Quentin Wyche admits he fatally stabbed Florida International University running back Kendall Berry during a confrontation outside a campus recreation center.
But while the football player had no weapon in his hands, a defense attorney told jurors Tuesday, Berry wielded an “armament” — an “army” of fellow players ready to pummel Wyche.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been with football players up close,” said Wyche’s attorney, David Peckins. “Generally, they’re kind of big.”
Tuesday marked the long-anticipated start to Wyche’s trial in a case that figures to test Florida’s controversial self-defense law.
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Wyche insists he feared for his life when he used scissors to kill Berry during a confrontation March 25, 2010, that captured headlines in South Florida.
But prosecutors say Wyche unjustly felled the unarmed Berry with a thrust to the heart, then taunted him as he lay mortally wounded on the sidewalk at FIU’s Modesto A. Maidique campus in West Miami-Dade.
“He was yelling things like, ‘That’s what you get for messing with me; you’re a piece of sh--,’ ” prosecutor Ray Araujo told jurors.
Wyche is charged with second-degree murder with a deadly weapon. The trial, before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Miguel de la O, is expected to last the rest of the week.
The case will surely test Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force to meet a threat of “great bodily harm” or death.
Critics say the law promotes vigilantism while giving criminals an easier way to beat allegations of violent crime.
The most high-profile Stand Your Ground case ended in July when a jury in Sanford acquitted neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting of unarmed Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin during a violent confrontation.
The law also gave judges greater leeway to declare someone who claimed self-defense “immune” from prosecution. A judge, however, would not grant Wyche’s request for immunity last year.
Wyche, of Deland, was a former walk-on football player at FIU. Berry was a sophomore tailback from Haines City known as big-hearted and easygoing.
During the season before his death, the former receiver-turned-running back led the Panthers with six touchdowns.
He became the focal point of a new wrinkle in FIU’s offense, dubbed the “WildBerry,” in which he took the direct snap from the center and had the option of running or passing.
The killing rocked the university — about 1,400 students showed up for Berry’s memorial. His death also prompted an internal report by the school lambasting its own response, which included a lengthy delay in notifying students that violence had taken place on campus.
The confrontation began earlier that day in March 2010 when Wyche argued with Berry’s girlfriend, Regina Johnson, who worked for a campus golf cart shuttle-service system. She had refused to give him a ride.
Wyche threw a cookie or smashed a cookie in the young woman’s face.
Berry, 22, and several football players later confronted Wyche outside the rec center, where he had been playing in an intramural basketball game. Witnesses said Wyche broke away from the scrum toward the building. Several witnesses said Berry ran after him.
“Kendall Berry had a future, he had his whole life ahead of him,” Araujo said. “On March 25, 2010, that future, that life was cut short.”
Wyche, Araujo said, received “not a scratch” during the altercation.
One key prosecution witness, Chidinma Orj, testified Tuesday that she saw Wyche get the scissors from his backpack and re-engage Berry, “thrusting” at the football player.
“He was screaming, ‘You better get your boy, if I didn’t already get him, I’m going to get him,’ ” she recalled.
Peckins, the defense attorney, said Wyche was merely showing “bravado” to avoid being attacked by other football players. He said Wyche — who ran from the scene but later surrendered to police — never meant to kill Berry. The stabbing was a “fluke,” a 1.2-centimeter penetration to the heart.
“This was a minor penetration,” Peckins said.