Return home

Parents take the stand in murder trial of brother vs. brother

Sean I. Mills
Staff writer
email / twitter
Posted 12/6/22

Murder victim James Westcott was “the worst I had ever seen him” before threatening to burn down his home with his family inside, according to his mother, Theresa Westcott.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Parents take the stand in murder trial of brother vs. brother


UTICA — Murder victim James Westcott was “the worst I had ever seen him” before threatening to burn down his home with his family inside, according to his mother, Theresa Westcott.

James Westcott was “ranting and raving” about how he would be in charge of the family, according to his father, Edward Westcott, and “James said if we weren’t going to do what he said he would break our kneecaps, dump gas on the house, go outside and torch it and listen to us scream trying to get out.”

Theresa and Edward Westcott testified in Oneida County Court on Tuesday in the murder trial of their other son, Matthew Westcott, who is accused of shooting and killing his brother James after James had made these threats against the family. The parents both told the jury about the family meeting James had called on the morning of Sept. 17, 2021, and how angry James was at the meeting.

They also discussed the confusion and shock of hearing the gunshot in the back of their Taberg home only a few hours later.

Matthew Westcott, age 28, is charged with one count each of second-degree murder and third-degree possession of a weapon in the death of James. Tuesday was the first day of testimony in a trial that is expected to stretch into next week.

Matthew faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in state prison if he is found guilty by the jury of 11 men and one woman. Matthew is arguing that he shot his brother to protect his family after hearing the threats to burn down the house.

Both Theresa and Edward Westcott told the jury about James Westcott’s anger problems and the issues with him growing up. Theresa testified that James had been diagnosed at a young age with obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder, and she said the 30-year-old James had stopped taking his medications when he was 17.

“Sometimes he had a good personality, and other times he didn’t,” described Edward Westcott. “He can get real mean.”

“He could be funny at times. But at times he could be very serious and very negative,” said Theresa Westcott.

“He had a personality that went up and down and all over the place,” she told the jury.

Both parents testified that James had made threats against the family before, though he rarely, if ever, carried through with any violence against any family members.

Family meeting

According to his parents, James Westcott called a family meeting at about 10 a.m. on Sept. 17, 2021, during which he read from a prepared statement on his cellphone about how he was going to be in charge of the family from then on, and how each member of the family would have a new role.

“He started ranting and raving about what everybody was going to do, and we were going to listen to him and do what we wanted to do. He basically wanted to be the alpha male, and he was not,” Edward told the jury, describing James as “very pissed off.”

Edward told the jury that James threatened to slap Theresa, break their kneecaps, and burn down the family home with everyone inside.

“I began to start worrying about it, yes,” Edward said. “I was waiting for him to make a move.”

The parents said James did not attack anyone at the meeting. They said the meeting ended when Theresa confronted her son through her own angry tears.

“He was very, very angry. He was very upset” at the meeting, Theresa told the jury. “He was to the point that I’ve never seen him that angry before. He wanted to kill us. He wanted to set us on fire and watch us all burn.”

Theresa, the only Westcott family member with a job, testified that James told her “that he was going to control my money,” and that was the last straw for Theresa. She and Edward testified that she got up and argued back at her son, telling him if he did not like it he could leave.

“I told him it’s my (expletive) money. ... He was not going to tell me what to do with my money,” Theresa told the jury. “Now I’m going to buy a (expletive) dryer, whether you like it or not.”

The meeting ended after Theresa confronted her son, and then she and Edward went to Lowe’s in Rome to buy a clothes dryer, according to testimony.


Family friend and relation Donald “Rick” Swancott testified on Tuesday that James came to his home to borrow a weed eater about mid-morning on Sept. 17. Swancott said James had borrowed it plenty of times before, though that day was the first time James had also asked to borrow the gasoline can that went with the weed eater.

Theresa and Edward Westcott testified that they returned home sometime around 11:30 to 11:45 a.m., and that James was dropped off a short time later by Swancott. The parents said there was no apparent problem between any of the brothers at that point, no shouting or arguing or any violence. Both parents said they were inside the home when they heard the gunshot from a back room.

“That’s when I heard the pop,” Edward described. At first, he thought something had burst in the fire pit in the backyard.

“All of a sudden we just heard a loud bang, a loud pop,” Theresa told the jury. She also “didn’t think much of it” because it could have been something in the backyard.

Within a minute of hearing the sound, Edward said he went into the back room and found Matthew holding a shotgun. He told the jury that he took the weapon from Matthew, and did not see a knife anywhere.

“Matthew said if the gun hadn’t jammed, he would have blown his own brains out,” Edward told the jury. He said Matthew told him James “won’t be threatening anyone else again.”

Edward said he looked over and saw James lying on James’ bedroom floor with a large gunshot wound to his face. Edward said he could hear his son’s “death rattle. He’s taking his last breath.” He then told his wife what happened and called 911.

“My first instinct was actually James shot himself, because he was suicidal,” Theresa told the jury.

“My second instinct was that James shot Matthew, because he hated Matthew.”

The 911 call that Edward Westcott made was played for the jury on Tuesday. Edward could be heard telling the dispatcher “my youngest son just shot my oldest son ... he just blew his (expletive) head off.” Edward remained on the line as he cleared the jammed cartridge in the shotgun, and as they checked to see that James was still breathing.

The state police and rescue personnel arrived shortly thereafter, and Matthew was taken into custody. James was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The following day, Edward and Theresa testified how they went to the state police barracks in Lee Center to give DNA samples and to speak with investigators. At the barracks, the third brother, Micheal, was taken into custody on the belief that Micheal had caused several cuts to the back of James’ head with a knife. Micheal had admitted as such in a confession.

Edward told the jury that the birdshot used in the shotgun could have caused those chop-like knife wounds to the back of James’s head.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here