The trial of Joseph Lester, which kicked off this morning in Pierce County Superior Court, won’t be about whether Lester stabbed his pregnant girlfriend to death in 2011. The question for jurors will be why.
Lester, 25, admits he killed Keisha Lewis outside a University Place duplex on Halloween evening.
Deputy prosecutors James Curtis and Angelica Williams said it was premeditated first-degree murder, a bloody culmination of a tumultuous relationship that included allegations of domestic violence on both sides. They’ve also filed an alternative charge of felony murder, saying Lester was committing the crime of assault against Lewis but she died as a result. They also contend he killed her within sight and sound of her two minor children.
Defense attorneys Curtis Huff and Dino Sepe contend Lester couldn’t form the intent to kill Lewis because he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. They also say he killed Lewis in self-defense after she confronted him with a knife.
During his opening statement, Curtis painted a chilling picture of Lewis’ last minutes alive, including her screams for help after Lester stabbed her multiple times in the front yard of a duplex in the 6000 block of 57th Avenue West of University Place.
“‘He’s killing me! He’s killing me,’” Curtis said. “That’s what Keisha Lewis screamed after the defendant, Joseph Lester, stabbed her in the hand, in the arm, in the shoulder, in the chest, in her throat and in the back of her head.”
Curtis went on to describe how Lewis, 21, ran inside her home and bled to death in front of those closest to her: the woman who raised her as her own, her best friend and her 2-year-old son. The stabbing also occurred within sight of Lester’s car, where the couple’s nine-month-old daughter was strapped in a car seat, the deputy prosecutor said.
“Keisha Lewis didn’t have much, but she had a life and the defendant took it,” Curtis said.
Defense attorney Curtis Huff said his client acted out of fear that day.
“This is a case about fear, fear stemming from multiple acts of violence that my client has suffered over the years,” Huff said during his opening statement. “These acts of violence serve as a basis for a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder.”
Huff pointed out that Lewis stabbed Lester during a fight about three weeks before her death, severing an artery in his calf. The night she died, Lewis again confronted Lester with a knife, he said.
“The evidence will show he feared for his life,” Huff said.
Lester is expected to testify on his own behalf when the defense presents its case later this month.