The only known witness in a fatal stabbing at a Rapid City motel in January said the attack was preceded by the victim and defendant arguing over a phone and charger.
Christian Mexican told a Pennington County jury on Tuesday that she had been awakened inside her room at the South Dakota Rose Inn that evening by an argument between Jeremy Little and Nathan Chase.
She said she saw Little, her boyfriend’s 30-year-old half brother, shove Chase, who staggered backward. Then Chase hit Little on the side of his neck, in what looked like a punch. The next thing Mexican said she saw was a lot of blood coming out of Little’s neck.
“Why did you do that?” Mexican said she screamed at Chase, a recent acquaintance of her boyfriend. She said she didn’t get a reply but heard Chase say, “I was never here,” before he left Room 156.
Little, bearing stab wounds on his cheek and neck, was pronounced dead at the scene around 8 p.m. Jan. 23. His death is the third of seven homicides in Rapid City this year, according to law enforcement.
Chase, 26, is now on trial for second-degree murder in Little’s death. If convicted, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Chase’s lawyer, Ellery Grey, said during opening statements Tuesday that Chase had only been defending himself.
“Jeremy Little, he wasn’t that little,” Grey said, describing him as 6 feet tall and 200 pounds against Chase’s 5-foot-5, 135-pound frame.
The defense attorney said also that Little had been “ornery,” “drunk” and “mean,” based on a 911 call Little’s mother made after dropping him off at the motel earlier that evening. His mother also reported him carrying a “big jug” of alcohol on his way to visit his half brother, Percival Mexican.
Little’s mother has since died, but Grey received the court’s permission to include hearsay evidence regarding her at the trial. Witnesses could discuss her 911 call and her concerns over Little’s well-being.
After the call, police tried in vain to find Little at the motel, on East Boulevard North, Grey said. “Moments later, police get another call,” he told the eight female and five male jurors, including an alternate. “Now, there’s a stabbing.”
Several crime scene photos were presented to the jury, including ones showing Little lifeless on the floor, vodka bottles around him. He was lying by the door, partly blocking the entry of responding police officers, who testified Tuesday.
Did Little prevent Chase from getting to the door during their argument? In response to Grey’s question, Christian Mexican said the men were positioned in a way that both had been blocking the door. Her boyfriend was also in the room but had passed out, she said.
Grey repeatedly underscored the fact that the Mexican couple and Chase were drinking without incident until Little showed up. Only 12 minutes went by from the time Little entered Room 156 and Chase exited it, Grey said the motel’s security cameras revealed.
Chase, who had moved from Montana just a few weeks before the incident, was seen by a sheriff’s deputy walking along East Boulevard around 2:30 a.m. the next day. Inside Chase’s pocket, the deputy found a folding knife, said Pennington County Deputy State’s Attorney Josh Hendrickson.
There was blood on the knife, and it matched the victim’s blood, Hendrickson said in his opening statement. “That knife is the murder weapon,” he said.
Chase gave multiple versions to explain how Little got killed and how he ended up with the knife, the prosecutor said. Some versions reportedly included the victim’s half brother being the killer; in the last one, Chase claimed self-defense.
“I’m gonna ask you to return the only verdict that fits the evidence in this case, a guilty verdict,” Hendrickson said.
“He was nervous, he was scared. … He really didn’t trust police,” Grey said in response. “Is there a real possibility that what happened there was an act of self-defense?”
The trial, before 7th Circuit Judge Matthew Brown, started with jury selection Monday and is expected to continue through Thursday.
The county’s last murder trial took place last month, in which Brian Duncan was found not guilty of killing his girlfriend at a local motel in 2015.