Two competing narratives clashed Thursday during the ongoing murder trial of a Lexington High School graduate accused of murder in the fatal stabbing of a rival Dutch Fork High student after a 2014 basketball game.
On one hand, prosecutors put up five youthful witnesses, all recent Dutch Fork graduates, who testified the defendant, Kierin Dennis, now 21, not only endangered Dutch Fork student lives by almost recklessly running them over but also, without justification, shoved a knife into the heart of their friend, Da’Von Capers.
Capers, then a 17-year-old Dutch Fork senior, died within minutes after being stabbed in the parking lot of the Lexington Cook Out eatery after a 2014 Dutch Fork-Lexington High School basketball game. The two schools are fierce rivals.
Capers was one of a half-dozen Dutch Fork students who were clustered at the driver’s window of Dennis’ SUV, berating him for speeding up his SUV toward them, almost striking some.
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Under questioning by prosecutors Shawn Graham and Rhonda Patterson, the former Dutch Fork students acknowledged they were raising their voices and even cussing at Dennis. But they insisted they took no physical action such as striking Dennis’ SUV or reaching inside his vehicle.
During cross-examination by Dennis’s defense attorney, Todd Rutherford, however, a counternarrative of the events emerged. This one showed Capers taking an especially aggressive role as the students stood outside Dennis’ SUV, loudly tongue-lashing him for dangerous driving.
In the midst of the confrontation, Capers, a football player, had pushed his way to the front of the students clustered around Dennis’ driver’s window.
“He (Capers) was, like, ‘What are you doing?’ Get out of the car if you want to hit people,’” testified Capers’ friend, Tyrek “Telo” Farrow, now 19, who is now a marketing student at Midlands Technical College.
Rutherford also asked the former students, sometimes in disbelieving tones, if they were sure Capers hadn’t reached inside Dennis’ SUV. All denied any physical provocation by the dead student.
Whether the jury believes that Capers invaded Dennis’ space inside his SUV is a crucial point. Dennis is expected to testify later in the trial and tell the jury he only grabbed a knife he had handy because he felt his life was in danger. The jury can acquit Dennis if it believes he was acting in self defense.
Prosecutors are sure to stress, however, that Dennis could have easily left. Was there anything in front of Dennis’ SUV that would have prevented him from just driving away?
“No,” answered Farrow.
Late Thursday, prosecutors played a video of a confession that Dennis gave to Lexington police Feb. 20, 2014, three days after the stabbing. By that time, Dennis had been arrested and charged with murder. Dennis had talked to police the night of the incident and, while admitting he was at the Cook Out, denied killing Capers.
In video of that second interview, Dennis admits to Lexington police Sgt. Brent Carter that, yes, he did grab a knife and shove it at Capers’ chest. But at the time, Capers was leaning in his driver’s side window and that frightened him, Dennis said.
“I was scared,” Dennis told Carter. “He reached in with his arm and I didn’t know whether he was going to grab my steering wheel. ... I just thought they was all going to attack me.
During that interview, Dennis also admitted burying the knife used to kill Capers. Police have since retrieved it, and it will be shown to the jury, perhaps as early as Friday. Rutherford has described it as a fishing knife, serrated on one side, with a blunter edge on the other.
In other evidence Thursday:
▪ Pathologist Dr. Janice Ross testified that from the direction of the stab wound in Capers’ chest, the scenario advanced by Rutherford – that Capers was inside the SUV when Dennis stabbed him – did not seem plausible. But in his questions on cross-examination, Rutherford raised alternative explanations of why the wound turned out the way it did.
The wound started near Capers’ heart, traveled down through diaphram, liver and “nicked the stomach,” Ross testified. Capers’ blood also tested positive for marijuana, she told the jury under Rutherford’s questioning.
▪ Prosecutors several times got witnesses to say that Dennis, whose clean-cut looks now include a new suit and short hair, was sporting dreadlocks in 2014 and looked quite different now.
▪ Videos and testimony about out-of-control anger between some Dutch Fork and Lexington students was part of the dynamic surrounding the fatal stabbing. Two weeks before Feb. 17, 2014, Lexington High had been defeated by Dutch Fork High at Dutch Fork. At that game, some Lexington fans had thrown money at the winning Dutch Fork basketball players after the game, and potential fights between students had been defused.
In fact, tensions ran so high that administrators beefed up security at the Feb. 17 game between the two schools, also won by Dutch Fork.
Despite widespread knowledge that there could be violence between students, no police or school officials or apparently even parents were at the Cook Out the night of the killing.