Jurors hear testimony about stabbing outside WR restaurant

PERRY — The half-sister of a Warner Robins man accused of stabbing another man to death outside a Warner Robins restaurant and bar testified Tuesday that her former boyfriend and his cousin jumped the accused.

Mario Cavalli Harris, 32, is accused of stabbing Stephen Thad Register, 32, of Warner Robins, once just below the chest about 10:44 p.m. Dec. 27, 2007, outside of Buffalo’s Cafe at 3051 Watson Blvd., police said. Register died about six hours later at Houston Medical Center.

Harris is being tried in Houston County Superior Court on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a knife during the commission of crime.

Brittany Holder, Harris’ half-sister, testified that Bobby Releford, who was her boyfriend at the time, his cousin Andrew Holiday and Register were waiting outside in the parking lot for her that night. She said she had dated Releford for about a year and that the relationship ended a few weeks after the incident.

On her way out of Buffalo’s, Harris tapped Holder on the shoulder and the two walked out to the parking lot arm in arm. Harris only wanted to meet the men she was hanging out with, said Holder, who serves in the military.

She testified that Releford was at first upset but was OK when he was told that Harris was her half-brother.

Holder testified that Harris told Releford upon meeting him, “This is my little sister. I love her. Take care of her.”

The men shook hands, she testified.

But as Harris was walking away, Releford shouted a loud derogatory remark about Harris, who heard and it turned back toward the men. An argument ensued, with Holiday threatening Harris. All the men were “fussing” and cursing, when Harris was rushed by Releford and Holiday, Holder testified.

She testified that she did not see Register and ran to Harris and told him to “just leave. They’re tripping. They’re acting stupid.” She testified that Releford, Holiday and Register had been drinking.

Holder testified that she did not see the stabbing.

She also testified that at some time after the stabbing, Releford told her Holiday had a gun under the front seat. She also testified that she didn’t include that detail in her statements to police.

Tonya Doak, Harris’ former girlfriend, testified that Harris called her and asked her to pick him up at Buffalo’s. After she pulled into the parking lot near the front door, she said she saw Harris leave the restaurant, saw him arguing with the men and also saw the men rush him. The two had dated about seven months, but the relationship ended with the incident.

Doak, who testified that she didn’t see the stabbing, said she wanted to get Harris away from the scene before there was a fight.

She testified that Harris told her, “I can’t believe I stuck him.”

Doak, a waitress, previously pleaded guilty to obstruction of police in relation to the case by not calling 911 after Harris had indicated he’d “stuck” someone. She also testified that she had driven him to the police station to turn himself in the next morning after he learned that Register had died.

Releford testified that Register had remained inside Buffalo’s until after he and Harris had shaken hands and later started arguing. When Register came out and saw the men arguing, he walked up to Harris with his hands by his side asking what was going on.

Holiday, who described Register as “one of my best friends” for 10 years, also testified that Register had his hands by his side when he wanted to know what was going on. He testified that Register and Harris were face to face at that point.

Holiday, who said he is currently serving 15-years probation for possession of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana and obstruction of an officer in an unrelated case, also testified that he did not own a gun. Releford had testified that Holiday had a gun but kept it at home.

Holiday said he threatened Harris while the men were arguing but did not act on it.

During opening arguments earlier, Franklin J. Hogue, a Macon attorney representing Harris, told jurors that the trial was not a murder case but one of self-defense.

Harris had reason to believe there may have been a gun involved when he stabbed Register, Hogue said.

But Houston County assistant district attorney Duncan Munn told jurors that Harris was the aggressor, having identified himself as a “G killer” when he met up with the men.

Hogue said he didn’t know where the “G killer” reference came from but expected witnesses would be able to shed light on that. Holder testified that “killer” comments were made by both Harris and Releford.

Judge Katherine K. Lumsden, who is presiding over the trial, ruled that Holder could not explain to jurors what the comments meant because she didn’t make them.

Munn told jurors that the autopsy showed that Register had no defensive wounds and that he died of a single 5-inch-deep stab wound that had to have been delivered with much force.

“They didn’t attack him,” Munn told jurors. “They didn’t touch him.”

Before jurors were led into the courtroom early Tuesday, Lumsden ruled against motions from Hogue in relation to Register’s blood alcohol level, saying the law decrees that the character of a homicide victim is irrelevant. Hogue argued that he had an expert witness ready to testify that alcohol can cause people to act more aggressively.

Testimony is expected to continue today.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.