Chris Aaron Schnarr told a Pulaski County Circuit Court jury Wednesday that the reason he shot and killed a man after their vehicles nearly collided on the afternoon of May 11, 2013, at a Little Rock intersection was because he feared for his life after the man chased him down, sped past him and stopped diagonally in front of him, blocking his vehicle in.
Just before Schnarr testified on the second day of his first-degree murder trial, jurors heard from Alice Bryant, whose boyfriend, Arista Lee "A.J." Aldridge Jr., 45, was killed after he got out of his tan GMC Jimmy and strode up to Schnarr's white Jeep. After the men exchanged words, Schnarr fired three shots from a .45-caliber handgun out of the rolled-down window of his Jeep, striking Aldridge twice, in the upper right arm and abdomen.
Bryant said she remembered Schnarr's Jeep cutting off Aldridge's Jimmy, in which she and their 5-year-old son were passengers, as the vehicles were traveling on the Interstate 30 frontage road and Sixth Street. She said the men exchanged profanities from their vehicles, and then Aldridge followed Schnarr's Jeep as it turned onto Sixth Street, and pulled around and in front of the Jeep, stopping at an angle across both lanes.
"I had to come to a full stop or I would have slammed into his passenger side," Schnarr testified.
Inside the Jimmy, Bryant testified, "I remember touching Mr. Aldridge's hand and saying, 'It's OK, it's OK. Don't get out." But she said Aldridge got out anyway and strode up to the window of Schnarr's Jeep, raising his hands as though trying to explain something and saying, "You could have killed my son."
"Then, pow!" she said, drawing out the word in an elongated whisper. She recalled watching from the side mirror of the Jimmy as Aldridge's hand "went toward the upper part of his body" and he took a couple of steps back. "Then, pow! Second shot. Aldridge turned to to walk away. Pow! Third shot."
Schnarr testified that he had pulled his gun, which he had only practice-fired and was licensed to carry, from under his front seat as Aldridge's Jimmy sped around him, causing him to sense danger. He said he kept it on his left thigh as Aldridge poked his finger in Schnarr's face several times, saying words that Schnarr said he was too scared to comprehend.
"I was scared for my life," Schnarr told jurors. "I was terrified. I didn't know what he was going to do."
Schnarr said Aldridge then backed up a few steps, and "I thought it was over at that point, that he was going back to his vehicle." But, he said, Aldridge suddenly turned back toward the Jeep "and started coming at me. That's when I pointed my gun at him and said, 'I have a gun, man. Please leave.'"
Schnarr said Aldridge wouldn't retreat, so he fired two shots as Aldridge was about 6 feet away. He said Aldridge staggered and then "he started coming back toward me, and that's when I fired the third shot."
The third shot was the fatal shot. The bullet that entered the center of Aldridge's abdomen damaged his liver and his pancreas before puncturing his aorta, causing him to lose blood pressure rapidly as he bled to death internally, Dr. Steven Erickson, the state's chief deputy medical examiner, testified earlier.
Bryant, who has since moved to Texas, recalled watching from the side mirror as Aldridge began to stumble and then fell face down onto the street. She said she moved the Jimmy to the side of the road, "terrified that bullets would come through the back of the vehicle and kill us," and then got out and tried to keep Aldridge calm until help arrived.
Erickson testified that at UAMS Medical Center, surgeons opened Aldridge's chest and tried to manually start the heart, while also attempting to repair the major vascular injuries, but were unable to save Aldridge's life.
"I felt I did what was necessary to save my life," Schnarr told jurors. "I felt it then and I feel it today."
Schnarr said he was on his way that Saturday afternoon to his office at the CJRW advertising firm, where he did a variety of jobs, so that he could use the company's computers, which he preferred to his home computer. He said the firm fired him after the shooting, and he now manages an office for a friend. He said he got the gun years earlier for safety because he lives in an area off Interstate 40 where trespassers are common.
During questioning by defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kelly Ward, Schnarr said he couldn't retreat from the situation by backing up because a bus was behind him and other vehicles were coming from the other direction.
"I couldn't see a way out," he said.
Schnarr admitted he was angry, but said he had a habit of trying to remain calm in times of stress, particularly because of a heart condition he has suffered from for years that makes any physical confrontation life-threatening.
Closing arguments in the trial before Circuit Judge Leon Johnson are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. today.
A September 2014 trial of Schnarr in the shooting ended in a mistrial when the jury could not agree on a verdict.
Metro on 09/03/2015
Print Headline: 'Scared for my life,' defendant tells jury