Marcus Weldon said defending his life cost him thousands of dollars, his reputation and a few relationships.
The Southfield resident was dressed as Santa Claus on Dec. 21, 2014, when he and a female coworker, also clad in a Santa costume, left a holiday work function and drove to a downtown Detroit gas station. Weldon said two men began harassing her and, when he tried to intervene, one retrieved a gun from his car.
Weldon, 28, who has a license to carry a concealed pistol, pulled out his .40 caliber semiautomatic and fired four shots, wounding both men. He was arrested, charged and tried; a jury in June found him not guilty.
Since the acquittal, the single father said he’s trying to put his life back together. He said the ordeal set him back about $50,000 between legal fees and paying for the tether he wore while awaiting trial. He also said the incident alienated some anti-gun friends.
Weldon has written a 200-page manuscript about his experience:“The Santa Claus Shooter: Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” and said he’s negotiating with a publisher.
“I want to warn people what can happen to you if you legally use your firearm to protect yourself,” Weldon said. “Since I’m not a criminal, I thought if I ever had to use my gun, people would look at me like I did the right thing. That didn’t happen.
“When you get caught up in the system, even if you were in the right, it’s a nightmare,” said Weldon, who works at MGM Casino doing building repairs and odd jobs.
“Some people who I looked at as friends and mentors turned their backs on me because they’re anti-gun,” he said. “But I also met a lot of people from the gun community who supported me.”
Shootout with Santa
In addition to his casino job, which he’s held for more than nine years, Weldon had a part-time gig doing promotions for Remy Martin cognac. He had just finished working a holiday promotional event in a downtown club when his coworker Erica Johnson told him she needed to put air in her tire. He followed her to the Speedway gas station on East Jefferson near Larned. Both were still dressed in Santa suits.
Weldon said Johnson was at the gas station window when he saw a man arguing with her. “Next thing I know, he takes his arm and elbows her. She kind of stumbled. I said, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ He turns around and ... storms at me. Then he pushes me.
“I could see he was drunk; his eyes were red. I said, ‘Get back; I’m warning you.’
“He runs to this black (Dodge) Charger where his buddy was, and I’m hoping he’s getting into the car to leave. But he starts digging under the seat looking for something. I thought, ‘He’s about to get his gun.’ Then he comes out with his firearm and takes a step toward me. I fired the first shot after I saw him with the gun.
“I heard return fire. I’m like, ‘Oh, crap, he’s firing back at me.’ I’m in shock. I shoot again while I’m walking away. (Johnson) is screaming, so I figured she’d been hit ... I pulled out my phone to call 911. I’m dialing the phone, and I hear tires spinning out, then I see these headlights coming at me. I thought it was those guys coming to run me down, so I grabbed her and we took off running down Larned.”
The headlights belonged to an unmarked police car, also a black Charger.
“They got out, pulled their guns on me and told me to get on the ground,” Weldon said.
He lay on the sidewalk outside St. Andrew’s Hall. “The club is letting out, so there’s people taking pictures of me while I’m on the ground in this Santa suit.”
Weldon caused a stir when officers escorted him into the Mound Correctional Facility on Detroit’s east side.
“I was the laughingstock of the jail,” he said. “Here I am, walking in there in a Santa Claus suit. Later on, the news is covering my case; I’m on all the TV stations, and (other inmates) are making fun of me.”
Weldon was charged with seven felonies, posted bail and was put under house arrest.
“The day before (the shooting), I was at a Christmas party with the mayor. So I go from being in this high point in my life to, wow, now I’m on the news.”
Both men Weldon shot lived, and he was charged with assault with intent to commit murder. He said prosecutors offered him plea deals, but he refused.
Weldon finally stood trial in June, 18 months later, and testified in his own defense.
“When they finally said ‘not guilty’ on all the charges I, started crying. I tried to hold it together but my face was like Niagara Falls,” he said.
Words of wisdom
Weldon has advice for concealed-pistol license holders: “Don’t go into situations where you might have to use your gun. But if you do, keep your mouth shut. I know you want to tell the police that you’re innocent, but don’t do it. You’ll only incriminate yourself.”
Detroit attorney Terry L. Johnson, who specializes in firearms cases, said Weldon’s experience is common for people who use guns to defend themselves.
“He got lucky, because his parents had the means to hire a good attorney,” said Johnson, who did not represent Weldon. “I always ask people: If you had to shoot someone in your home at 2 in the morning, do you think the police are going to say, ‘great job, you got the bad guy’? A lot of people actually think that, but that’s not how it works.”
Would Weldon pull the trigger again?
“I’ve always been a pacifist, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be a victim. Even Martin Luther King applied for a permit to carry a gun” in 1956 after his house was firebombed.
“If it comes down to me or him, it’s going to always be him ... I’ve got a 7-year-old daughter. I can’t take that chance.”