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‘Inside job’ Antioch murder trial centers on victim’s family life

MARTINEZ — The fate of an Antioch man accused of murdering his father for insurance money was sent to a Contra Costa jury Thursday, culminating a month of testimony that put the victim and defendant’s home life in the spotlight.
The prosecution painted defendant Scott Eastman, 24, as a conniving aspiring drug dealer who purchased narcotics through the Dark Web and plotted for months to kill his father, 43-year-old Relis Eastman, using apps that mask internet activity to solicit the purchase of the revolver and ammunition used in the killing.
But the defense contended Scott Eastman loved his father and was set up by his stepmother, who set up an alibi for herself and left him to take the blame.
“Scott Eastman is not a murderer,” deputy public defender Julian Ross told jurors Thursday, his voice rising. He later added, “Scott Eastman would help his family. He didn’t hurt them.”
Throughout the trial, much of the focus has been on the victim, 43-year-old Relis Eastman, who was found shot in the head at his home in Antioch on June 25, 2016. It appeared to police the shooter had sneaked up behind him. Though Eastman survived the initial attack, he was declared brain dead that night and never regained consciousness. He died five days later.
Scott Eastman was arrested and charged after Relis Eastman’s death following multiple police interviews and a scan of a phone he disposed of the night of the killing. Prosecutors say for months he researched the very type of ammunition used in the killing, but police never recovered the murder weapon.
Weeks before Relis Eastman was shot, the family had a meeting where his life insurance policy was discussed, prosecutor Alison Chandler said, adding that Scott Eastman told others he thought he would be the sole beneficiary.
“He had plans. His dad was in the way,” Chandler said. “If he could get rid of Relis, he could not only sell drugs and get away with it, he’d have insurance money.”
Members of the Eastman family testified throughout the trial, including Relis Eastman’s then-9-year-old stepson who found his bloody, unconscious body in the kitchen of their home. It was initially assumed Eastman had slipped and hit his head in the kitchen, until police noticed a gunshot wound.
Relis Eastman’s ex-wife — Scott Eastman’s stepmom — also testified, but only after signing an agreement that guaranteed she’d be immune from any incriminating statements she made on the stand.
During the start of her closing argument Wednesday, Chandler said an unfair portrait of Relis Eastman had been painted during trial.
“The evidence shows he’s a good man,” Chandler said. “He worked for AT&T. He’s an Army veteran. He’s trying to raise his kids.”
‘He trying to kill me’
The Eastman family had an unusual living situation; Relis and Scott Eastman’s stepmom lived in separate rooms and were not romantically involved, though they were formerly married and shared children. Scott Eastman’s three sisters and younger brother also lived at the small home on Biglow Drive.
Scott Eastman, then in his early 20s, lived at the home too, and slept in a family room on a couch.
Months before Relis Eastman’s death, he went on disability leave from his job at AT&T and started spending a lot more time at home. According to testimony from family members, he was seen by others as a bit of a nag. His ex-wife described him as “controlling” and “dependent” on her, and testified he once told her he would sabotage any friendships she made.
Other members of the family would text each other about when he wasn’t in the house. He and his ex-wife would argue multiple times a week. Relis was hardest on Scott, who he wanted to get a job and move out, according to the testimony. He imposed a curfew on his adult son, saying he needed to have his silver Volkswagen bug back at a certain time every day.
At some point, Scott Eastman began ordering drugs from the Dark Web, including prescription pills, ecstasy, and hallucinogens. One of the packages was intercepted by Relis Eastman, who was enraged his son would order drugs to the home. He wanted to kick Scott Eastman out, but his stepmom took Scott’s side.
“It was none of our business,” she said on the stand in August. “We wouldn’t want him to take our mail.”
One day, Eastman’s stepmom said, she came home to find Relis “ranting.”
“(Relis) kept saying, ‘He’s trying to kill me,’ ” the woman testified, referring to Scott Eastman. Chandler then asked her if Relis Eastman told her Scott Eastman had tried to smother him with a pillow, but Ross successfully objected to the question.
A series of strange events
The 24 hours leading up to Relis Eastman’s death saw one unusual happening after another. It started the day before, when Scott Eastman’s sister’s room was mysteriously ransacked. Scott later confided in his sister he did it because he was “looking for something,” his sister testified.
The day Relis Eastman was shot, members of the family were preparing for Scott Eastman’s stepbrother’s 10th birthday party. Scott’s stepmom spent the whole day going to various shopping centers, buying gifts and texting her ex-husband. Scott, meanwhile, was hanging out with friends and smoke a little pot.
According to Chandler, Scott Eastman made his move a few minutes before 9:15 that night, parking his car around the corner, going into his home, and shooting his dad in the head when he wasn’t expecting it.
Ross said the trajectory angle and the fact that Relis Eastman was several inches taller than his son disqualifies Scott Eastman as a suspect. He said Eastman didn’t have enough time to commit the murder.
After the killing, Scott Eastman’s stepmom arrived home with the kids, pulled up in front of the house, but then made an unusual move: rather than parking and going inside, she left, drove a couple miles away to get gas, then returned and entered the house. She testified during trial her gas light went on just as she was pulling up.
Chandler admitted her account of the night was “weird,” but said there was “no way” the woman would allow her young son to find Relis Eastman’s body if she’d known in advance Relis was going to be shot.
“Even if you think maybe she had something to do with it, (Scott Eastman) is the killer,” Chandler said. “He’s the shooter.”
After Relis Eastman’s body was discovered, his ex-wife called 911. The tape was played in court as she testified.
“What do I do? Someone get me a paramedic,” she can be heard yelling on the tape. She repeats, “I don’t wanna go in there, I don’t wanna go in there.”
As the tape played, the woman began sobbing and hyperventilating on the stand. Near the end of her testimony Chandler asked her if she was involved in Relis Eastman’s death.
“No ma’am,” she replied. “I didn’t do anything.”
She also testified her lawyer hadn’t shown her the immunity agreement, and seemed unsure what it meant.
Jury deliberations are expected to continue on Monday.

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