Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — The jury began its deliberations Tuesday in the manslaughter trial of Jennifer R. Marchant following closing arguments at Niagara County Court.
The jury will have a little less to discuss, though.
Marchant was facing first- and second-degree manslaughter charges after she admitted to stabbing her boyfriend, Ralph D. Stone, on Feb. 6 in her North Tonawanda apartment.
Marchant now faces only one charge of first-degree manslaughter, however, after Niagara County Deputy District Attorney Doreen Hoffmann moved to dismiss a second-degree manslaughter count Tuesday due to a lack of evidence that the death was reckless.
A conviction on the remaining charge requires proof that Marchant, 24, intended to inflict serious bodily harm to Stone and judges her conduct the night leading up to his death.
During closing arguments Hoffmann attempted to cast Marchant as the aggressor, stating that it was an argument over a text message that led her to stab Stone, cutting his pulmonary artery and causing him to bleed out.
She also questioned the claims of Marchant’s defense attorney Dominic Saraceno that the incident was a result of Stone’s level of intoxication and an act of self-defense, insisting that 911 recordings and witness accounts show that the fight lasted just three minutes between a volley of 911 calls from Stone’s cell phone and the arrival of police at the Oliver Street apartment.
“Jennifer was jealous,” Hoffmann said. “That’s what initiated this.”
Yet during his own closing argument, Saraceno said it was Stone who began a room-by-room fight during which he demanded Marchant leave the apartment where she lived alone, breaking locks to enter rooms she used as safe havens and twice pulling her hair before she stabbed him in self-defense, adding that his blood alcohol content at the time of his death was 0.285.
“What kind of person throws somebody out of their own house?” Saraceno said of Stone. “What kind of person beats them up in their own house?”
Saraceno also called into question a medical examiner’s report that the nearly 5-inch stab wound caused Stone’s death, stating that it only “nicked” the artery, a wound that worsened in a struggle with police — a stance he attempted to use to dismiss the case, which was denied by Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas.
Hoffmann, who at one point pulled the knife used to kill Stone out of an evidence box, displaying it in a stabbing motion in front of the jury, said the medical examiner’s testimony Monday clearly backed the theory that the knife caused the cut to the artery and Stone’s death.
“The injury in Ralph Stone’s case was caused by this,” she said, brandishing the knife. “Would a reasonable person have made that decision?”
The jury of 10 men and two women deliberated for nearly two hours on Tuesday before court was called. They will begin deliberations again this morning.
On Monday, Dr. Tara Mahar, an Erie County Examiner’s Office, who performed an autopsy on Ralph D. Stone hours after he died, said the kitchen knife Marchant used to stab him had entered nearly 5 inches deep into his left shoulder, cutting into his pulmonary artery and causing him to bleed out.
Mahar said his death was a result of the stab wound, but when pressed by Defense Attorney Dominic Saraceno, she admitted that there was a slight possibility that a struggle with police officers minutes later inside the Oliver Street apartment may have exacerbated the internal wound.
The chance — however minute — that Stone’s death may have been caused by the struggle, not the stab wound, led Saraceno to call for a dismissal of the trial — request that Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas denied.
Mahar also noted Stone “was very intoxicated,” citing a toxicology report showing he had a blood alcohol content of 0.285 percent at the time of his death, a point bolstered by the testimony of another witness, Joshua Snyder, who lived next door from Marchant for about a year before the Feb. 6 fatality.
Snyder said that when he arrived home from work at 2:30 p.m. that day he heard loud noise coming from Marchant’s apartment: “A party, I figured,” Snyder said.
The party lasted until about 8 p.m. But several hours later Snyder’s girlfriend, Bessie Fitzgerald, who also testified, said she saw the couple return home together “just talking and laughing.”
Soon after their return, however, an argument broke out. Stone began screaming at Marchant to leave the premises, despite the fact it was Marchant’s apartment, according to testimony.
“She kept repeating, ‘please don’t do this to me,’ “ Snyder recalled Marchant saying. Then moments later: “ ‘Oh my God, this can’t be happening.’ “