’s location on Temecula Parkway that eventually ended in 19-year-old Kevin Rodriguez’s death, officials said.
Rodriguez, a freelance videographer from Murrieta, had headed to Walmart that day to pick things up for his father’s belated birthday dinner, his family told KTLA at the time.
The teen was with his girlfriend of three years and — according to Atticus Rodriguez, the victim’s father — she later told the family Fortney looked as if stalled traffic had been giving him anxiety when he nearly hit Kevin’s car. Kevin became upset, but Fortney even more so, Atticus said.
According to the DA’s office, “Fortney grabbed the much smaller Rodriguez by the throat,” and Rodriguez fought back in self defense.
As the two men paused in the struggle, standing a few feet away each other, Fortney allegedly produced a 6-inch folding knife and lunged at Rodriguez, stabbing him in the chest.
Rodriguez’s girlfriend then rushed toward the attacker, who allegedly told her, “You’re next.”
Kevin’s mother, Traci Rodriguez, told KTLA his girlfriend held him in her arms as he bled profusely.
“He really loved his girlfriend,” she said. “And I’m sorry, I’m really sorry for her to have to go through that — holding him, the way she did. And I’m going to be there for her.”
While other witnesses called 911 and began performing life-saving measures, Fortney took out his cellphone and recorded the victim’s dying moments, according to prosecutors.
The defendant later helped administer aid, officials added.
Rodriguez was taken to a nearby hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
The teen’s parents said he was a loving son and brother who had a large circle of friends and regularly attended church.
He was also adventurous and enjoyed recording stunts to share on social media. His Instagram account had more than 37,500 followers around the time of his death.
Fortney’s sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 19 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta.
He will face a maximum possible sentence of 16 years and eight months to life in prison, prosecutors said.