Accused testifies about night of slaying outside WR restaurant

PERRY — Mario Harris testified Wednesday that he feared for his life when he fatally stabbed a man outside a Warner Robins restaurant and bar in 2007.

“I don’t feel like I had a choice,” Harris told jurors. “I felt like I did what I had to do to be here today.”

Harris, 32, of Warner Robins, is accused of stabbing Stephen Thad Register, 32, of Warner Robins, once just below the chest at about 10:44 p.m. Dec. 27, 2007, outside Buffalo’s Cafe at 3051 Watson Blvd. 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 a crime.

Here’s what happened that night, according to Harris’ testimony:

Harris told jurors Register and two other men, Bobby Releford and Andrew Holiday, rushed him in the parking lot, and he feared Holiday may have had a gun.

Harris said he already had pulled out a knife to no avail in an attempt to deter the men, who were threatening him to no avail. The men now were saying they were going to kill him.

When he was rushed, Harris said, he stabbed the one who reached him first, Register, as a “natural reflex.”

The confrontation followed an unexpected meeting in the restaurant and bar between Harris and his then 17-year-old half-sister, Brittany Holder. Both were on their way out.

Harris asked her why she was at a bar, who she was with and if she was OK. He asked her to introduce him to the men she was with, who included her boyfriend at the time, Releford.

Harris and Holder walked out arm-in-arm. Harris told Releford he was protective of his little sister. Releford didn’t appear to take offense, and the two shook hands.

But as Harris was walking away to catch a ride with his then-girlfriend, Releford shouted a loud, derogatory comment and cursed Holder as he ordered her into a sport utility vehicle. Concerned for Holder, Harris said he turned back.

An argument ensued, with Register and Holiday getting back out of the SUV to confront Harris, while Releford remained inside. The argument escalated, the men rushed him, and he stabbed Register as he was suddenly upon him.

Harris, who was enrolled in school to learn aircraft sheet metal maintenance and construction, testified he kept the knife on him as part of his job in construction. The knife was not recovered. Harris testified that he’d thrown it away while outside of the Friends on the Hill bar, thinking it may have landed on the roof of the nearby Holiday Inn off Watson Boulevard. Warner Robins police detective Brad Mules testified Holder called him the morning after the stabbing to say she needed to correct her statement to police that the men had run to help Register — not rush at Harris. She testified Tuesday that Releford and Holiday rushed Harris.

Dr. James Whitaker, Houston County medical examiner, testified that Register died from massive bleeding with injuries to internal organs, including cutting the pancreas in half. Whitaker told jurors a good deal of force would be needed to inflict a stab wound nearly six inches deep.

Character witnesses testified Harris was a “peaceable” person as opposed to a violent person. Jack O. Davis, a family friend and Warner Robins barber, described Harris as “a good kid. The kind you’d want your daughter to marry.”

Closing arguments are expected this morning.