SMITHLAND -- The Princeton man accused of stabbing another to death in April 2017 was agitated and made violent statements the evening of the stabbing, witnesses testified Monday.
Joseph Anderson, 55, is charged with murder in the stabbing death of William Grant Beckner, 50, at Caldwell County’s Elks Lodge on April 15.
The trial kicked off Monday with testimony from a Princeton police officer and two patrons of the club present the night of the stabbing.
The venue for the trial, which attorneys estimate will take about a week to complete, was previously changed to Livingston County.
After Beckner’s daughter, Lanie Beckner, testified that she had last seen her father alive after eating with him the day of the stabbing, Princeton Police Officer Jordan Choate testified regarding what he found when he responded to the scene.
Choate said emergency dispatchers called him shortly after 11:30 p.m. in reference to a bar fight with a stabbing victim.
When he arrived at the scene, Choate said he found a group of people huddled around one who was on the ground.
“He was basically lifeless, unresponsive,” Choate said of Beckner.
He was told by witnesses at the scene that Anderson, then the superintendent of the Princeton Water Department, had arrived in his work vehicle. A search of the premises showed the vehicle was no longer at the scene.
Choate testified that dash cam video from his cruiser showed a vehicle, later identified as Anderson’s, leaving the club as Choate was arriving.
Defense attorney Don Thomas indicated in opening statements he planned to show Anderson acted in self-defense.
He asked Choate if his police training included how to respond to a person approaching with a gun or a knife.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Carrie Ovey-Wiggins objected, but Circuit Judge C.A. “Woody” Woodall allowed the questions.
Choate answered that his training allowed him to use deadly force, and he is trained to stop “when the threat stops.”
Thomas told the jury before testimony he intended to show Beckner was the aggressor in the fight, referring to him as “the villain,” and Anderson only stabbed Beckner after initially defending himself with his hands, and he stopped stabbing as soon as Beckner stopped attacking him.
Thomas mentioned there had already been one fight in the lodge that night between Beckner and Anderson, and that Anderson left, followed shortly by what Thomas characterized as “a mob.”
“They were going out there to whip his a--,” Thomas said.
During his opening statement, Thomas showed video of Anderson leaving the club and several people leaving shortly thereafter through the same door, pushing a man out of the way and going in the same direction Anderson had gone.
He characterized Anderson’s actions in the video as “running away” and attempting to save his life. He also indicated Anderson plans to testify in his own defense.
Another part of the video showed a fence shaking shortly after the apparent pursuit, and Thomas said that was the effect of a “sucker punch” that Beckner gave Anderson.
Ovey-Wiggins in her opening statements focused on witness testimony she said would show Anderson intended to cause trouble, including cursing at patrons of the lodge and making statements that showed he wanted to hurt someone.
She also focused on Anderson’s leaving the scene after the incident and the fact that no bloody clothes or the knife had been found following the stabbing.
She said there was blood found in Anderson’s vehicle when it was later located in Cadiz.
Ovey-Wiggins characterized Anderson as “belligerent, agitated, looking for a fight,” and said, while Anderson stabbed Beckner 17 times, he received only minor injuries, including a black eye and a laceration to his stomach.
“He killed Grant Beckner intentionally,” she told the jury.
Kayla Stevenson, a local reporter and member of the club, said she saw Anderson earlier in the day with a group at Hu-B’s bar in Kuttawa, and later at the Elks Lodge, where she sat in the chair next to him.
She testified she had never seen him act the way she saw him that night, “riled up and agitated.”
“I was like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to chill out,’” she said, telling jurors she left because she found his behavior “annoying” and she had to get home for an Easter church service the next day.
By the time she left, neither of the fights had broken out, Stevenson testified.
Another patron who said she left the club before the fights, Tammy Brown, also testified she heard Anderson speak violently, though not specifically regarding plans to hurt one person. Brown said she also heard him hurling profane insults to the end of the bar where Beckner and others were sitting.
Thomas cross-examined Brown, asking about her own history of lying to police, for which she once spent a brief time in jail.
Brown said she had been lying to protect her boyfriend at the time, and said the incident took place over 20 years ago.
Ovey-Wiggins and Thomas both indicated they plan to question eyewitnesses to the fight, doctors and other law enforcement sources when testimony resumes today.