Crime & Courts

Knife ‘kill shot’ caused Dutch Fork student’s death in high school fracas

Kierin Dennis looks towards his family during his trial in the stabbing death of Dutch Fork High School senior, Da'Von Capers.
Kierin Dennis looks towards his family during his trial in the stabbing death of Dutch Fork High School senior, Da'Von Capers.

The knife thrust that killed Dutch Fork High School student Da’Von Capers during a 2014 confrontation with a graduate from a rival high school was delivered with enough force to cause death within minutes, a veteran Lexington County paramedic testified Monday.

Benjamin Bullmer, the paramedic who helped transport a dying Capers to medical care, testified that the knife wound was one of the worst the paramedic had ever seen.

“It takes a lot of force to penetrate the human chest with a knife,” he told jurors Monday shortly after the murder trial of Kierin Dennis began.

A medic then with five years’ of experience, Bullmer testified he had seen dozens of stab wounds and this one – measuring only an inch across in the heart area – was bad.

“It was what we in the business call a kill shot,” he said.

Dennis, then an 18-year-old recent graduate of Lexington High School, is standing trial on charges of murder and using a weapon in the commission of a violent crime. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

On the night of Feb. 17, 2014, Dennis and Capers, who did not know each other, were thrown together in a deadly confrontation that took just seconds to play out in the parking lot of the Cook Out, a Lexington eatery that was a teen hangout. Capers was unarmed.

Fans from the two schools gathered at the restaurant after a hotly-contested basketball game that Dutch Fork won.

The stabbing happened as Dutch Fork fans gathered at the window of Dennis’s SUV as he sought to leave the restaurant parking lot, according to police reports.

Dennis acted out of fear when Capers got too close to him in an explosive situation, defense attorney Todd Rutherford told the jury

“How close is too close?” Rutherford asked, making it clear he intended to show Dennis was in terror as he was trying to leave what appeared to be a looming brawl.

“They were outnumbered. They felt threatened. They felt like they could not stay in a public place,” Rutherford said.

Capers and his friends had followed Dennis and his few friends outside the restaurant and had created a menacing atmosphere, with Dennis “enduring the hurling of insults and threats,” Rutherfold told the jury.

“Mr. Dennis was so afraid, so in fear of his life, so in fear of his friends’ lives, that he reacted,” Rutherfold said.

A different picture came from 11th Circuit assistant solicitor Rhonda Patterson as she told the jury that high school rivalries “can be fun, they can be intense, they can be lively. But one thing a high school rivalry should never be is deadly.”

Dennis felt “hostility” and “ill will” and “hatred towards students of a rival school,” she told the jury.

After putting him in an ambulance, Capers’ pulse stopped and medics decided not to take him to the trauma center at Palmetto Richland in Columbia, instead going to the closer Lexington Medical Center emergency room, Bullmer testified.

But it was too late. Five minutes after arriving at the hospital, “the doctor pronounced him dead,” the paramedic testified.

The game that Dennis’s school had just lost was the second time in two weeks that Lexington had been defeated by Dutch Fork, Patterson said.

Other information about the stabbing will come from former Dutch Fork High students, including videos shot on the scene by students, others from high school security cameras and digital records from Dennis’ cell phone. The knife used to kill Capers will be shown.

Capers was a honor roll student, played football at Dutch Fork and was liked and respected by classmates.

The night of the stabbing, Dutch Fork had come from behind to win by five points on Lexington’s home court. After the game, police made fans from the two schools leave by separate doors.

Although dozens of students from the rival schools began to congregate at the Cook Out, no police were on the scene.

The killing caused Lexington police to beef up security at places where students might congregate after high school games.