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Testimony begins in Park West stabbing trial

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Michael O'neal during trial at the Pitt County Courthouse Tuesday, April 24, 2018.

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

During opening statements on Tuesday, prosecutors and defense attorneys offered sharply differing versions of the circumstances that led up to an autistic man being stabbed to death on Oct. 19, 2015. in a field near his home in Greenville.

Michael Anthony O'Neal is on trial for first-degree murder in the death of Steven Joseph Rouse. O’Neal, 24, of 4302 Evans St., is one of four co-defendants facing charges in the case.

 

Prosecutor Caroline Webb called Rouse’s stabbing a senseless act. Defense attorney Matthew Geoffrian said his client acted in self-defense. 

According to police, Rouse, 22, was stabbed multiple times during an altercation that started about 7 p.m. in the Park West neighborhood, which is adjacent to the Walmart Neighborhood Market where he was found.  

Witnesses told police they observed Rouse running from two men and saw fighting in a field behind the store.

Greenville Police said Rouse sustained wounds to his upper torso before making his way to the rear of the store. He was transported by Greenville Fire-Rescue to Vidant Medical Center but succumbed to his injuries.

Rouse’s aunt, Stephanie Rouse, testified that Steven was on disability and lived alone in the Park West subdivision.

“He was bullied a lot in school and often told his mother about it,” she said.  Stephanie Rouse also said that Steven walked back and forth to the Walmart on a regular basis to get food. If he needed to get around town, he rode the GREAT bus or had his mother take him places, she said. 

Rouse’s neighbor, Kimberly Sutton, testified that Rouse was a quiet, mild-mannered person who never bothered anybody.  

Sutton lived across from Rouse and said she witnessed a group of girls arguing with Rouse and saw that it upset him.

“He was scared and very afraid,” she said.  

Sutton said she was inside her house when she heard car doors slam. She went outside to see what was going on and she saw a red SUV with two men pull up. Sutton testified that seconds later, Rouse ran by her screaming as the men in the vehicle got out and ran after him.     

“Steven was running for his life,” Sutton said.

She said the men caught up to Rouse and one of the men knocked him to the ground, before dragging him across a field near a tree line and some bushes.

“Steven was being slung through the bushes,” Sutton said. 

Sutton said she ran over to the field in an attempt to break up the fight but when she got there, it was too late. She said O’Neal was standing over Rouse’s body.

Sutton said Rouse was covered in blood and had gashes in his head and neck, stomach and other places. Panicked, she called 911.

“He’s bleeding like crazy. These dudes just beat the (expletive) out of him,” Sutton told dispatchers. 

Sutton said she witnessed the men conceal what looked like a weapon.   

“Both of them hid something and ran to a red Jeep. Steven stood up and started screaming for his mother.  He said, ‘Tell my mom I’m sorry and that I love her’ and then he just dropped on the pavement of the Walmart near the loading dock.”

Video of Sutton’s interview — along with the frantic 911 call from Steven Rouse — were played for jurors. 

Tim Goode, who also lived in the neighborhood, testified to witnessing Rouse run by while being chased through the field.

“He was yelling ‘No, no, stop stop.’ He was running toward the Walmart and never made it,” Goode said. “He was running for his life. It was a fight. One of the two men hit him and knocked him down. He was scared.”

Goode also testified that after the fatal stabbing, the two men ran back towards Park West apartments and jumped into a waiting vehicle. 

“They came back to the apartments and they jumped into a car,” Goode said. “A woman was also running around the car and tried to get in. She forced her way in.”

Assistant District attorney Caroline Webb said that Steven had some mental health challenges and that he was trying to live on his own. 

“Steven was a little different and this was first apartment and his first crack at living independently,” Webb said.  Steven didn’t bother folks.”

Geoffrian refuted Webb and said that Rouse had a troubled past. 

While cross-examining Rouse’s aunt,  Geoffrian asked about Rouse previously staying a group home and about his suspension from Pitt Community College for making women feel uncomfortable. Stephanie Rouse said she was unaware of either of those things.

Geoffrian argued that Rouse had been staring and talking to his defendant’s girlfriend, Zatashia Taylor, and that while Rouse was on the bus with Taylor, he made her feel uncomfortable. 

When Taylor and another woman, Chenitra Grambry, confronted Rouse, he said Rouse started acting erratically and threatened to stab everyone.  

“Steven was threatening neighbors,” Geoffrian said. 

Geoffrian said that O’Neal and Curtis Wade pulled up in a vehicle and tried to confront Rouse. When Rouse ran, that’s when O’Neal and Wade chased him, he said.

Geoffrian said that the three men got into a tussle and that O’Neal was stabbed. 

“Mike acted in self-defense,” he said. “It’s a tremendous choice and Mike feared for his life.”

After Rouse was stabbed, co-defendant Curtis Lamar Wade, 28, took O'Neal to Vidant Medical Center for minor injuries he sustained in the incident.

Detectives interviewed Wade and O'Neal and spoke to witnesses. They were able to connect Wade and O'Neal to Rouse's death. Both men were charged with felony first-degree murder and booked in the Pitt County Detention Center, each under a $2 million bond.

Testimony continues today. 

Tyler Stocks can be contacted at tstocks@reflector.com and 252-329-9566. Follow him on Twitter @TylerstocksGDR.

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