GREENFIELD — Minutes before he stabbed his childhood friend to death, Colby McKnelly told his girlfriend he wanted to kill Steven Rogers Jr., a witness testified Thursday.
Jessi Parsons-Freeman, the one person who saw the altercation that led to Rogers’ death two days before Christmas, told the court Thursday that McKnelly, who is on trial for murder, said he was going to kill Rogers, 26, of Indianapolis. Then, she said, he made a slashing motion across his throat.
McKnelly, 27, of Greenfield, is also charged with battery, related to the allegation he stabbed Parsons-Freeman, his girlfriend at the time, in the arm during an argument in the hours before Rogers died.
McKnelly waived his right to a jury, so the case is being heard by Judge Richard Culver in Hancock Circuit Court. Thursday marked the third day of testimony. The state rested its case. McKnelly is expected to take the stand today.
The state’s case hinges on Parsons-Freeman’s testimony, and a significant number of spectators gathered in the courtroom to hear her speak. She traveled to Hancock County to testify Thursday from Rockville Correctional Facility, where she is serving time for burglary and theft.
Parsons-Freeman avoided looking at the defendant, even when she was asked to point him out, throughout her testimony.
Her voice cracked as she talked about watching McKnelly stab Rogers in the chest.
McKnelly was acting upset, and Rogers had just leaned in to give him a hug, Parsons-Freeman said. McKnelly then stabbed him.
“He said, ‘I’m your friend. Why’d you stab me in my heart?’” she testified.
Parsons-Freeman said the two began to “tussle,” and Rogers grabbed a knife as well. She guessed it came from on top of a bedroom dresser.
The fight moved into the living room, and Rogers lay down on the floor. He asked McKnelly for a glass of water, and McKnelly brought him one, Parsons-Freeman said.
But when Rogers reached for his cellphone, McKnelly struck him with a flashlight, she said. The doctor who performed Rogers’ autopsy testified earlier this week that Rogers suffered 54 stab wounds and blunt-force trauma to the head.
After the altercation, Parsons-Freeman drove McKnelly, who also had stab wounds, to his mother’s home.
She testified that on the way there, McKnelly asked her to lie for him.
“He asked me not to tell his mom what happened, … to say it was self-defense,” she said. “I told him, ‘OK.’”
Parsons-Freeman said she drove 90 mph to McKnelly’s mother’s house on Weber Road.
She testified that as soon as McKnelly walked in the door and around a corner, she took off out the front door. She fled to her father’s house and told him to call 911, she said.
The state played a recording of that call for the court.
“There’s been a shooting, killing or something,” John Parsons tells the dispatcher. “You better get there. I believe someone might be dying or dead.”
In the background of the call, a hysterical Parsons-Freeman can be heard saying McKnelly stabbed Rogers “all over.”
“Colby stabbed him, and the dude was defending himself – that’s what my daughter said,” her father relays to the dispatcher.
During cross-examination, John Tompkins, McKnelly’s defense attorney, accused Parsons-Freeman of changing her story. Tompkins interviewed Parsons-Freeman in February in preparation for trial and read from a transcript of her testimony from that day.
“You … don’t say anything at all in here about hearing Colby threaten to kill Steve,” he said. “You just said it today.
“Completely different story that day than today. So you’re picking and choosing what you’re telling about, today in trial?”
Tompkins pointed to a variety of minor inconsistencies between Parsons-Freeman’s interview and her testimony Thursday, suggesting she either lied or gave incomplete statements to the defense.
Parsons-Freeman could not provide an explanation, saying only that she might have been in a hurry when Tompkins was interviewing her.
Parsons-Freeman also testified Thursday in support of the battery charge against her ex-boyfriend. She told the court she and McKnelly got into several physical altercations that night and early morning. Around 12:30 a.m., she sent a text message to a friend, asking her to call 911. McKnelly had just punched her in the face, she said. Around 4:30 a.m., the pair got into an argument again, this time in the street outside McKnelly’s home in the first block of Broadway Street. McKnelly sliced Parsons-Freeman’s arm with a knife, telling her if she didn’t go inside, he would kill her, she said.
Rogers died of stab wounds shortly after 7 a.m.
Court was scheduled to reconvene at 8:30 a.m. today.