SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A part-time Madison High School wrestling coach charged in the shooting death of an assistant coach pleaded not guilty Friday to a murder charge.
Jeret Thomas Needham, 42, also faces an allegation of personal use of a firearm in the shooting death of 45-year-old Robert Colegrove of Bay Park, who was an assistant wrestling coach at the school in Clairemont Mesa last year.
According to police, Colegrove was in his backyard in the 2200 block of Denver Street when Needham shot him at least once in the upper body about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, then fled in a silver minivan down an alley. Colegrove died at the scene.
Friends of Colegrove's told investigators they believed they knew who the killer was, leading officers to Needham's home in the 4600 block of Firestone Street in Clairemont.
Officers surrounded the house and tried to get the suspect to exit and surrender, initially getting no response, homicide Lt. Mike Hastings said. But around 6 p.m., Needham walked outside and was taken into custody at gunpoint.
The suspect and victim apparently had been involved in a dispute -- the nature of which was not disclosed by investigators -- several hours prior to the shooting, according to police.
Deputy District Attorney Michael MacNeil made no comment during the hearing, other than to ask for $1 million bail, which was granted by Judge David Szumowski.
According to published reports, police have been called to the Denver Street house numerous times and have made 19 arrests there in the last few years. The homeowner told U-T San Diego that Needham had touched Colegrove's girlfriend inappropriately, and Colegrove beat him up when he learned about it.
Needham's attorney, Kerry Armstrong, told reporters after the hearing that his client accidentally touched the woman about seven months ago, apologized, and thought everything was fine. He said there was no "groping" on the day of the shooting, and alleged Colegrove attacked his client, who didn't know why.
"He's in bad shape," Armstrong said of his client. "He's obviously never been in this situation before. He's confused. He's perplexed."
Needham is sporting two black eyes and suffered scratches and other injuries when attacked, his lawyer said.
Armstrong said his client and the victim were friends until Tuesday.
The judge scheduled a status conference for Nov. 1. Because of the weapons allegation, the defendant faces 50 years to life in prison if convicted.
Needham has worked as a "walk-on" coach for the Clairemont Mesa school for the past three years, said Jack Brandais, spokesman for San Diego Unified School District. Prior to his arrest, Needham had been slated to resume the job at the Doliva Drive campus at the start of wrestling season, which runs from November through February.