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New Year's Eve Slaying: Murder or Self-Defense?

Jurors will decide if a Dana Point man who fatally stabbed a Mission Viejo resident at a party is a violent killer or victim.

A 24-year-old Dana Point man is either a killer who brought a knife to a fistfight, as a prosecutor alleged in closing arguments at the man's trial Monday, or was just trying to defend himself at a New Year's Eve party that ended "horribly,'' as his defense attorney argued.

Adam Randy Baker is charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder, plus sentencing enhancements for using a deadly weapon. If convicted, he faces up to 23 years to life in prison.

Baker is accused of fatally stabbing 27-year-old Robert Sickles, an Air Force veteran and Mission Viejo resident, and Sickles' then-26-year-old friend, Brian McTeigue, around 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2011, at a New Year's Eve party at the Costa Mesa Hilton.

"You can't pick a fight and pull out a knife in a fistfight," Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy told jurors.

For Baker to claim self-defense, he would have had to make it clear to the fellow combatants that he did not want to fight, but they kept attacking him, Murphy argued.

"Who picks the fight matters," Murphy said.

Baker started things when he flicked a cigarette into a crowd of people and then said, "What the (expletive) are you looking at?" Murphy said.

"Those words have never been uttered by someone not looking for a fight,"Murphy said. "That is the language of the bully."

Baker allegedly shoved Sickles, slashed him with the knife and then plunged it into his chest, Murphy argued.

In the scrum, McTeigue was also stabbed in the back, Murphy said.

Baker was beaten so badly he ended up spending nearly a week in a hospital, his attorney Gary Pohlson said.

Baker testified that he could not recall the fight.

Baker's friend Scott Hudson also testified, but his account differs from the testimony of the victim's friends.

Murphy attacked Hudson's testimony, noting he did not wait to speak to police at the scene and adding that he has changed his account of the battle several times.

"That man is not a credible witness," Murphy said.

A cellphone video of the fight was played for jurors several times as the attorneys tried to use it to prove their points about who was at fault in the struggle.

Murphy also noted that Baker has several tattoos, including one depicting "bloody daggers."

"How many peaceful people have bloody daggers tattooed on their skin," Murphy said.

Baker testified he forgot he left the knife in his pocket before he went to the party. He had been using it at a job to open boxes, according to his testimony.

"So he's at the Hilton for four hours and only during the fight does it occur to him he has a knife in his pocket?" Murphy said. "That's absolutely insulting to your intelligence. It's untrue."

Baker testified he also used the knife for fishing, Murphy said.

"He brought that knife (to the party) to protect his ego if he got in a fight," Murphy said. "And then he picks a fight with multiple people for no reason. ... He was spoiling for a fight and he got it."

The prosecutor then turned to Baker and said, "You won the fight. Congratulations."

Defense attorney Pohlson offered a much different portrait of his client.

At 1:54 a.m. that night, Baker, who had had a few cocktails and was feeling relaxed, was smoking a cigarette and sending text messages to a friend, Pohlson said.

"By 1:56 a.m., he's a murderer," Pohlson said. "So his whole life changed in two minutes."

Not only is there no motive for the attack, "Why would he do that? It makes no sense," Pohlson said.

"Adam Baker was at this party. He's having a good time," Pohlson said. "Then he does a dopey thing. A rude thing. He flicks his cigarette. But he didn't flick it to start a fight."

The fight started moments later, but the defense attorney said it's not clear who started it.

Sickles had no "punch marks on his face," according to the autopsy, Pohlson said. "But Adam Baker had tons of marks on his face. ... Mr. Sickles is pounding on Adam Baker. He's winning this fight and then they all jump into this and then it's five on one."

Then the men ran away, Pohlson said.

"This is a glorified bar fight that went horribly wrong," Pohlson said.

The defense attorney put several character witnesses on the stand who said the allegations against Baker are "totally out of character," Pohlson said.

Baker did try to end the fight, his attorney argued. "What better way to stop fighting than to run away?" Pohlson said. "The cellphone video definitely shows him running away."

Two of the men kicked Baker when he was down, including "a great big field goal" kick to the defendant's head, Pohlson said.

"This is a beat down. That's why they run away. They knew they did something wrong," Pohlson argued.

Pohlson said the prosecution's observations about the defendant's tattoos are "ridiculous." Sickles had similar tattoos, Pohlson said.

"It shows you how desperate the prosecution is," Pohlson said. Closing arguments will continue Tuesday with Murphy making his rebuttal argument.

– City News Service

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