ZOELLNER HEARING COVERAGE:
- DAY 1: First Witnesses Cast Doubt on Whether the Police Department’s Suspect Could Have Stabbed Victim; More Testimony Coming Tomorrow
- DAY 2: Witness Testifies That Lawson and Zoellner Were Grappling as the Victim Bled; Police Officer Describes Chaotic Crime Scene
- DAY 3: Friends Testify on ‘Girl Fight’ Between Lawson and Zoellner’s Girlfriends Prior to Fatal Stabbing
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Murder suspect Kyle Zoellner told police he’d rather take a beating than stab someone, an Arcata police detective testified today.
“He said he felt the conflict could be resolved with words,” Detective Sgt. Todd Dokweiler testified during the fourth day of Zoellner’s preliminary hearing. “And if it couldn’t somebody was doing something wrong.”
Dokweiler, under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Roger Rees, said Zoellner also told him he didn’t own any knives. But during a search of his McKinleyville apartment, a bag was found containing two professional cooking knives. There was an empty slot where a third knife should have been.
Under cross-examination by Deputy Public Defender Luke Brownfield, who had a transcript of the recorded interview, the detective acknowledged that what he had actually asked Zoellner was whether he owned a pocket knife or a clip knife, rather than “any knives.”
Dokweiler said Zoellner told him he was punched and knocked to the ground, and after that the next thing he remembers clearly is being led to a police car.
Zoellner, 23, is accused of stabbing 19-year-old David Josiah Lawson to death at a house party April 15 in Arcata. Lawson died after being stabbed twice on his left side. According to testimony today, the cause of death was a stab wound to his chest.
Zoellner had gone to the party on Spear Avenue to pick up his girlfriend Lila Ortega, who at some point during the event had realized her new cellphone was missing. He planned to go into the party and ask whether anyone had seen the phone.
Zoellner told Dokweiler he remembers seeing two men on the front porch who appeared to be leaving the party. They became angry when asked about the phone. Then a third man came out and immediately punched him and knocked him against a car or onto the ground. He didn’t seem clear on that. But he said he didn’t remember much of anything after that attack.
According to earlier testimony there were four people on the porch, and Ortega insulted them by saying she didn’t believe they didn’t have her phone and insisting they turn out their pockets. Lawson reportedly was the man who first punched Zoellner.
Zoellner was a chef at a catering company and had a bag containing his knives. Arcata police Officer Devon Nilsen testified today that he took the bag to the catering company and showed it to Zoellner’s boss. The man said he recognized the bag as belonging to Zoellner, and said the empty slot in the bag should have contained a paring knife.
The knife found at the crime scene was much larger than a paring knife. According to testimony it was 10 inches long with a 6-inch blade. It also was a different brand than the other knives in Zoellner’s bag.
Shown a picture of the weapon found at the scene, Zoellner’s boss told Nilsen he had no knives like that at his business. He said he had purchased the majority of the knives used there.
During testimony earlier in the week, witness Jason Martinez said he saw someone making “jabbing motions” toward Lawson. He said he couldn’t identify that person. Prosecutor Rees challenged Martinez, saying that during a police interview he had named Zoellner.
But today APD Detective Eric Losey, who interviewed Martinez, admitted to Rees that he was mistaken when he wrote in his report that Martinez had identified Zoellner.
The knife found at the murder scene contained one fingerprint that was not Zoellner’s. There also were fibers on the weapon that did not match fibers from Zoellner’s clothing. Dokweiler testified, however, that only Zoellner’s sweatshirt has been tested, and other items of clothing are being analyzed.
According to police testimony Zoellner had blood in his knee area and spattered on his sweatshirt. It hasn’t been said whether that blood belonged to anyone other than him. He reportedly was bleeding from his eye socket, nose and mouth. Several people have claimed he was attacked by a group of men, though other witnesses dispute that.
Today Lawson’s friend Elijah Chandler testified that shortly after the stabbing, he saw Zoellner drop something shiny on the ground.
Chandler, one of an estimated 100 people who attended the house party where the stabbing occurred, said he had just walked from the back yard to the front yard when he saw Paris Wright standing near a tree with “this man,” pointing to Zoellner in the courtroom.
“I heard ‘He stabbed him!’” Chandler said, though he didn’t know then who had been stabbed. He said Zoellner was trying to move away from Wright, “and I noticed something in his right hand. I don’t know what it was. At that moment Paris knocked him to the ground.”
Chandler said Zoellner dropped something that reflected in the light.
He said Wright then told him it was Lawson who had been stabbed, and he ran to find his wounded friend and began administering CPR.
Chandler is the first person to say there was something in Zoellner’s hand. Wright, the person fighting with Zoellner, testified he saw nothing.
Chandler also was the first witness to openly display animosity toward the defense as he was being cross-examined.
Chandler said police arrived at the scene within minutes, but no one helped him with Lawson because they were more concerned with controlling the crowd. He believed he administered CPR for 15 minutes before he got any aid.
Deputy Public Defender Kelly Neel asked Chandler whether he feels frustrated.
“I’m not frustrated,” he said.
“What word would you use?”
“I don’t have it yet. I feel like people don’t care. I feel like you don’t care.”
Neel asked whether what Zoellner dropped might have been keys. His keys and cellphone were found on the ground later.
“Keys make noise when they fall,” Chandler said.
While he was trying to save his wounded friend, Chandler heard a woman say more than once “I really hope that nigger does die.”
Asked why he only told police that he heard someone say “I hope he dies,” Chandler said he didn’t think it was relevant at the time and didn’t know whether to trust the police. He said he was unsure which side they were on.
Chandler’s statements about how police behaved at the scene have been disputed by Arcata police officers, including Officer Jacob McKenzie, who testified today. McKenzie said he arrived within minutes of being dispatched and immediately began applying pressure to Lawson’s bleeding wounds. Chandler says police only did that after he “instructed” them to do so.
According to McKenzie and the officer who was with him, as they were trying to help Lawson they were surrounded by an increasingly hostile crowd screaming obscenities and telling them they didn’t know what they were doing.
The party-goers were apparently agitated because no ambulance had arrived. It was up to 15 minutes before it finally showed up.
McKenzie was the officer who picked up the knife found under a car outside the party house. He said he couldn’t recall whether he was wearing gloves when he handled the weapon. But later he was shown a photo of him holding the knife, and he affirmed he was wearing gloves.
Testimony is expected to continue Friday, the fifth day of the preliminary hearing, before Judge Dale Reinholtsen. It will be Reinholtsen who makes the decision on whether enough evidence has been presented to warrant a trial.
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