When Marcus Barnes and Christopher Wawrin collided in a bloody confrontation in the early morning hours of Nov. 22, it wasn't the first time the pair's paths had crossed.
Barnes, 23, of Kent, remembered Wawrin, whom he didn't know at the time, as the person who made a racially threatening statement as he walked past Barnes at 976 W. Main St. in Kent at a party in September.
Barnes, who testified on his own behalf Thursday on the eighth day of his trial, said the same man who uttered that offensive phrase was among five or six who attacked him outside of a party at the same residence Nov. 22.
Barnes is accused of murdering Wawrin, 21, by inflicting an underarm stab wound that led to his Dec. 1 death. Barnes also faces a charge of attempted murder in connection with injuries Wawrin's best friend, Christopher DeAngelis, 20, received during the scuffle.
The version Barnes, an African-American, gave of what happened that night differed from the prosecution's portrayal as he described being knocked into the street by a handful of young, white men and using a knife to defend himself because he was afraid.
Assistant Portage County Prosecutors Eugene Muldowney and Tom Buchanan have said Barnes was the aggressor in the altercation that had nothing to do with race.
Sometime after 2 a.m. Nov. 12, Barnes made a spur-of-the-moment decision to stop in and say hello at a party at 976 W. Main St. to which his co-worker Josh Bentley had invited him. Barnes and his fiance, Rebecca Vanaman, were on their way to a fast food restaurant after shooting pool when they drove past the party.
Barnes remembered making a comment about the rowdy nature of a fight between two people at the party. The comment incited a verbal argument between Barnes and Tom Jenior, which prompted them to walk onto the front porch where they cooled off.
About five or six others _ none of whom Barnes said he recognized besides Wawrin _ joined Jenior and Barnes on the porch where Wawrin said, "F*** that nigger," Barnes said, recalling Wawrin's words.
"At that point in time, it made me upset and frightened because I was the only guy surrounded by white guys," Barnes said, describing how Jenior held Wawrin back as he tried to strike Barnes after making the racial slur.
Barnes left the porch, walked through the house, and tried to get Vanaman to walk with him to the car, he said.
"I'm not going to take this. Let's go," he said, remembering what he said to Vanaman in his hurry to get out of the situation. "I done blew this motherf***er up."
Diedre Badejo, director of Kent State University's Institute for African American Affairs, testified earlier in the trial that the phrase Barnes used did not literally mean he intended to blow up the residence. Instead, she said his word choice reflected his feelings of fear and wanting to get out of the situation.
Vanaman testified Thursday that she wasn't able to get through all of the people who had gathered in the room to follow Barnes into the parking lot.
"I was scared enough to leave Rebecca in the house," Barnes said of why he rushed out. "I was scared that my life was in danger. I had every reason to believe that they would do to me what they wanted."
Barnes retrieved a knife he said he mainly used to open boxes at work from the car before he stood outside waiting for Rebecca to come out of the house. While he was waiting, he said he heard someone say, "You have 10 f***ing minutes to leave here," a phrase a neighbor said she heard after being awakened by the ruckus.
Barnes said he saw four or five white men come toward him from the porch area and knock him nearly into the middle of the street.
"I'm on my back. All I can see is a bunch of guys surrounding me, swinging at me, so I started swinging and kicking back," he said.
Portage County Public Defender Dennis Lager had Barnes lay on the floor in front of the jury in the reclining position he said he was in during the fight. Lager demonstrated how Barnes could not have reached Wawrin's underarm area or DeAngelis' head, neck and shoulders _ where the two men were stabbed _ while he was in that position unless they were leaning over Barnes.
"I feared my life was really in danger," Barnes said. "I was protecting myself the best I could."
Barnes and Vanaman left the residence shortly after the incident and went back to their apartment where Barnes washed off the knife, which later was found at his residence by Kent police, and changed his bloodied shirt before going to his mother's house in Ravenna.
Barnes turned himself in to Kent police about an hour and a half after the first 911 call was made to report the incident.
Barnes' testimony was expected to continue today.