When Deborah Avery saw a car barely moving on the grass during her drive home, she pulled over to see if she could help the driver out.


She didn’t expect to hear the driver, Eric Eugene Fuller, confess to shooting someone to death minutes before.

“He was just sitting in the driver’s seat with his hands over his face,” Avery said Tuesday while testifying in Fuller’s murder trial. “At first he didn’t acknowledge me, then he put his hands down and told me, ‘I just shot my friend.’ ”

Fuller, 23, is charged with the second-degree murder of Carlton Derrick Hardaman, 24, in February 2013 and could get life in prison if he’s convicted. At the time Fuller was arrested, police said there was some kind of drug deal involved that led to the shooting. They also said the two men were friends who’d grown up together.

Fuller shot Hardaman in the head while both men were in Fuller’s car and then dumped his body outside where it was found on the grass near the curb on West 19th Street in Jacksonville.

Minutes later Fuller drove his vehicle into the underbrush off U.S. 1 in Nassau County north of the crime scene, which is where Avery, a captain with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department who was getting off work, first encountered him.

After Fuller told Avery what he’d done, she called police. Fuller repeated what he’d said to officials with the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office after they arrived.

Fuller claimed he killed Hardaman in self-defense, but after arresting him police said his story conflicted with the evidence.

Assistant State Attorney Peter Overstreet told jurors that no one except Fuller and Hardaman saw what happened in the car, but the blood spatter evidence and testimony from the coroner would demonstrate that it was murder.

“The science and expert testimony is what you’ll have to use,” Overstreet said.

Assistant Public Defender James Armstrong said it was self-defense and prosecutors would not be able to prove murder.

“My client found himself in a life-or-death situation,” Armstrong said. “Mr. Hardaman pointed a gun at his head and threatened him.”

Fuller managed to get the gun away from Hardaman when they were at a stop sign and shot him in the head. But the situation left him in shock as he drove away, and after he was found he didn’t know where he was, Armstrong said.

Hardaman also was demanding that Fuller drive to the house where Fuller’s sister and her child were staying, and that was motivation for his client to fight back so his family wouldn’t be hurt, Armstrong said.

The evidence presented Tuesday included gory pictures of Hardaman after he was shot, with several close-ups of his head covered in blood. Attorneys attempted to turn the computers showing the pictures away from the audience gallery so friends and family of Hardaman couldn’t see them, but at least two family members still left the courtroom while fighting back tears.

Defense attorneys asked Circuit Judge Tatiana Salvador to prohibit any discussion of drugs during the trial under the argument that it would prejudice the jury. But Salvador denied that request minutes before opening statements began Tuesday.

The trial is expected to take several days.


Larry Hannan: (904) 359-4470