PRESQUE ISLE — One by one, more than a dozen Presque Isle High School students took the witness stand Tuesday in Maine District Court to describe the noontime fight between two classmates that left one dead almost two years ago.
But most of them seemed to have trouble remembering the details of what happened on March 17, 1997, when David Pelkey Jr. was stabbed during a confrontation at a convenience store across the road from the high school.
Facing a manslaughter charge, Ricky Gray, now 18, of Presque Isle is charged with the death of Pelkey, who died three days later at a Bangor hospital.
The case is being heard by Judge David Griffiths, who must decide whether Gray is guilty of manslaugher or was defending himself. Gray is being tried in District Court, as opposed to the state’s Superior Court, since he was a juvenile when the incident took place. Because of the nature of the charge, the trial is being conducted as a public proceeding.
Assistant Attorney General Lisa Pelkey Marchese, who is not related to the victim, presented 17 witnesses during the first day of the trial.
While on the stand, most of the students said they were friends of the two boys, both 16 at the time, and knew that there was a problem between them regarding a girl.
When asked by Marchese and defense attorney Frank Bemis of Presque Isle about details of the fight, such as whether Pelkey threw snow at Gray or whether the victim pulled Gray’s coat over his head, several said they didn’t remember. To refresh their memory they were shown statements they had given to police after the incident.
At one point during the trial, Judge Griffiths allowed Bemis to have one witness read into the trial record his earlier statement to police.
During her opening statement, Marchese said that the defendant was reckless in his actions that day.
“The defendant was reckless to approach” Pelkey, who had warned him to stay away, the prosecutor said.
She told the judge that the argument of self-defense is allowed when a person believes he or she is faced with deadly force. Reacting with deadly force during the fight between Pelkey and Gray was not necessary in this case, Marchese said.
In his opening remarks, Bemis said the victim had threatened to beat up his client or “kill him.”
“There’s no other way to put it, David was a bully, and the facts will show that,” Bemis said.
The attorney asked the judge to put himself in Gray’s place: a 16-year-old “in today’s world” with a 260-pound person knocking him down.
“He was acting as a poor, scared kid, and that’s not a crime,” Bemis said.
Gray’s friend and fellow student, Brianne Dickinson, testified that Gray called her the night of March 14 to voice concern that “Dave [Pelkey] was going to beat him up and put him in the hospital.”
“I told him to stay home [from school],” Dickinson testified she told Gray.
Gray told her that he was bringing his pocketknife to school so that Pelkey would back off, the teen-ager testified. Dickinson said she didn’t see any of the fight that next Monday when the stabbing occurred.
Pelkey’s mother, Lisa Bonato, took the stand and described how Gray called about 15 times on the Sunday before the incident wanting to talk with her son.
Although Pelkey didn’t want to talk to Gray, Bonato had Pelkey call Gray, she said under questioning by the state.
“You stay out of my face and I’ll stay out of yours,” an emotional Bonato testified her son told Gray on the telephone.
Under cross-examination, Bonato said her son called Gray a “faggot” on the telephone.
Several students testified about how nervous and upset Gray was during classes the morning of March 17.
Dale Graham, now a junior in high school, said Pelkey had been his best friend since third grade. He said he walked with Pelkey to lunch at the convenience store that day, and there was no discussion about a pending fight.
Graham said Gray approached Pelkey outside the store and asked Pelkey why he wanted to fight him. In his testimony, Graham said Pelkey told Gray to leave him alone, but that Gray continued to ask why Pelkey wanted to fight.
Pelkey then took off his jacket, threw snow at Gray and punched him, according to Graham’s testimony. Pelkey, described by the defense as a “practiced fighter,” pulled Gray’s jacket over his head and hit Gray again, according to Graham.
Two other boys testified that they tried to pull the fighters apart, but that Pelkey again went after Gray.
Sometime during the fight, the stabbing occurred.
After the incident, witnesses said, Gray threw the knife into the road and went into the store.
An oil delivery truck driver, David Laing, had stopped at the store for lunch. He said he saw a large boy hit a smaller boy twice on the head.
Pulling his own vest over his head, Laing described how Pelkey pulled Gray’s coat over Gray’s head as the smaller youth was crouched on the ground.
“The poor kid couldn’t see,” Laing said. “He was blind.”
The witness also described how two other boys tried to pulled the fighters apart, but that Pelkey charged Gray again.
“He [Pelkey] didn’t want to give up,” Laing said.
Another friend of Pelkey’s, Danny Stewart, said he helped Pelkey across the road. As the two walked, Stewart testified that Pelkey said, “It hurts. It hurts. I’m dizzy.”
At that point, Pelkey’s mother left the courtroom sobbing.
Eric Waddell, the school’s athletic director, was the first to administer first aid to Pelkey, who had collapsed in the school’s driveway.
“He asked me if he’d been stabbed in the heart,” Waddell testified. “He asked me if he was going to die.”
Throughout the testimony, Marchese asked each teen-ager how many times Pelkey hit Gray, in an apparent attempt show whether Pelkey used deadly force. While some witness said there were only two punches, others said there were as many as five.
Most witnesses said Pelkey threw the first punch.
During the proceedings, the victim’s family sat on one side of the 46-seat courtroom. When David Pelkey Sr., the victim’s father, came into the courtroom, he told court officers he didn’t want to sit near media representatives on the opposite side.
The victim’s family and friends wore black and red ribbons with an angel clasp in honor of homicide victims. Some wore pins with the victim’s picture.
Gray, who was a juvenile when the incident occurred, remains in the custody of his parents.
The trial is scheduled to resume today with Marchese expected to finish her presentation by noon.