NEW ORLEANS -- Despite several eyewitnesses ready to testify and security camera videos from multiple angles, two very different pictures of a bloody French Quarter confrontation emerged on opening day of the second-degree murder trial of Melvin Clay.
Clay doesn't deny he stabbed Marine Sgt. Ryan Lekosky seven times on Halloween night 2010, but defense attorney John Thomas told the jury he will show that Clay was defending himself from Lekosky and Lekosky’s wife when he lashed out.
“Melvin Clay became trapped in a life-or-death struggle on Halloween in the French Quarter,” Thomas said in his opening statement. “Melvin Clay is being attacked by two people.”
On the other side of the courtroom, prosecutors Jeff Hufft and John Alford contend that Clay was the aggressor, escalating a verbal confrontation by getting out of his car, pushing Kristin Lekosky to the ground, then using a knife when the 23-year-old Marine stepped into defend her.
“The defendant took a knife and used seven short jabbing motions,” Hufft said in his opening statement, violently thrusting his arm seven times to recreate the killing as he spoke. “One of them was the final blow for Sgt. Lakosky.”
The jury was shown snippets of surveillance video from several vantage points, each capturing a different perspective on the 3:30 a.m. attack at the corner of Dauphine and Iberville streets.
Some elements of the confrontation were undisputed: the Lakoskys were walking on the sidewalk when a rented Toyota Sequoia SUV passes them slowly in traffic. Kristin Lakosky and the driver of the SUV, Melvin Clay, exchange words.
But that’s where the stories diverge. And diverge dramatically.
Prosecutors say Clay escalated the fight by getting out of his vehicle and pushing Kristen Lakosky to the ground. When Ryan, in full dress uniform, steps in to defend his wife, Clay pulls a knife and begins thrusting into Lakosky at close quarters. Most of the Lakosky’s wounds were to his chest, but one was to his face; another to his back.
The Iraqi war veteran fell to the sidewalk bleeding, then died in the hospital a couple of hours later.
But Clay’s attorney said it was Lakosky’s wife who was the aggressor. She’s the one who approaches Clay’s car. She’s the one who lunged into Clay’s open car window. And ultimately, Thomas said, she’s the one who grabbed a knife from the floorboard of the car, forcing Clay to grab it from her and defend himself.
The trial before Judge Ben Willard will continue Thursday, with testimony expected from several eyewitness and Clay’s girlfriend, Helaina Amrine, who earlier pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and accessory after the fact for destroying the knife and burning Clay’s clothes.