Inmate Charles Creekmur either attacked and strangled Antwan Brown after a dispute at the Nassau jail, or killed the other inmate while defending himself in an assault by a shank-wielding gang member and his associates.
Those are the two views emerging in a trial playing out before Judge Meryl Berkowitz in Nassau County Court, where Creekmur, 27, of Brooklyn, could get a prison term of 25 years to life if convicted of the second-degree murder charge.
Trial testimony ended Wednesday as both prosecution and defense rested their cases, 26 months after the fatal altercation on Jan. 7, 2012, in the second-floor cell where Brown, 26, of Long Beach, was housed.
Nassau Assistant District Attorney Martin Meaney's witnesses have advanced the theory that Creekmur was bent on settling a verbal spat he and Brown had on the handball court the night before.
That was part of the testimony offered by prosecution witness Devon Adams, 50, an inmate who testified Creekmur was "agitated" after that exchange on the handball court.
Adams also testified that he saw Creekmur deliver food to an inmate during breakfast, walk past Brown's cell to his own cell, then reverse and duck into Brown's cell to attack him. The two men fought after the cell door closed.
But defense attorney Joseph Lo Piccolo of Garden City, who called Creekmur to the stand as his only witness, wants jurors to believe that Creekmur feared for his life and fought furiously after being pushed into the cell. Brown held a shank and cut Creekmur in the leg while two other unidentified inmates pummeled him on the back, his client says.
Creekmur testified Wednesday that he asked to be placed in protective custody several months before the altercation because he wanted no trouble from Bloods gang members who were threatening him in another housing area. He testified that he fought back against his alleged assailants, whom he believed to be Bloods gang members, when they ambushed him on Jan. 7, 2012, in a different housing area.
"I wanted to protect myself, to defend myself," Creekmur testified on direct examination. "That's all."
Creekmur testified that he did have his hands around Brown's neck, but that he let go at some point during the struggle. An autopsy revealed that Brown died of asphyxiation.
He testified that he also bit Brown, and both prosecution and defense displayed photos of a bite mark on Brown's upper left back.
"I was trying to get the shank out of his hands," Creekmur testified. "I bit him. To get the knife out of his hand. Yeah."
Creekmur testified that the fight ended when correction officers sprayed Mace into the cell, burning his eyes and causing Brown to cough.
One of the responding correction officers, Robert Lobosco, testified last week that he heard and saw Creekmur shout, "Twenty-five to life" while assaulting Brown. But Creekmur, on crossexamination Wednesday, testified he never said that.
The trial resumes Monday with closing arguments from Lo Piccolo and Meaney.