PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Closing arguments finished in the trial of a California man charged with killing his estranged wife and another parishioner inside a New Jersey church.

Joseph Pallipurath of Sacramento was facing two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

Prosecutors said the 29-year-old drove across country intending to kill his estranged wife, 24-year-old Reshma James.

Pallipurath testified last week that he entered the Clifton church on Nov. 23, 2008 with two loaded handguns. He said he only meant to scare, not harm anyone.

His attorney on Monday started closing arguments by saying Pallipurath admitted to the killings, but they were done in the heat of the moment. He’s hoping for a lesser charge than murder.

In court on March 31, Pallipurath told a jury he didn’t mean to do it, saying one of the people he’s charged with murdering, Dennis John Mallosseril, got in his way.

“I took my gun out. I don’t know if I cocked it or not. I hold my gun up, pointed it toward Dennis. That’s … and he pushed it. The gun went off. I saw my wife dropped to the ground,” Pallipurath said.

Pallipurath said he then blacked out. His testimony had Mallosseril’s mother crying in court. She had to be carried out. She later told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan she couldn’t believe Pallipurath blamed her son, who tried to help.

The Clifton church is home to an ancient Christian sect that hails from Southern India.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Watch & Listen LIVE