Lexington High School graduate Kierin Dennis buried the knife he used to kill Dutch Fork High senior Da’Von Capers in a neighbor’s yard.
That was some of the key testimony on Friday in Dennis’ ongoing murder trial Friday at the Lexington County courthouse. The courthouse was one of the few Midlands government offices open as Hurricane Matthew bore down on South Carolina, forcing mass evacuations and closings across much of the state.
As the trial moved into its fifth day, Lexington police department investigator Marc Miramontes took the stand. He said that about a week after the Feb. 17, 2014, fatal stabbing of Capers, 17, at a Lexington eatery after a high school basketball between rivals Dutch Fork High School and Lexington High, he learned that the death weapon was buried behind Capers’ house.
The ground where the knife had been buried “looked disturbed, and it looked like somebody had stepped on it,” Miramontes told the jury.
Later, SLED agent Maryann Boehm testified that of the two knives found in the box that Miramontes had dug up, one of them had DNA on its blade that matched the DNA taken from Capers’ body the night that he died.
The odds the DNA on the knife blade belonged to anyone other than Capers were “one in 1.6 quintillion,” said Boehm, a DNA and blood expert.
Dennis, now 21 but 18 at the time of the killing, is charged with murder and possession of a deadly weapon in the commission of a violent crime. Murder carries a penalty of 30 years to life in prison, but there is a possibility the jury could be allowed to consider manslaughter, which carries a lesser prison sentence.
Earlier Friday, defense attorney Todd Rutherford tried but failed to get Judge Eugene Griffith to keep evidence of the details of police digging up the knife from the jury.
It’s enough that the jury knows – according to testimony earlier in the week – that Dennis hid the knife and eventually told police where to find it, Rutherford argued. The judge disagreed, letting testimony about the digging up of the knife go before the jury.
With Hurricane Matthew approaching, and the likelihood that Lexington County sheriff’s deputies would be needed for emergency duty, and jurors having told Judge Griffith they wanted to watch Friday night’s televised Clemson football game, Griffith adjourned court until 9 a.m. Monday.
During the trial, eight to 10 deputies have been stationed in and outside the courtroom. Two plainclothes officers who look like anything but police officers are also in the courtroom. Almost every day, some 30 to 40 members of Capers’ family and their friends have sat on the prosecution’s side of the courtroom. Across the aisle sits some 10 family members and supporters of Dennis.
The two youths did not know one another.
Friday’s testimony was marked by Judge Griffith, known for his plain speech, scolding both attorneys for wasting time by going into minute detail that would not make a difference to the trial’s outcome.
“You all are both really beating this jury down,” Griffith told prosecutor Shawn Graham and Rutherford with the jury out of the room.
But then Griffith, having given his warning, added, “I’m going to let you do it. But you are killing the jury.”
Graham, who was questioning a prosecution witness about Dennis’s cell phone records at the time, apparently got the message. Within minutes, he sat down.
On Friday, prosecutors rested their case.
Rutherford then put up two witnesses who were with Dennis at the time Capers was killed.
Morgan Zander and her older brother Will, both students at Lexington High School in 2014, told the jury that Dutch Fork students had created a riotous atmosphere in the Cook Out restaurant’s parking lot in Lexington, where the stabbing took place. When Dennis tried to leave, they clustered around his SUV, spewing insults and threats, they told the jury.
Earlier last week, a half-dozen Dutch Fork students testified that Dennis tried to run some of them over and they were at the side of his car not to do him harm but to let him know they were angry at his reckless driving.
Capers, who was standing outside Dennis’ SUV, was unarmed when he was struck in the heart by Dennis’s knife, which Dennis told police he kept in his SUV. There is conflicting testimony on whether he had his hands inside the SUV when Dennis stabbed him, then gunned his vehicle and sped off.
On Monday, Dennis is expected to take the witness stand.