The Joint Base Lewis-McCord infantryman accused of murdering a fellow soldier insisted in court on Tuesday that he was acting in self-defense when he plunged a knife into the chest of another soldier.
Pvt. Jeremiah Hill told an Army jury that he was trying to knock a knife out of Spc. Tevin Geike’s right hand. It happened during what he perceived to be an escalating confrontation between two groups of soldiers on a Lakewood street in the early hours of Oct. 5, 2013.
Geike jerked away and slashed Hill’s right hand, Hill said.
While bleeding, Hill said he decided to stab Geike because “I started to think that didn’t work out so well. I’m wounded. He still has a knife and he’s still a threat.”
Hill, 24, faces life in prison if he’s convicted of murdering of Geike, 20. Hill was the only person who noticed a knife in Geike’s hand during the altercation, although police recovered three knives from the vicinity of Geike’s death.
Earlier Tueday, the four soldiers who were once described as Hill’s accomplices distanced themselves from their friend.
Two of the four soldiers who were with Hill testified that they did not remember much about the night of the slaying.
The other two soldiers fingered Hill as cruelly unconcerned when he learned he might have killed someone.
“Do you know what you just did? You took somebody’s life,” Pvt. Cedarium Johnson said he told Hill when he saw a news report describing the killing of Geike.
“I don’t give a (expletive),” Hill replied, according to Johnson.
Hill denied the exchange as Johnson described it, although Hill admitted that he drank heavily after the stabbing and may have appeared cocky.
“I did not say those words,” Hill told the jury.
On the night of the killing, Hill and four others from JBLM’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division had just returned from a month at the Army’s Yakima Training Center.
They were coming to the end of a few hours they’d spent on the town getting tattoos and looking for women at bars. That’s when they encountered Geike and two infantry buddies walking on Pacific Highway South.
A brief confrontation between the two groups of soldiers appeared to dissipate when Johnson learned all of the men on the street were in the military.
“This isn’t worth it. Let’s go,” Johnson recalled telling his four friends.
He looked at Hill and said he saw Hill pick up someone and “drop” him to the ground. “Then I hear, ‘Get in the car, get in the car’ ” as Hill trotted toward his group, Johnson said.
Panic ensued when a bloodied Hill joined his friends in the car. The soldier who was driving did not have a license and did not drive well.
“Everyone in the car was yelling,” Pvt. Jaquori Thornton said.
Johnson recalled being frantic. Another soldier, Pvt. Ajoni Runnion-Bareford, said he took the knife Hill used to stab Geike and tossed it in the woods.
Both Johnson and Runnion-Bareford remembered Hill expressing some sort of threat as they drove back to the base, suggesting that what happened to Geike “could happen again” to someone who talked about the altercation.The next morning, Spc. Arturo Carmona sent Johnson a news story about a slaying in Lakewood. Carmona, the soldier who had driven the men away from the slaying the night before, said he owned the knife that Hill used to stabbed Geike.
Within two days, Lakewood police would arrest Hill, Johnson and Runnion-Bareford.
While they were in the patrol car, Johnson recalled Tuesday, Hill told him “We (are) going to beat this. Don’t worry about nothing. I’m going to say it was self-defense.”
Hill in his testimony also denied making those comments to Johnson.
Johnson testified in leg restraints Tuesday. He was convicted last week of trying to obstruct the Army’s investigation; he was sentenced to up to nine months in confinement. He had struck a plea deal capping his sentence in exchange for his testimony at Hill’s court-martial.
Runnion-Bareford in August pleaded guilty in Pierce County Superior Court to a charge of rendering criminal assistance. He was sentenced to a year in jail but received credit for the 308 days he spent in confinement waiting for his trial. He is awaiting a discharge from his Stryker brigade.
Hill’s defense attorneys Tuesday pointed to conflicting statements that the soldiers had given to police and attorneys in the past. The witnesses said they had forgotten some details since Geike’s slaying but generally did not contradict the Army’s case against Hill.
Also Tuesday, jurors heard from Pierce County Medical Examiner Thomas Clark, who described four stab wounds on Geike’s body. Two appeared insignificant. Another was nonfatal but caused serious bleeding from Geike’s left thumb.
The fatal blow was delivered to the soldier’s heart.
“This wound is likely to have been fatal in any circumstance, including being stabbed in an emergency room,” Clark said.