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Suffolk murder retrial starts with defendant acting as own attorney

Christopher James of Binghamton is led out of

Christopher James of Binghamton is led out of the Third Precinct in Bay Shore for his arraignment on April 25, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

The first time a Suffolk jury heard the murder case against a Binghamton man, the only thing unusual about the trial was that it ended in a deadlock.

Since then, the case has veered into unnerving territory -- particularly since defendant Christopher James, 25, decided to represent himself. That trial began Monday in Riverhead after a bizarre two weeks of jury selection before Suffolk County Court Judge Timothy Mazzei. 

James is accused of stabbing Kevin Pierson, 38, to death on Feb. 10, 2010, in Pierson's Central Islip townhouse.

"I'm on trial fighting for my life, murder in the second degree," James told jurors in his two-minute opening statement, given while seated at the defense table wearing a gray down jacket.

He said he was going to college for music and sound engineering when he was arrested in Binghamton in 2016, but then he wandered off onto a tangent about "the founders of Kingston and Queenston Almighty" and following "bohemian consciousness." Some jurors glanced at one another quizzically.

"There are universal laws and the true wisdom of God," James continued. "It's very true, very real."

He concluded by acknowledging that he knew Pierson -- a fact not conceded in James' first trial -- but that he didn't kill him. "Basically, I want y'all to look at the evidence and make decisions," he said.

Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Creighton gave a more conventional opening statement.

She described blood found in every room of Pierson's townhouse. She said James' DNA was found on a jacket left in the middle of a trail of blood leading down the stairs and on an empty knife sheath found in the home.

When police eventually found James six years later, she said, he made a remark that only the killer would have made. He asked how he could be arrested when no murder weapon had been found -- but that fact had not been publicized, Creighton said.

Three witnesses testified about finding Pierson's body and bloody home after he stopped communicating with family members. James did not cross-examine any of them.

Before the trial started, Mazzei questioned some jurors who had asked to be excused for various reasons. The judge told James that if he questioned the jurors, "Please ask appropriate questions, OK?"

"You mean nothing sexual?" James replied. During jury selection, he made numerous overtly sexual gestures toward female jurors, leading some to say they were too uncomfortable to serve. James also asked one male potential juror, "How long have you been gay?"

One of the jurors on Monday said she found James "creepy" and asked, emotionally, to be excused. Another said that because James was representing himself, he was inclined to believe James was guilty. Both jurors were excused.

Defendants have the right to represent themselves, but judges advise against it. Mazzei has appointed defense lawyer Christopher Gioe of Hauppauge to stand by in case James has legal questions.

"My role is to provide any legal advice my client may request," Gioe said. "If he requests none, my role is to sit there and wait."

Creighton declined to comment.

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