Kierin Dennis told a Lexington County jury Monday that he stabbed a Dutch Fork High School student to death after a basketball game because he was scared and was protecting himself.
“He was attacking me in my vehicle. I had to do what I did to defend myself. I wish there could have been another way,” Dennis testified on the trial’s sixth day at the county Judicial Center.
Dennis, now 21 but 18 years old when he stabbed Da’Von Capers, was among the last witnesses at a trial expected to go to jurors Tuesday for their decision after prosecutors and defense lawyer Todd Rutherford make closing statements.
Dennis is charged with murder and faces 30 years in prison if convicted.
In testimony, Dennis – speaking in somber tones – gave his fullest account about events at the Cook Out restaurant on Feb. 17, 2014, an hour after a hotly-fought high school basketball game between Dutch Fork and longtime rival Lexington. Dennis is a graduate of Lexington High.
“Everything just happened in kind of a blur,” Dennis told jurors.
Videos taken by the restaurant and a student showed the final confrontation between Dennis and a group of Dutch Fork students lasted 34 seconds.
While prosecutors portrayed Dennis and four Lexington High friends as the aggressors, his description of the same events depicted Dutch Fork students as bullying instigators.
As the tensions escalated after the game ended, Dennis and his vastly outnumbered friends were the ones who were trying to escape what became a howling, cursing pack of Dutch Fork students, he testified.
Just before the stabbing, several dozen were screaming foul names at him and challenging him to fight while they were standing outside his SUV as he was trying to leave the restaurant, Dennis testified.
“They told me to get out of the car, saying, ‘Fight me, he won’t fight,’” Dennis testified, spelling rather than saying several expletive and racist words he said the Dutch Fork students were hurling at him. He did not know any of the students, he said.
Suddenly, a youth he later learned was the 17-year-old Capers was at his window, sticking first his hand and then his head inside, Dennis testified.
Acting on reflex, Dennis then grabbed a knife in the front seat and pushed it toward Capers’ chest, Dennis testified.
“Mr. Capers was the one who came at me and tried to attack me,” Dennis testified. “I had no other option. I literally could not do anything else. It was him or me at the time. ... I didn’t know what he was about to do to me. So, to protect myself, that is when I stabbed him.”
In cross-examination, prosecutor Shawn Graham questioned Dennis about a series of actions:
▪ Initial failure to leave the restaurant.
▪ Fleeing after the stabbing.
▪ After going home, putting his clothes in the washing machine and burying the bloody knife in a neighbor’s yard.
▪ Telling police a different story at first about what he did.
“I was young,” Dennis replied, explaining fear kept him from telling the truth.
Graham shouted some questions at Dennis, eliciting from him that he had changed his shoes before going outside to bury the bloody knife.
“As you were burying the knife, you were concerned about your $200 shoes, correct?” Graham asked.
“I guess so,” replied Dennis.
Dennis’ portrayal of Dutch Fork students as being the attackers was supported Monday by two bystanders at the scene.
Zachary Lynch, a cook at Cook Out who was taking a smoke break, testified that he saw a group of yelling, cussing students at Dennis’ driver’s window, with one putting his hand inside.
“It looked to me like he had hold of Mr. Dennis’ shirt,” Lynch testified.
Others called by prosecutors testified last week that Capers did not reach inside.
Betty Bettini testified that she was in the restaurant’s take-out lane and saw Dennis’ SUV by a pack of swarming, yelling youths. “He could not leave,” she said. Bettini called 911 and reported “there was about 50 teenagers brawling.” Then she heard a voice she later learned was Dennis’ shouting that the youths should leave him alone. “He was yelling, they were yelling,” she said.
Capers died within minutes of being stabbed, paramedics have said.