“A violent hatred I’d only seen in the movies.” That’s how Thomasdinh Bowman described Capitol Hill QFC wine steward Yancy Noll’s actions in the moments before Bowman said he shot Noll at a north Seattle intersection in 2012.
For two weeks, prosecutors have painted Bowman as a calculated killer who studied how to get away with murder. On Thursday, Bowman, 31, said the shooting resulted from a road rage incident that went too far. Bowman said an abrupt stop he made while driving on I-5 sent Noll, 43, into a fury that made Bowman fear for his life as the altercation carried on into North Seattle. Bowman recounted how Noll followed him and hit him with a thrown bottle while both were inching along a north Seattle road.
But when it came to the actual shooting at 15th Ave NE and 75th, Bowman told jurors he doesn’t remember a thing, describing a nightmare-like state when the shots went off. Bowman testified about the myriad of ways he tried to avoid arrest in the hours and days following the incident, from destroying his gun to changing the appearance of his car.
For the first time in Bowman’s first-degree murder trial, jury members heard Bowman recount in his own soft-spoken voice the events that lead him to fatally shoot Noll. Defense attorney John Henry Browne also made his opening statements Thursday morning. Bowman faces a 20 to 30 year prison sentence, plus an additional five years for using a firearm.
According to Bowman, the incident began while he was driving ahead of Noll on I-5 near Capitol Hill just before the ship canal bridge. A driver ahead of Bowman slammed on his brakes, causing Bowman and Noll to stop abruptly. That’s when Bowman said Noll began flashing his lights, honking his horn, and yelling obscenities out his window.
As Bowman tried to get away from Noll, he said Noll pulled up next to him and yelled “you better learn how to drive that fancy car dick boy or you’re going to get fucked up.” Bowman said Noll then first chucked a water bottle into Bowman’s BMW convertible, striking him on his head.
The two continued along I-5, eventually exiting on Lake City Way. Bowman said Noll was following so close that he couldn’t slow down to make his ordinary turn home. “I started cutting people off to zig-zag to go away,” Bowman said.
Despite his best efforts to shed Noll, Bowman said he continued to follow him as he approached a stop light. That’s when Bowman said he heard a loud “thwap” and, this time, felt a wine bottle strike his head.
Bowman came to another stop and says he put up his windows and tried to close the roof of his car. As he saw Noll turn the corner towards him, Bowman said he opened his bag with his handgun inside. “I remember seeing his eyes really bulging… spitting anger,” Bowman said.
As Noll approached, Bowman said he saw Noll reach for something inside his car.
“I thought If I didn’t do something right then, I was going to die,” Bowman said. “This was the moment.”
That’s when Bowman said everything went quiet. “I stopped seeing what was going on… It was completely surreal, like a nightmare.”
Prosecutors say Bowman fired five shots. One struck Noll in the face. Witnesses said they found Noll dead inside his car with his hands on the steering wheel.
The next memory Bowman said he had was holding his gun, thinking he had to get away from Noll. Bowman said he had no intention to kill Noll and didn’t even know that he shot him.
When he got back home, Bowman did not tell his wife of seven years about the incident. He said he wanted to protect her and didn’t want to get his friends or family involved, either.
Upon searching his computer after his arrest, detectives found Bowman had viewed news stories on Noll’s death, visited the memorial Facebook page for Noll, and read articles on drive-by shootings.
Bowman told jurors that he had millions of documents on his computer on a range of subjects, from philosophy to mechanical engineering. Included in his “bulk downloads” was the Death Dealers Manual, a book Bowman said he never read but prosecutors said proved Bowman’s actions were premeditated. Bowman said he checked news websites after the shooting to see if there were any witnesses who saw Noll throw the bottles. When Bowman saw he was wanted as “the bad guy,” Bowman said he became afraid to call the police.
Police arrested Bowman several weeks later after a tipster recognized a sketch of the suspect which police created with the help of witnesses. Prior to his arrest, Bowman said he was trying to evade police.
Noll’s best friend Rick Glein told CHS after Bowman’s testimony that Noll would never act the way Bowman described.
“Its a good story to get somebody off the hook,” he said. “Everybody loved (Yancy).”
Testimony in the trial will continue into at least next week.