SKOWHEGAN — Jason Cote beat Ricky Cole with a metal pipe several times after Cole threatened him and repeatedly came after him with a knife on the night of July 17, 2013, Cote testified on the witness stand Wednesday in Somerset County Superior Court.

Cote, 25, of Palmyra, who is charged with murder in connection with the bludgeoning death of Cole, said that when he left Cole’s home in Detroit that night he didn’t know Cole was dead and he was in such shock he doesn’t remember why he threw some of Cole’s belongings and the pipe in a nearby pond.

On Wednesday he took the stand as a witness in his own defense against the murder charge, pleading with prosecutors that he had acted in self-defense in Cole’s death. The trial began Dec. 10 and the defense rested its case Wednesday afternoon. Closing arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday.

“I’m sorry Ricky’s dead,” Cote said during cross-examination. “There are times I wish I hadn’t walked out of there that night, but I did. Should I have to sit and fight for my life because somebody tried to kill me?”

Previous testimony by acquaintances of the two men, law enforcement and forensics experts focused on Cote’s fear of Cole, and the forensic evidence, including blood splattered around Cole’s home and on Cote’s clothing.

The fight between the two men stemmed from an investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms into allegations that Cole was in possession of firearms even though he was a felon prohibited from having them, Cote said. Federal agents with the bureau also testified Wednesday, saying that such an investigation was underway at the time of Cole’s death.

The day when Cole, 47, died, Cote, his former roommate, had been subpoenaed by one of those agents asking him to testify in court that Cole was in fact in possession of weapons. That angered Cole, according to Cote, who said that Cole had asked him to tell police the weapons were his and not Cole’s.

He received a text message from Cole, who was also his drug dealer at the time, on July 17, asking him to come over and talk to him and promising him drugs in return..

Cote said he walked to Cole’s mobile home on Main Street in Detroit and the two men smoked marijuana together and made small talk before Cole brought up the federal investigation, saying he had found out that an agent had visited Cote that day.

“He asked if I would continue to take the blame and say the guns weren’t his,” Cote testified. “I told him they were threatening me with going to jail for lying to a federal agent and he began getting defensive.”

He said Cole asked him, “Are you more afraid of going to jail than you are afraid of me?” and started pacing the living room, holding a metal pipe. Cote was familiar with the pipe, which he said Cole had found a few weeks before and brought inside, telling him he would use it to break the legs of a man who owed him money.

“I pleaded with him and told him what he wanted to hear, that I would take the rap for the guns,” Cote said. Cole calmed down, but the topic came up again, and this time Cole stood up and picked up a knife lying on a nearby coffee table.

He started pacing the room with the knife in his hand, yelling at Cote, he said.

“I wanted to get out of there, but there was nowhere for me to go,” Cote said, adding that Cole stood between him and the door, pacing with the knife in his hand.

He grabbed the pipe that Cole had put down and stood up from his seat on the couch. Cole came at him with the knife and Cote struck him with the pipe.

“His face turned,” Cote said, describing the scene.

“What do you mean?” asked his attorney, Stephen Smith.

“It turned evil,” Cote testified. “Just evil.”

He said Cole came at him again with the knife and he struck him again, pushing him back on to the couch. Cole got up and again came at him with the knife, and Cote swung and hit him again, knocking him onto his hands and knees.

He said Cole was still conscious and tried a fourth time to get at him with the knife. “I wasn’t going to hit him. I was done, but he came at me again,” Cote said.

He continued to strike Cole until he felt he had the upper hand and Cole was lying on the floor, face up.

“I didn’t think he was dead, no,” Cote said. “I was in complete shock. I didn’t know what to do.”

He saw a laptop nearby and struck that with the pipe because he believed Cole had been recording the conversation.

Then he took Cole’s pants, his cellphone, the knife and the pipe and left the house. The pipe and the pair of pants were recovered later by police in the pond outside the house, along with a comforter that Cote said he didn’t remember taking. He threw the knife and phone into the woods as he walked home before calling his friends, David LaFleur and Amy Tarr, to pick him up.

In cross-examination Wednesday afternoon, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea asked Cote why he had lied to police and why he didn’t leave Cole’s home after they first talked about the federal investigation.

During cross-examination, Cote said it wasn’t unusual for Cole to get upset, but normally he would calm down, according to Cote, who said he reacted when Cole came at him with the knife. He said he couldn’t explain some of the things he did, such as why he took Cole’s pants or why he took his clothes off after he got home and hid them.

“I was scared of pretty much everything,” Cote said. “Nobody can ever plan on that happening. When something like that happens, you don’t know what you’re going to do until you’re in the situation.”

Wednesday’s testimony followed testimony of several people over the previous four days who said they had heard Cole make threats to kill and hurt Cote and others in the past.

One woman, Sarah Lapierre, testified Wednesday that a few months before Cole died, he had barged into Cote’s home while she was there with her boyfriend and pointed a shotgun at them, demanding to see Cote about money Cote owed him.

Tarr also testified that when she and LaFleur picked Cote up, he told them, “I did something (expletive) up and can’t talk about it.”

Before the state rested its case Tuesday, experts testified that Cole’s blood was found throughout his mobile home in Detroit, that the manner in which the blood was splattered was consistent with that of violence that had taken place and that Cole’s blood also was found splattered on clothing belonging to Cote.

Cote’s attorneys have argued that evidence of the violence that took place at Cole’s Detroit mobile home does not reveal anything about the mental state of either person, or whether Cote had reason to fear Cole. Cote said Wednesday that he initially lied to police because he was a drug addict and did not think he would be believed. He also said he feared for his life.

Zainea said the state believes Cole’s head was “stomped on, causing fractures” and said there were lacerations found on his body that appear to have been caused by the metal pipe. Cote said he never stomped on Cole’s head.

Zainea said that based on the evidence, the state also believes Cote inflicted injuries on Cole while Cole was lying on the floor, trying to defend himself. Cole was on the floor bleeding but he still had the knife in his hand and Cote said he was unsure whether he would get up and go after him again. He said he did hit Cole while Cole was lying on the floor.

“I don’t know why I did a lot of the things I did,” Cote said. “Something dramatic just happened to me. I just had somebody try and kill me. Would you think clearly after someone tried to kill you? (What I did) was a reaction more than anything else. It wasn’t a thought.”

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm