In a surprising courtroom turn, a woman who lived with Rodney Maurice Stanley testified yesterday that Stanley forced her to tell police that he acted in self-defense in a fight that ended with the death of Thomas Jefferson Harding.
Stanley is on trial in Howard County Circuit Court, charged in Harding's death. A jury was considering his fate last night.
The woman, Marcia Minor, was living with Stanley in Columbia at the time of Harding's death in August 2000.
In testimony yesterday, Stanley vehemently denied that he had threatened Minor and reiterated his assertion that he fought Harding only in self-defense.
But Minor said yesterday that Stanley, 46, who is charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, first-degree assault and second-degree assault, called her from jail to give her more details to add to her story.
"I was scared. He had just stabbed somebody ... so why wouldn't I be in fear of my life again?" she testified.
Authorities had been looking for Minor for several days, but she had avoided their subpoenas until about noon yesterday, when sheriff's deputies with a search warrant found her in an apartment in the 5300 block of Columbia Road.
In her testimony yesterday, Minor also said she smoked crack cocaine several hours before the fight.
Answering her testimony, Stanley said that he was merely defending himself from a drunken Harding.
"For no reason would I have wanted to hurt him in that way," he said.
Stanley, who was declared incompetent to stand trial by mental health evaluators twice before being found competent, testified that he had refused to rent a room to Harding in his home in 8800 block of Roll Right Court in Columbia and that Harding had been harassing him.
Harding approached Stanley and Minor as they left the apartment Aug. 17, 2000, and followed Stanley into his apartment, Stanley said. He added that Harding appeared to be drunk.
An assistant state medical examiner testified yesterday that Harding had a blood-alcohol level of 0.23 percent, nearly three times the legal driving limit.
"The way he came to me, I knew he was angry and upset," Stanley testified. "I knew something was going to happen [between us]," he said.
Stanley said that he was sitting at the kitchen table when he suddenly saw Harding stabbing at him with a kitchen knife.
Stanley told the court he caught Harding's wrist and the two struggled for about 20 seconds. He said that he did not have complete control of the knife until the last six seconds of the fight and that he did not remember stabbing Harding, even though Harding had eight stab wounds, some as much as 7 inches deep, and 11 less serious slash wounds.
"I don't see how it was that many, it happened so quick," Stanley said.
Stanley then said he called the police and that he never ordered Minor to lie on his behalf. He said that Minor was changing her story because she owed him about $3,500.
But Minor said that Stanley had told her to lie after the stabbing, before police arrived. She said that she was in the back room of the apartment while the two men were talking.
She came out when Stanley asked her to call 911, Minor testified. When she came out, she saw Harding in a pool of blood and then ran into the back room again, Minor testified.
"I was in shock," she said.
Minor then said Stanley told her to "say it was in self-defense, that [Harding] grabbed the knife first," she testified.
Although the investigation has been continuing for about two years, Minor said she did not think her early statements were important, she said. "All that mattered is I tell the truth in court, where it counts," she said.
She also said that Stanley would occasionally give her crack cocaine and that he appeared to be under the influence of drugs Aug. 17 because his eyes were bloodshot, he was walking unsteadily, and his speech was slurred.
Testimony in the case, being heard by Howard Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure, finished yesterday.