Murder suspect: I feared for my life
Thomas takes stand in his defense
Taking the stand in his own defense, Stephan Thomas said he fatally stabbed Tyrese Huffman out of fear for his own life during a skirmish involving Thomas and Huffman, who was with three other men.
Thomas, 26, of Bowling Green, is on trial on charges of murder and tampering with physical evidence for the June 9, 2012, death of the 21-year-old Huffman, who was stabbed in the neck.
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Thomas began his testimony Friday afternoon in Warren Circuit Court, explaining his account of events under questioning from his attorney, John Stewart of Adams, Tenn.
He described a whirlwind of events that began three weeks before the homicide, when a feud developed between Thomas and Dewayne Graves.
Thomas said the hostilities began when Graves, who was in a relationship with Shadee Hodges, threw a brick through the kitchen window of Hodges’ apartment at 2055 Stonehenge Ave., Apt. D, while Thomas, the father of one of Hodges’ children, was inside.
Thomas said Graves saw him on the back deck of the apartment and shouted at him, and Thomas went down to confront him, but this meeting did not turn physical.
Later that day, Graves returned with a group of people and brandished a box cutter at Thomas, but the skirmish was broken up without anyone getting hurt, Thomas said.
Shortly after midnight on June 9, 2012, Thomas was standing outside Hodges’ apartment with his friend Ralph Jennings when he saw Graves walk toward them.
After finding out from Graves that hostilities had not subsided on his end, Thomas said he pulled a straight razor from his back pocket.
“I had a blade in my pocket, I pulled it out and I proceeded to chase (Graves),” Thomas said, adding that he pursued Graves until he hopped a fence. “I don’t even know this guy. I’m a likable guy. I’m not known to be a fighter. I’m not known to cause trouble.”
A couple of hours after being chased over a fence by Thomas, Graves returned in an SUV to the apartment complex with Tyrese Huffman, Tyrese’s brother Joe Huffman and Darren Chamlee.
While standing on the back deck, Thomas saw Tyrese Huffman down below taunting him.
Thomas made his way downstairs and back outside, but stopped first to grab a steak knife from the kitchen counter.
“I reached for my blade, but I didn’t have it on me,” Thomas said. “I wanted to protect myself because (Graves) had pulled a knife on me before.”
Putting the knife in his back pocket, Thomas went down to confront Graves, who Thomas said was yelling at him from behind Tyrese Huffman.
Jennings, who testified for the prosecution, said at trial Friday that he tried early to break up the skirmish before it escalated, but Thomas and Graves’ group progressed toward Western Green Avenue “jawing” at one another.
Thomas said he saw Chamlee had a gun out by his side and testified that the gun was pointed at him at the moment when a brick struck him in the chest.
Earlier testimony from other witnesses identified Joe Huffman as the brick thrower, but a rock found by city police tested negative for blood.
Thomas, who did not know Chamlee or Joe Huffman, said he thought Chamlee had fired the gun.
“It just happened so fast. ... I just pulled the knife out. (Tyrese) grabbed my shoulder and pulled me to him,” Thomas said. “There was so much going on, I thought I was going to lose my life that night.”
The group of combatants scattered after the stabbing, with Thomas riding to his mother’s house in Jennings’ car and then traveling with Hodges and several others to a wooded area behind Regency Apartments known as “The Cut.”
Thomas, who had packed a few articles of clothing before leaving with Hodges, said he handed a T-shirt and boxer shorts to D.J. Woodson, testifying that the stress of the night caused him to vomit and urinate on himself.
Thomas denied burning the clothes, which Bowling Green police discovered almost two weeks later.
City police arrested Thomas within hours in an apartment that Hodges formerly rented.
Prosecutor questions Thomas
Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron worked at poking holes in Thomas’ self-defense claim during a cross-examination that was interrupted when the jury was dismissed for the day.
Cohron got Thomas to acknowledge that Tyrese Huffman was unarmed and had not taken a swing at Thomas during their confrontation.
Early in the cross-examination, Cohron asked why Thomas didn’t lock the door and call 911 when Huffman yelled at him to come down from the back deck and meet him outside in the parking lot.
Thomas said that there were people inside the apartment using drugs at the time.
“You were out there releasing steam and you wanted to take care of it yourself, because you were worried about the drugs in the apartment,” Cohron said.
Cohron also focused on the incident in which Thomas chased Graves with a straight razor, asking Thomas what he would have done if he had caught Graves.
Thomas said he was trying to scare Graves away.
“Running after someone past two sets of fourplexes and through the grass to a fence that he hops, that’s a pretty long chase if you don’t want to catch somebody,” Cohron responded.
Cohron spent part of his questioning pointing out inconsistencies between Thomas’ testimony Friday and an affidavit he signed in July 2012 that professed to lay out his version of the events surrounding the stabbing.
Thomas said he “skimmed over” the affidavit when he signed it and largely disavowed the document, saying that he believed his former attorney, Brad Coffman, was not acting in Thomas’ best interests by offering him the affidavit to sign.
Cohron closes case
While Thomas’ testimony highlighted Friday’s proceedings, Cohron called his final four witnesses in the morning.
Bowling Green police Detective Brett Kreilein, who led the investigation, described his information-gathering process in the days following the stabbing.
Woodson was one of the witnesses that Kreilein interviewed multiple times, returning to him when the detective and other investigators uncovered new information that did not match what Woodson had previously told police.
The gun that Chamlee displayed in the confrontation was not discovered by police until four days after the incident, and while Chamlee said he gave the gun to Joe Huffman, police were unable to get Huffman to admit to possessing the gun.
Barry Raley, a now-retired city police detective, testified that he interviewed Jennings in an unmarked police car when Thomas called Jennings’ cellphone.
Jennings and Thomas had two phone conversations that Raley recorded in which Thomas said he didn’t want to go to prison and appeared to encourage Jennings to tell police that Graves and his associates stormed into Hodges’ apartment.
“If anybody asks, don’t nobody know nothin’,” Thomas said during one of the conversations with Jennings.
Maurethia Hollins, who lived in the same complex as Hodges, testified that she witnessed a black male in the parking lot punch a larger black male two or three times before the larger man fell.
Hollins said she was sleeping when the yelling outside caused her to get out of bed to find out what was happening.
She dialed 911 soon after witnessing the melee and was kneeling beside Huffman during the call when she told the dispatcher she believed Huffman had died.
Jennings said he saw Thomas get hit hard in the chest by a brick thrown at him during the final fight, and then moments later he saw Thomas throw two right-handed punches at Huffman, followed by Huffman hitting the ground.
“I go to my car, I pull out and pick up (Thomas) and take him out,” Jennings said. “I asked if he was OK, but I didn’t see any scratches on him.”
The trial will resume, after a spring break for area schools, on April 8, when jurors are anticipated to hear remaining testimony and closing arguments before receiving the case.
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