Two days after he allegedly stabbed a young soldier to death on a Lakewood street, Pvt. Jeremiah Hill reportedly told a fellow soldier who was treating his wounds that he thought he would get away with it.
“If they knew anything, I’d be in cuffs,” Hill reportedly told medic Spc. Eric Kanthak.
Hill didn’t know Kanthak was recording the conversation, Kanthak said in court testimony Friday. And the medic’s cellphone recording turned out to be the evidence that led to Hill’s arrest on suspicion of murdering Spc. Tevin Geike in October 2013.
Hill, 24, was in court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Friday for his first preliminary hearing in a court-martial that could send him to prison for life.
Testimony showed Geike’s friends still feel raw emotions about that night.
Geike “was wearing a white shirt and that white shirt was turning red,” said Brian Johnson, a former Army specialist and close friend to Geike, crying as he spoke.
Hill’s case is moving slowly because he was being prosecuted in civilian court until December, when the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s office transferred him to Army control. Hill now has two Army attorneys instead of a public defender.
He’s also facing more serious charges.
The Army wants to prosecute him for premeditated murder, whereas Pierce County had been pursuing a less serious charge because prosecutors didn’t believe they could prove Hill planned to kill the 20-year-old Geike.
“There was nothing that happened beforehand. There was no planning of this murder,” said Hill’s defense attorney, Capt. Austin Fenwick
Hill reportedly was part of a group of five black soldiers who were driving around Lakewood in the early hours of Oct. 5, 2013. They saw a group of three white soldiers walking on Pacific Highway in Lakewood and pulled over after the two groups shouted at each other.
The soldiers in the car encircled the three men on foot and both groups appeared to be ready to fight. They broke apart when each side figured out they all served in the Army.
That’s when Hill allegedly grabbed Geike from the back, stabbed him in the chest and threw him to the ground.
Prosecutors contend Hill had to know his actions could be fatal.
“If he had any other intent, he wouldn’t have stabbed a blade into Tevin Geike’s upper left chest,” prosecutor Capt. Patrick Sandys said.
The hearing revealed new information about the slaying. One of Geike’s friends, for instance, acknowledged he held a knife in his hand and prepared to defend himself when Hill’s group of friends confronted the soldiers on the street. He also described Geike as drunk and upset that night.
One of Hill’s friends revealed that Hill and another soldier tried to beat up another man who was walking in Lakewood just before the confrontation that led to Geike’s death. The witness described Hill as very drunk in the hours leading up to the killing.
On the afternoon after the stabbing, Hill reportedly called Kanthak and asked for help bandaging his hand. The medic asked Hill how he hurt himself. Hill wouldn’t say.
After a few more questions, Hill reportedly said “I stabbed a guy.”
Kanthak said he thought he wasn’t serious and laughed it off. They drove to Madigan Army Medical Center, and Hill reportedly asked Kanthak unsettling questions about how a person’s DNA could be identified in blood.
That night, Kanthak read a news report describing a fatal stabbing in Lakewood. He told a noncommissioned officer about his suspicions, but the sergeant had been told that Hill was in Olympia on the night of the slaying.
Kanthak decided to make his own recording, using an appointment to re-wrap Hill’s bandages as an excuse to get him talking. Amid the small talk, Hill said enough on the recording to raise the suspicions of other infantrymen.
They took Kanthak’s tape to the Lakewood Police Department.
“I just had a bad feeling in my stomach about it,” Kanthak said, describing his reasons for recording Hill. “I just wanted people to hear what I’m hearing and come to their own conclusions.”