A Lexington County jury of six men and six women began deliberating at 1:04 p.m. Tuesday and will decide Kierin Dennis’ fate.
If Dennis, 21, is found guilty of murder in the fatal stabbing of Da’Von Capers, he will serve a minimum of 30 years in prison, under S.C. law.
Dennis stabbed Capers to death on Feb. 17, 2014, in the parking lot of the Lexington Cook Out eatery after a high school basketball between rivals Dutch Fork High and Lexington High.
The case revolves around the conduct of two groups of Lexington County high school students – one from Dutch Fork High, the other from Lexington High who had an altercation at the Cook Out.
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Dennis, 18 at the time of the stabbing, was a recent graduate of Lexington High. Capers, 17, was a Dutch Fork senior.
During the trial, which began Oct. 3, the jury heard more than 30 witnesses over seven days. Judge Eugene Griffith kept the trial moving, holding court even during three days before Hurricane Matthew struck over the weekend.
Most of the case focused on what was described as a 32-second brawl in the Cook Out parking lot, as well as the events leading up to that incident, and Dennis’ conduct afterwards. Dennis and Capers did not know each other.
The case went to the jury early Tuesday afternoon after defense and prosecution attorneys made impassioned arguments, presenting sharply different views of events.
Defense attorney Todd Rutherford told the jury that Dennis had repeatedly tried to get away from aggressive Dutch Fork students, first at Lexington High after the game, and then several times at the Cook Out. Each time at the Cook Out, Dennis and his group of four friends backed out of potential confrontations with more than two dozen Dutch Fork students.
In the final confrontation, Rutherford said, a pack of Dutch Fork students were clustered around the driver’s window of Dennis’ stopped SUV, screaming curses and challenges to fight. At that moment, Capers leaned in Dennis’ window, and Dennis feared for his life.
“Under South Carolina law, a person has the right to self-defense,” Rutherford said.
“Once he tries to get in Kierin’s car, Kierin is allowed by law to take his life,” Rutherford said, deeming the pack of Dutch Fork students a “hornet’s nest.”
Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Shawn Graham, speaking after Rutherford, told the jury that self defense doesn’t apply to a situation if a person can leave, and Dennis had numerous chances to leave the Cook Out, even during the last fatal confrontation.
“Every choice he made was made in anger, in hatred and malice,” Graham told the jury.
Terming Dennis “a hunter looking for a fight,” Graham said that Dennis was made because he saw Dutch Fork students at the Cook Out, turf usually dominated by crowds of Lexington High students.
“”This was his high school, his Cook Out,” Graham said. “Nobody was going to push him around. That was the attitude he had.”
Graham also pointed out that Dennis had lied to police when first asked about the incident and furthermore, went home after the stabbing and buried the knife in a neighbor’s yard.
But before digging a hole for the knife, Graham said, remind the jury of an admission Dennis had made during his testimonyMonday, Dennis changed his shoes, putting on an old pair so he wouldn’t dirty a new pair.
“What a wicked evil heart,” Graham said, to kill someone “and then worry about your shoes!”
During Tuesday’s jury deliberations, jurors asked to hear Judge Griffith read the legal definitions of self defense and malice. They came back into the courtroom and listened as the judge read a lengthy definitions.