Saying his client was “a 16-year-old young man” who “tried to resist the sexual advances of a pedophile,” the defense attorney in the retrial of John Katehis said his client panicked when asked to participate in a sex act and stabbed his 47-year-old gay victim.
“He lost control,” said Jay Cohen, Katehis’ attorney, during November 2 opening statements in Brooklyn Supreme Court. “He never intended to kill him.”
The victim, George Weber, a WABC radio journalist, was stabbed a total of 50 times.
In March of 2009, Katehis, now 19, placed an ad on Craigslist that had “I blow for cash M4M” in the subject line and read “I am a 16-year-old dude looking for quick cash” in the body of the ad. Katehis was offering oral sex for $60. The age of consent in New York is 17.
Weber responded to the ad and wanted to have Katehis tie him up and smother him. They corresponded by email over a period of days and negotiated what they would do, when they would meet, and the price.
Katehis traveled to Weber’s Carroll Gardens apartment from his parents’ home in Queens. In statements to police, Katehis claimed that Weber gave him cocaine and beer. Tests on blood drawn from Katehis within hours of the attack found no controlled substances or measurable amounts of alcohol.
After he bound Weber’s feet, Katehis said, Weber displayed a knife and he panicked. The two struggled over the knife and Katehis said he accidentally stabbed Weber once. The older man had 50 stab wounds. Katehis had a knife collection and was known to regularly carry knives.
Katehis faces a single second-degree murder count that alleges he intentionally killed Weber. Cohen is aiming for an acquittal by saying his client lacked the legally required state of mind to prove intentional murder. He may also be laying the groundwork to ask Neil J. Firetog, the judge in the case, to add a lesser charge of manslaughter for the jury to consider as an alternative to murder.
The jury deadlocked at Katehis’ 2010 trial with 11 jurors voting to convict and one holding out for a not guilty verdict. His attorney in that trial, Jeffery T. Schwartz, said Weber was a sexual predator and that Katehis acted in self-defense after Weber displayed the knife.
Cohen is also emphasizing the predator angle.
“Mr. Weber wasn’t stopped by that,” Cohen said noting that Katehis’ ad stated he was 16. “He cruised the Internet for somebody young. He wanted a kid.”
Cohen had originally considered offering an extreme emotional disturbance defense, meaning his client acted under the influence of that state of mind. If the jury convicted him, but believed he acted in that state of mind, the conviction would be for manslaughter, not murder. The mental health expert who interviewed Katehis said there was no evidence to support that defense.
Earlier this year, Katehis was offered 16 years to life in exchange for a guilty plea to second-degree murder but rejected that offer.
Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, the prosecutor in the case, told the jury that the evidence would support the second-degree murder charge.
“At the end of this case, you will see that the defendant intentionally murdered George Weber,” she said. “Intoxication, panic as a legal excuse, none of that will apply... There is no legal excuse for what the defendant intentionally chose to do.”
Nicolazzi described the various statements that Katehis gave to police and implied that many were self-serving falsehoods. The prosecution wants the jury to believe some, but not all of what Katehis told police.
“Decide for yourselves if he is really the innocent, the victim, as he may be portrayed to be,” she said.