Bay Area man who killed best friend, then shot himself, sentenced to 50 years to life

MARTINEZ — An American Canyon man was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison for murdering his best friend in an incident where he survived shooting himself in the head, court record show.

Lance Paulson, 54, was sentenced last week in the 2017 murder of 50-year-old Steve Gagnon, described by police testimony as Paulson’s lifelong friend until the day both men’s lives nearly ended. They were alone in Gagnon’s El Cerrito home when Paulson shot Gagnon.

When Gagnon didn’t show up for work, two colleagues went to his home on the 7400 block of Park Vista in El Cerrito and were greeted by Paulson in a semi-conscious state, bleeding profusely from his head. He invited them in, according to testimony at the preliminary hearing.

According to El Cerrito police Det. Aaron Leone’s testimony, he and Gagnon had been close friends since high school. They regularly watched shows and smoked marijuana together. At some point, Gagnon loaned Paulson $20,000. They set up a payment plan for Paulson to repay the money in $400 to $500 monthly increments, but Paulson was apparently struggling to make payments; he told Leone they had argued about the debt.

“(Paulson) said, ‘We had arguments. All friends do,’ ” Leone said.

During his May trial the defense argued there wasn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it wasn’t a justifiable homicide.

“Lance Paulson is a kind and gentle person who had no motive to harm his good friend Mr. Gagnon,” Dawson said in an email to this newspaper. “We do not believe the evidence supported the verdict and are saddened by the jury’s decision.”

Paulson hasn’t yet been transferred to state prison. He’ll likely go to San Quentin for a temporary hold, then be transferred to another facility for longterm incarceration.

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Author: Nate Gartrell