Posted: Jan. 15, 2014 4:46 pm Updated: Jan. 29, 2014 5:15 pm
By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
RUSHVILLE, Ill. -- Jared Staake said he was "scared for my life" on the night he stabbed a carnival worker last July at the Schuyler County Fair.
Staake recreated the events that led to the stabbing during testimony Wednesday morning at the Schuyler County Courthouse.
After mimicking the stabbing move that he made toward carnival worker Michael Box, Staake said, "Honestly, I didn't know what to do. I was trying to stop him, that's all I was trying to do."
Staake, accused of first-degree murder in Box's death, was on the stand for a little more than an hour. Part of that testimony had Staake and David Harris, one of three lawyers representing him, recreating what happened during the late night and early morning hours of July 1 and July 2 at the Schuyler County Fairgrounds. Harris showed the 14-person jury, made up of 10 men and four women, how Box threw a punch at Staake.
Staake showed the court how he reacted to the punch. He testified that Box came after him again after throwing the first punch, which conflicted with what two eyewitnesses to the crime testified to on Tuesday. Staake said he had no other option but to pull out a Gerber folding knife. He showed how he flicked his wrist to expose the three-inch blade that he plunged into the left side of Box's body.
Box was found dead in his trailer two days later after suffering septic shock because of a stab wound to his abdomen.
Staake was the only person to take the stand during Wednesday's third day of the trial. Judge Alesia McMillen sent the jury home early, instructing them to come back at 9 a.m. Thursday to hear closing arguments. The jury should have the case in its hands by Thursday afternoon.
If Staake is convicted of first-degree murder, he could spend the rest of his life in jail.
Staake began his testimony by telling Harris that he first met Box, a 33-year-old man from Dyersburg, Tenn., in December 2012. Staake is friends with Shawn Fox, whose family operates an amusement company that works county fairs and other events. Staake said Box was living with the Fox family and working as a hired hand at the time.
Staake said he and Box were among a group of people who went to a Beardstown bar in January 2013. Staake told a story of how Box allegedly "sucker punched" another person in the beer garden of the establishment.
"I was stunned," Staake said of witnessing the alleged incident. "I wasn't expecting that to happen."
Staake said he thought about that event when Box confronted him that night at the fairgrounds. Staake admitted being at the fairgrounds on July 1. He said he was hanging out with a group that included Box and Casey Slusser, another carnival employee. Staake said he watched as the group played beer pong, and he said Slusser invited him into her trailer at the end of the night.
Staake said he took off his shoes and pants and got on top of Slusser's bed with her. He said they kissed once before Box started to yell at the couple.
Staake said that Box yelled to Slusser, "I'm telling Mikey."
Slusser had testified on Tuesday that Box was a friend of her then-boyfriend, and Box was supposed to be her protector when she was on the road.
"She yelled back, ‘I don't care,' " Staake said.
Staake said Box began to bang on the trailer that he and Slusser were in.
"I thought, ‘I'm not putting up with this. I'm leaving,' " Staake said.
Staake said he didn't see Box coming when Box hit him.
"I was seeing stars when I first got hit," Staake said.
Staake said he advised Box to get his stab wound looked at and said he walked to a friend's house near the fairgrounds. Slusser and Brandon Hodge, another fair employee, on Tuesday testified that Staake ran from the scene.
During cross examination by special prosecutor Edwin Parkinson, Staake said that about eight and 10 seconds elapsed from the time he was punched by Box to the time it took him to stab Box.
"I don't believe the man should have died, no," Staake told Parkinson.
Mark Wykoff, also part of Staake's legal team, asked McMillen for a directed verdict, saying the prosecution had failed to meet its burden of proof. He entered the same motion Tuesday after the prosecution rested its case. Just like she did on Tuesday, McMillen denied the motion.
For the second straight day, Staake wore a turtleneck shirt. He was dressed in all black on Wednesday. When asked by a family member how he was keeping up after testifying, he shook his hands and said, "So-so."
Staake has been lodged in the Schuyler County Jail on $500,000 bond since his arrest on July 5.
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as Don O'Brien continues coverage of the trial.