One of two men accused in the New Year’s 2014 stabbing death of Michael Hogg in a parking lot in Whitesburg took the witness stand in his own defense Tuesday, testifying that he was “scared to death,” and “running for my life” before the altercation.
But the testimony of James R. Huffman IV was cut short during cross-examination after he testified that he had never used a knife as a weapon.
“I’ve never used a knife as a weapon. I’ve never thought of a knife as a weapon,” Huffman said, saying instead a knife is a “tool” for fishing or camping.
“You said you have never used a knife as a weapon?” Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison Banks asked.
“I’ve never had to. No,” Huffman testified
“Do you recall an incident in December 2013, around December the third, in Pike County where the police came out because you had knives and such?” Banks asked.
Defense attorney Robert Wright stood up quickly and asked to approach the bench.
After several minutes of haggling, during which Banks took a handful of court documents to the bench, and Special Letcher Circuit Judge Kent Hendrickson held up a copy of a Kentucky Uniform Citation for attorneys to see, the judge called a 15-minute recess and took attorneys and Huffman into chambers.
Banks was referring to an incident in which Huffman was accused in Pike County of standing off Pike County deputies for an hour with a hunting knife and a sword after the deputies attempted to serve a drug possession warrant on him. The charges, which included firstdegree criminal trespassing, second-degree disorderly conduct, menacing and harassment, were dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning they cannot be brought up again, no matter what the circumstances.
After about a half hour after the defense objected to the jury hearing about the incident, court reconvened without the attorneys and Hendrickson told jurors to return at 9 a.m. today (Wednesday). Hendrickson told them that testimony was expected to end sometime today.
Huffman’s testimony was unexpected, since attorneys often do not allow murder defendants to testify in their own defense.
When Huffman took the stand on Tuesday, he told the jury that he started drinking with his father at dinner on December 31, 2013, and then drank “a lot” when his friends Patrick Smith and Matt Blackburn showed up at his house later that evening before leaving to come to Whitesburg to watch the southwest Virginia band Foddershock perform live at Summit City.
He drank so much, Huffman testified, that the night was a blur. Did he know where they parked? He did not. Did he know how they got into Summit City to listen to the band? He couldn’t remember. Did he remember a fight between Smith and Blackburn? He remembered them yelling at each other, he said, but he couldn’t remember if they fought. Did he remember how he got to the StreetSide Bar and Grill? Only that it was “really loud and was playing music I don’t like it.”
But what happened next was clear in Huffman’s testimony. He said Michael Hogg entered StreetSide with Stacy Phillips and Christopher Puckett and confronted him about a bottle of whiskey.
“I remember him because at the time he came up to me, he started threatening me and cussing really loud. It sort of scared me. He was a big man,” Huffman told the jury. “He shoved me, and called me a liar, I think. He said a lot of bad things to me.”
His friend, Smith, left him all alone at the “highboy” table while the three surrounded him, Huffman said.
Huffman pointed out all of the people he testified about on the video, and pointed out what he said was a shove.
“I began pleading with them,” he testified. “I pleaded with them for the rest of the night, but there was no pleasing them.”
Then, Huffman claimed, they ordered him outside.
“I think I was told to get my ‘effing A’ outside, but I don’t know if it was Michael Hogg or Puckett that said it,” he said.
Video of the scene outside the bar shows Huffman and the three stabbing victims walk out onto the patio, Hogg, Puckett and Phillips with their hands in their pockets. Puckett and Phillips stop and talk with some other patrons, while Hogg and Huffman stand on the sidewalk and talk. Again, Hogg has his hands in his pockets.
At that point, Huffman walks out of the bottom of the frame, followed by Hogg. Puckett and Phillips go with them.
Huffman testified that was about the time he “ran for my life.” Huffman testified that he ran across the street, but that Puckett chased him down and caught him. Huffman then testified that he went down the street again, trying to get away, but that the three “pursued” him up the alley, and that once behind the bar, Hogg “ripped his shirt open,” took it and his hat off and threw it on the ground. That’s when Huffman says he ran, pulled his knife and held it over his head so the light from the streetlight would shine on it in attempt to scare away the attackers.
