“You lied to police,” prosecutor Rick Hubbard told 19-year-old accused killer Kieran Dennis on Tuesday in a Lexington County courtroom.
“Not deliberately. I was scared, and embarrassed and ashamed,” Dennis replied. “I didn’t know what could happen. That’s why I did that. That was the worst night of my life.”
Hubbard snapped: “That’s one thing we can agree on – that when you are scared, scared for yourself, you are willing to lie to protect yourself.”
Dennis repeated: “I didn’t deliberately lie. I was embarrassed to confess with my mom being there. ... That’s why I told them (police) I didn’t know what happened.”
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That exchange, which came during a two-hour stint that Dennis spent on the witness stand, was part of a Stand Your Ground hearing. The non-jury proceeding will continue playing out Wednesday morning at Lexington County’s Westbrook Judicial Center before Judge Thomas Russo.
Dennis’s lawyer, Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, is presenting witnesses to try to convince Russo that at the time Dennis stabbed Da’Von Capers, 17, to death in the parking lot of a Lexington eatery Feb. 17 after a high school basketball game, Dennis feared for his life.
At the time, Capers was standing at the half-open driver’s side window of Dennis’ Ford Explorer, and Dennis was behind the wheel. Capers was a student at Dutch Fork High, and Dennis was a recent graduate of rival Lexington High School. A boisterous crowd of Dutch Fork students was near Dennis’ SUV, according to cellphone videos of the incident.
Capers died of a wound to his liver and heart shortly after being stabbed. The killing of one high school student by a graduate of a rival high school attracted statewide attention.
A 2006 state “Stand Your Ground” law allows a person who fears for his life to defend himself with deadly force if necessary, if he is in a place where he has a right to be, including a vehicle.
Rutherford, one of the authors of that law, has said that Dennis is the victim in this case and is portraying Dennis’ original falsehoods to police as the misguided but understandable reaction of a fearful youth.
If Judge Russo rules in favor of Dennis after this week’s hearing, Dennis will be granted immunity from any criminal prosecution and won’t have to go to trial. However, if Russo rules against Dennis, he likely will stand trial for murder next year. And he’ll likely be allowed to claim self-defense during the trial.
The stabbing took place in the Cook-Out restaurant parking lot, a Lexington teen hangout, following a high school basketball game between Dutch Fork High, where Capers went to school, and Lexington High, Dennis was graduated from in 2013.
Tensions ran so high that night that Taser-equipped police were on hand to keep students from the two schools separate from one another after the game at Lexington High’s gymnasium and to be sue the high school parking lot emptied out.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Dennis denied challenging Dutch Fork students to come to the Cook-Out while he was in the Lexington High parking lot after the game.
But Hubbard – of the 11th Circuit Solicitor’s Office – presented Dutch Fork High witnesses Tuesday afternoon who testified Dennis had told them in the parking lot: “Meet us at the Cook-Out. We got something for you.”
After stabbing Capers, who fell back and to the ground amid a crowd of Dutch Fork students, Dennis fled the scene in his Ford Explorer and went to his home. There, Dennis buried two knives that were in his car, washed his clothes and prepared to go to bed.
About that time, Lexington police knocked on his door and asked him about the Capers stabbing. In that initial interview, with his mother present, Dennis denied any involvement.
In a later interview with police, after retaining Rutherford, Dennis admitted lashing out at Capers with a knife he had in his car and lying to police about what he had done. The stabbing was not something he planned, and he reacted instinctively out of fear when Capers was trying to reach into his car, Dennis said.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Hubbard also questioned Dennis about the possibility of someone being with Dennis when he buried two knives – one the bloody death weapon, the other a long, saw-toothed black Eradicator model knife – in his backyard.
“No one helped you – no one else did anything to assist you in getting rid of evidence?” asked Hubbard, saying that footprints in the dirt indicated two people were there at the time the hole was dug.
“No one helped me,” Dennis said.
Hubbard also asked Dennis about sex videos found on his cellphone. The videos showed Dennis having sex with a 14-year-old girl; a cousin of Dennis’ having sex with a blindfolded girl; and nude photos of women as well as men, Hubbard said.
Judge Russo allowed Hubbard to quiz Dennis on the photos over the strenuous objections of Rutherford, who argued what was on Dennis’ cellphone was not relevant to the death of Capers.
Russo ruled that since Rutherford had put up witnesses who testified about Dennis’ good character, Hubbard was allowed to question Dennis about matters that raised questions about his character.
The hearing continues Wednesday. Hubbard is expected to put up more witnesses who will portray Dennis as being at fault and trying to cover up his crime. Both Hubbard and Rutherford are then expected to make oral arguments to Russo.