Jury members, the media and visitors inched forward in their seats to get an unobstructed view of three large television sets inside the cinder-blocked walled prison courtroom.
They were about to witness four minutes of death.In perhaps the most revealing testimony of convicted killer Troy Michael Kell's capital murder trial, a videotape took center stage Friday afternoon. There were five other witnesses who also testified in the first day of the trial, which is expected to go for three weeks.
Kell is serving two consecutive life sentences, without the possibility of parole, at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Sanpete County for a 1986 Nevada murder.
The videotape was presented by prosecutors and shows Kell - now accused of aggravated murder, a capital offense - stabbing fellow Utah inmate Lonnie Blackmon to death on July 6, 1994, inside the Gunnison facility's high-level security cell block. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Kell's attorneys didn't deny the slaying took place, and stated Kell killed Blackmon before Blackmon, an alleged Crips gang member, could "make good on a death threat" he issued to Kell earlier.
"Was it a murder, or manslaughter? Kell's not asking if the killing took place; he's asking why he killed Blackmon. That's for you to decide," defense attorney Stephen McCaughey told the jury. "Kell believed Blackmon would kill him, and Kell thought (Blackmon) would go on with that threat, and (Kell) killed him."
Most of the 12 jurors and two alternates appeared unmoved as they were shown the extremely graphic and unsettling recording of Kell "methodically and systematically" stabbing Blackmon 67 times.
One female juror held her hand over her mouth as she watched the slaying. Kell, 29, sitting next to his attorneys, kept his head lowered during the entire presentation.
The four minutes of footage recorded by a closed-circuit camera inside a nearby control room begin with Kell repeatedly striking Blackmon in the head with the shank. Blackmon had retreated to a shower area after first being "sucker-punched" from behind by Kell with a closed fist.
Kell continues to repeatedly stab Blackmon and, after stopping once, he wipes his forehead and leaves, but notices Blackmon's legs moving and resumes the attack. The grisly scene ends as Kell retreats from the body, his hands covered with blood, as he grabs a towel and tries to wipe the red stains away. He then yells what sounds like "Whoa!" and walks around the cell section's floor.
Assistant Attorney General Scott Reed said Blackmon pleaded for his life during the slaying. "Troy, stop! I give up! You win, Troy, you're killing me!" Reed said in his opening statement.
Sgt. Richard Whimpey, the floor officer at the time, can be heard in the background yelling for backup, after quickly escorting two civilians who were inside the section out of the area and leaving himself, waiting for reinforcement to arrive.
"We need SWAT in full gear in Cedar 3, now!" Whimpey says. "Rack in everybody! We need medical help in Cedar! Medical help immediately in Cedar!"
Another inmate, Eric Thomas Daniels, apparently holds down the victim's feet. He is also charged with aggravated murder. Daniels' trial begins next month.
Less than four minutes later, tactical officers arrive, don protective gear and enter the section, securing the scene.
Inmate Paul Richard Payne, who moved toward one of the showers, held Blackmon by the throat, choking him until he fell to the floor, witness Matthew Kurtz testified. Kurtz was a volunteer religion instructor teaching a Bible class to an inmate at the time of the incident.
Prosecutors said Kell was able to obtain a shank - a type of make-shift knife with a metal blade - and a key to unlock his handcuffs to assist in a premeditated, racially-motivated attack on Blackmon.
Regarding race, prosecutors called Sgt. Allen Taylor, a member of the responding SWAT team, to the stand. Taylor testified that Kell initiated conversation with him while being held in a medical facility just after the attack.
"(Kell) said, `I hate monkeys with big mouths. I hate it when they talk about our women. I hate the way they talk about our race. If everyone would take one out once in a while, it would help out a lot,' " Taylor said.
X-rays of Kell's stomach revealed a handcuff key, and three days later Kell passed the key, which along with the murder weapon was presented before 6th District Judge David L. Mower as evidence.
In the end, medical personnel at the scene determined Blackmon bled to death.
The trial resumes Monday at 1 p.m.