Huffman’s defense has been fixated on Hogg’s shirt during the trial, attempting to prove that a blue flannel shirt found by the trashcans at the Holstein House Bed and Breakfast about 40 yards away was Hogg’s. It has also attempted to prove that the streetlight over the area of the fight was out.
Witnesses’ statements from the day of the murder and testimony earlier in the trial were that Hogg was wearing a black and gray Carhartt flannel shirt, and color video entered into evidence by the prosecution and a still frame from that video entered by the defense also appears to show Hogg in a black and gray shirt.
Huffman further testified Tuesday that he was kicked in the head and knocked out during the fight, and lost his knife, and had no idea anyone was hurt when he woke up. He said he didn’t remember where Smith had been.
“The only time I remember Patrick was after I got knocked out and the Jeep was going down the hill, and he had my knife,” Huffman said.
When asked by his defense attorney why he had called his parents so many times after the stabbing, Huffman said he had just been trying to get home.
“That’s all I wanted that night,” he told the jury. “That was four years ago and I’m still trying.”
Huffman closed his testimony by saying he was sorry for everything that had happened.
“I’m sorry you all lost a son, and I’m sorry my parents lost a son. There’s not a winner one here,” he said, sobbing loudly.
The court recessed briefly, and when it returned to session, Banks began his cross examination by questioning Huffman’s testimony that he had called a telephone number several times by mistake because he just got his phone the day before and wasn’t used to it. He said he didn’t know how to access the contacts, and couldn’t remember his father’s phone number, except that it ended in an odd number.
Huffman argued with Banks about the phone’s dialing pad for several minutes before Banks pulled phone data that showed he had the phone for five days, and there were 61 calls on it during that time.
When Wright again asked to approach the bench, Hendrickson snapped “What?” as he came to the bench. After a short bench conference, Wright returned to his seat and Banks returned to the same line of questioning. He asked him why he was “dropping pins,” meaning sending location data to his parents’ phones after the killing. Huffman said he didn’t remember doing that. How did he remember his father’s phone number when he made his statement to police? He didn’t remember talking to police.
“How did you remember the number that time?”
He didn’t remember telling them that, Huffman said.
“I remember dialing the wrong number.”
“You talked to your dad for five minutes,” Banks said.
“I don’t remember.”
Banks asked Huffman how, if he was so intoxicated, he was able to run from Hogg without falling?
When Huffman repeatedly asked what Banks was talking about, the prosecutor again played the video, asking how Huffman had walked up the edge of the sidewalk without falling. Huffman replied that he was not walking straight. Then Banks pointed out that he hopped up onto a planter outside the bar and walked across the edge of it before hopping down.
“I’m very nimble,” Huffman said.
Cross examination continued in much the same way, with Banks questioning Huffman’s actions, and him answering repeatedly that he did not remember. The defense filed other objections, and at least once the judge questioned the interruption. Twice more, Banks asked how he had run away without falling. “I’m very athletic,” he answered once. “I’m very graceful,” he said later.
When asked why no one in the video raised their head, went to help or looked around at the time Huffman said Puckett was chasing him across the street, Huffman replied, “It’s a bar, man.”
Finally, Banks asked if Huffman had remembered speaking with Dr. Amy J. Trivette after this arrest. Trivette is a psychiatrist at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center in Lagrange. Huffman said he did remember talking to her.
“Did you tell her the truth when she talked to you?”
“Absolutely not,” Huffman replied.
Huffman said he wouldn’t talk to her because she worked for Banks, something Banks said Huffman knew was not true.
Wright again objected and stopped the questioning when Banks asked if Huffman remembered telling her he had not had a drink since he was 22, “because my life was falling apart.”
Soon after, Huffman testified that he had never used a knife for a weapon, and Banks brought up the previous arrest.