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Binghamton man who defended himself in murder retrial gives unusual closing argument

Christopher James is escorted from the Third Precinct

Christopher James is escorted from the Third Precinct in Bay Shore on April 25, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

The closing argument of a Binghamton man defending himself without a lawyer against a murder charge in Suffolk County Court Wednesday was just as unusual as his opening statement the previous week -- and even briefer.

"Evil lives," said Christopher James, 25. "I'm done."

"I'm sorry?" Judge Timothy Mazzei responded, apparently caught off guard by the four-word summation. James repeated it.

Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Creighton then gave a considerably more detailed, 47-minute closing argument about why she believed James was the man who stabbed Kevin Pierson, 38, nine times in the victim's Central Islip townhouse, killing him.

This is James' second trial on a charge of second-degree murder. The first one, with a defense attorney, ended in a hung jury. This one, at which James has insisted on representing himself, has been replete with his odd behavior.

That started in jury selection, in which James made sexual gestures to women and asked men how long they had been gay. It continued during his opening statement, in which he told jurors he wasn't guilty, but also talked about "the founders of Kingston and Queenston Almighty" and following "bohemian consciousness."

During testimony, James often did not cross-examine witnesses. When he did, he sometimes asked them if they were gay, too. He smirked and laughed to himself during testimony and during Creighton's closing argument.

In it, she said cell phone records, James' DNA at the crime scene and clothing found there that fit him but not the victim all pointed to James being the killer. She suggested that Pierson was looking for a sexual encounter that day when he texted James, "You're mad cool, and I'm feeling that."

Pierson was leaving his cousin's home in Brooklyn and picked up James elsewhere in the borough, where he lived then, and brought him home, Creighton said. 

She said the evidence suggests that on Feb. 10, 2010, James stabbed Pierson in the ground-floor foyer of his home, and that a mortally wounded Pierson, bleeding profusely from a cut carotid artery, stumbled upstairs to his bedroom and shut the door. Creighton said James likely kicked the door in and finished Pierson off, before leaving a bloody footprint behind in the bathroom when he cleaned himself up.

When police eventually found him six years later in Binghamton, Creighton said he incriminated himself when he asked a detective, "How are you going to charge me with murder when the weapon was never found?"

"How does he know that?" Creighton asked. "The only people who knew that [no weapon was found] were the Suffolk County Police Department and the defendant."

After closing arguments, James' court-appointed legal adviser, Christopher Gioe, whispered to James, who then told Mazzei that Creighton had improperly shifted the burden of proof during her summation when she suggested only James knew the motive for the killing. Mazzei recalled the jurors to tell them to ignore that remark because defendants have no obligation to prove or say anything.

Deliberations will begin Friday. James faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

"I had no input on his summation," Gioe said afterward, stressing he was not James' lawyer. "I told him to be thorough."

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