A knit cap emblazoned with the logo of The Keg restaurant is the best piece of evidence Pierce County prosecutors have tying Jaycee Fuller to the death of Mohamud Ahmed, a Somalian immigrant slashed in a Tacoma parking lot more than five years ago.
Fuller spent a good deal of Monday trying to distance himself from that cap.
Representing himself in his first-degree murder trial, Fuller testified on his own behalf for nearly three hours, answering questions he drew up but that stand-by attorney Curtis Huff read to him.
Fuller, 37, repeatedly denied killing Ahmed and testified he did not know how the cap, which had the defendant’s DNA on it, came to be found not far from the scene where the 22-year-old cab driver was killed in March 2009.
“No, no,” Fuller replied when Huff asked him if he’d killed Ahmed. “I didn’t do this.”
Prosecutors contend that he did.
They believe Fuller was desperate for cash and angry at immigrants he felt were taking American jobs when he hired Ahmed for a ride and then cut his throat and robbed him.
Prosecutor Mark Lindquist is trying the case along with one of his deputies, Erika Nohavec.
“How did that cap with your DNA wind up at a murder scene?” Lindquist asked Fuller during cross-examination.
Fuller, himself a former cabbie, said he didn’t know.
A different jury convicted Fuller of Ahmed’s death in 2010, and he was sentenced to 28 years in prison. The Washington State Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 2012 and ordered a new trial.
Fuller, who did not testify in his first trial when he was represented by a public defender, decided to serve as his own lawyer this time.
During his direct testimony Monday, Fuller, who once worked at The Keg, conceded he received a similar cap at a company Christmas party in 2006.
He said he wore the cap for a few hours at the party but discarded it at the door before leaving the restaurant.
Fuller called the hat “cheesy,” and said he was insulted that his former employers offered it to him instead of a monetary bonus. That’s why he left it behind when he left that night, he testified.
Prosecution witnesses testified earlier in the trial that they had seen Fuller wearing the cap in the years after the party, and video surveillance from a restaurant near where Ahmed picked up his final fare shows a man resembling Fuller sporting a similar hat.
Fuller testified that the man is the video was not him and that the people who said they saw him wearing the cap were wrong or had reasons to testify against him.
He said the same about multiple witnesses who testified he complained about foreigners taking American jobs.
“It’s not surprising, it’s insulting,” Fuller said when Huff asked whether it surprised him that some people considered him xenophobic. “I spent most of my professional life working with immigrants. America is about difference.”
During a cross-examination that at times was testy, Lindquist peppered Fuller with questions about the cap, how it could have come to be at the murder scene, had someone tried to frame him.
Lindquist’s intent was clear: To persuade jurors of the improbability of anyone else having worn the cap the night of Ahmed’s death.
“I don’t know where you’re coming up with this framing stuff,” Fuller responded. “I never said anything of the sort.”
Lindquist then moved onto to the subject of knives. Wasn’t it true Fuller owned many of them, swords and daggers included? the prosecutor asked.
Fuller said he owned one sword and some ornamental blades.
“Would it be fair to say you know how to handle knives?” Lindquist asked.
“No, beyond a kitchen knife,” Fuller responded.
At one point Lindquist pressed Fuller, who has worked as a chef and prep cook, if he knew how much pressure it would take to slash someone’s throat with a knife.
The prosecutor tried to hand Fuller an autopsy photograph that showed the wound to Ahmed’s neck. The defendant refused to take the photo and wouldn’t look at the image when Lindquist projected it onto a courtroom screen for the jury to see.
“I have no opinion on this wound,” Fuller said. “This is disgusting. What’s wrong with you?”
The jury could get the case as early as Tuesday after Fuller and prosecutors deliver closing arguments.