Troy Michael Kell said from the witness stand Wednesday he was the victim of a race-motivated conspiracy before he stabbed a fellow inmate to death two years ago.
Kell, 30, is accused of killing Lonnie Blackmon at the Central Utah Correctional Facility. He said Wednesday from the stand that Blackmon "wanted to make an example of me for some reason or another."Kell said Blackmon, who is black, campaigned with other black prisoners to take over the tier he was housed in. "He felt it was necessary to make an example of me. I told him, `You want to get wet, we'll get wet.' He said, `Yeah, let's get wet.' That meant he was going to make me bleed and make a move on me," Kell said.
The handcuffed Blackmon was attacked within seconds of being released from his cell for a doctor's visit on July 6, 1994.
Witnesses testified Kell straddled the man and "systematically" jabbed him with a dull, 3-inch-long shank. An autopsy revealed 67 separate wounds to his upper body. More than 50 were concentrated around the man's eyes and neck - all delivered in no less than a minute and a half.
State medical examiner Maureen Frikke testified Blackmon bled to death from jabs which perforated his jugular vein and severed the carotid artery. Other wounds across Blackmon's nose opened the skin to the bone and one stab punctured his left eye, draining it of fluid.
"Most of the injuries were not lethal and a reasonable person knows that," Frikke testified Tuesday, noting Blackmon was conscious throughout the stabbing and therefore endured "intense" pain.
"Our face is our primary means of interacting with our environment. It is far more sensitive to pain and touch than any other part of our body, except our fingertips."
If Blackmon had survived, he probably would have been blind and permanently disfigured, Frikke testified. His face also would have been extremely sensitive to touch or pressure.
Prosecutors hope the graphic testimony and the video convinces the jury to not only convict Kell of capital murder but also to sentence him to death. Under Utah law, the 12-member panel must unanimously agree to the existence of at least one aggravating circumstance before they can find a person guilty of a capital offense.
Four such circumstances exist in Kell's case, according to the state. Primary among them is that the alleged crime was carried out in a heinous, atrocious or exceptionally-depraved manner.
Prosecutors are expected to emphasize in closing arguments Thursday that the 26 facial and eye wounds are sure evidence of such heinousness.
Defense attorney Stephen McCaughey spent little time trying to break down the medical examiner's grisly testimony. His line of questioning instead seemed intended to highlight Blackmon's imposing frame, which was 6 feet 1 inch tall and 235 pounds.
McCaughey argued when the trial began last week that Blackmon had repeatedly threatened Kell, a Caucasian. Four current inmates testified Tuesday they in fact heard Blackmon threaten Kell several times and that Blackmon alone was responsible for heightening racial tensions in the cell block.
"It (the threats) went on from the time Blackmon got up to the time he went to bed . . . yelling across the block," said Gunnison inmate James Madsen, who was housed in the block for theft and burglary.
Each of the four also testified Blackmon was known as a troublemaker and a gang member. Two of the inmates said from the stand that Blackmon tried to recruit them in an uprising against white inmates.
"He told me he was a Crip (gang member) and that sooner or later the blue (gang color) flag would rise above the white nation," testified inmate Edguardo Mendoza.
Blackmon was wearing a blue bandana on the day he died - a sign he was ready to "put in some work," Mendoza said. "That means he was ready to do something for his cause."
The jury, composed of seven men and five women, are expected to begin deliberations Friday morning. If they convict Kell as charged, they would then sit through a week-long penalty phase to decide what sentence should be imposed.
Defendants convicted of capital murder can be sentenced to death, life in prison without the possibility of parole or life with parole.