With the trial of John Katehis, the accused killer of George Weber, slated to start on October 18, it appears that the defense will try to make Katehis the victim in the 2009 homicide and Weber a sexual predator who brought his death upon himself.
“Do you think the person who gets the worst of a situation is automatically the victim?” Jeffery T. Schwartz, Katehis’ attorney, asked prospective jurors on October 14 in Brooklyn Supreme Court. He had posited a circumstance in which a person initiates a fight and ends up losing badly.
In his statements to police and the Brooklyn district attorney, Katehis, who was 16 at the time of the killing, said he responded to an internet ad placed by Weber seeking sexual services for pay in March of 2009. Once at Weber’s Carroll Gardens apartment, Katehis, now 18, said the 47-year-old gay journalist gave him cocaine and beer and asked Katehis to smother him. Katehis bound Weber’s feet with duct tape. When Weber showed him a knife, he panicked and the two men struggled over the knife. Katehis said he recalled only a single cut to Weber’s throat that was made when both men were holding the knife. Weber was stabbed nearly 50 times. The defense has argued that Weber asked Katehis to participate in an activity that made him uncomfortable.
Schwartz asked jurors if they thought that alcohol and drugs could explain the behavior of a 16-year-old and would the fact that the 16-year-old was given alcohol and drugs by “an elder person” influence their thinking.
“Would you agree with me that a child might react differently if he was frightened or startled?” Schwartz asked. “Would you agree with me that people behave differently when they have alcohol in their system?”
Schwartz has consistently represented his client as the victim of an older man who was trying to force a younger man to have an unwanted sexual encounter. During October 12 and 13 pre-trial hearings, however, new facts emerged that may present problems for the defense at trial.
On October 12, Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, the prosecutor in the case, disclosed that it was Katehis who placed the internet ad and that the two men negotiated what they would do, when they would do it, and what it would cost via email over a period of several days. Nicolazzi has referred to witnesses being flown in from California. They may be from craigslist, the site where the ad ran. Additionally, Nicolazzi said blood drawn from Katehis hours after the killing did not test positive for drugs. In his statements, Katehis said he had a single beer.
In her juror questioning, Nicolazzi asked jurors if the age difference between the two men and the smothering would keep them from following the law or being fair.
“There’s a sexual component, whether there was any sex or not, just by the nature of fetishes,” she told jurors. Katehis gave his age in his internet ad.
“Is it fair to say that when you hear that you say yuck?” Nicolazzi asked prospective jurors. She also prepared jurors to hear Katehis’ statements and signaled that she would be asking them to believe parts and disregard others.
“Ever been in a situation where someone tells you something and part of it is true, part of it’s not maybe to help themselves?” she asked jurors.
Also on October 14, Schwartz asked Neil J. Firetog, the judge in the case, to recuse himself saying the judge had a longstanding bias against him and that it was damaging to his client. Observers said the exchange grew heated at points. Firetog refused to quit the case.
On October 13, Firetog twice warned Schwartz that he would hold him in contempt and fine him if he did not abide by the judge’s rulings when questioning witnesses during the trial.