The trial of Michael Poth, a former Marine accused of fatally stabbing fellow Marine Philip Bushong following an altercation involving the yelling of anti-gay epithets in the Barracks Row neighborhood of Southeast D.C., began Thursday in D.C. Superior Court.
On Tuesday, lawyers for Poth, who faces a charge of second-degree murder while armed for allegedly stabbing Bushong in the 700 block of 8th Street SE during the early morning hours of April 21, 2012, succeeded in getting Judge Russell Canan to approve a motion to suppress some of the ''spontaneous'' statements allegedly made by Poth, because he made them after being asked what happened by an officer of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
Another MPD officer testified, however, that none of the MPD officers at the scene had asked Poth a direct question, prompting Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman to argue that Poth was not being interrogated. Canan ruled that the first officer – even though his memory of the event was hazier than the second officer's – had interrogated Poth without reading him his Miranda rights and moved to suppress those statements in question, namely: ''Call me boots and the fight started''; ''The Marine Corps controls my mind. I don't control my mind''; ''He was talking shit, so I stabbed him''; and ''He punched me in the face, so I stabbed him.'' As a result, the jury will not hear evidence that Poth made such statements.
Liebman was successful in arguing that the search of Poth's belongings – including the knife presumed to have been used in the homicide – seized from him after his arrest be included as evidence at trial. Canan also ruled that prosecutors could raise a separate statement by Poth – ''Good, I hope he dies'' – that was uttered after Poth overheard someone say the victim was being transported to a hospital.
In his cross-examination of a witness, a Marine who had been on post nearby at the time of the stabbing, Poth's chief defense lawyer, Bernard Grimm, used video footage from surveillance cameras along with prior witness testimony to raise the possibility that Poth had been defending himself against an attack by Bushong, who was seen pursuing Poth in at least one of the video frames. The witness insisted the victim had already been stabbed when seen walking past the surveillance camera. The witness said he and his fellow Marines had shadowed Poth and Bushong after seeing the men interact – which he interpreted as hostile due to the body language of the two men – and that they heard Poth threaten to stab Bushong. Grimm continued to question the witness, focusing on whether Poth may have felt threatened by Bushong and may have acted in self-defense.
Afterward, Canan recessed the trial until Nov. 18. Poth remains held without bond at the D.C. Jail.
Before Thursday's opening arguments, Poth's trial had twice been postponed due to a change of defense counsel and complications on the part of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia in coordinating with the Marine Corps to make witnesses available.
According to charging documents, as well as video surveillance, Poth was acting erratically as he walked around the Barracks Row neighborhood brandishing an object thought to be the knife eventually confiscated from him. Poth is seen on camera passing by an 8th Street venue where Bushong, who was straight, is seen embracing his friend, who is gay.
None of the surveillance footage shows the fatal stabbing, though witnesses – mostly Marines on duty – previously testified in pre-trial hearings that Poth called Bushong a ''faggot'' and threatened to stab him. The witnesses say Bushong grabbed Poth's shoulder and cocked a fist as if he was going to punch Poth, but never followed through. Those witnesses say Poth stabbed Bushong in his chest, Bushong walked on for a bit, not realizing the extent of his injuries, then lifted his shirt to look at his wound and fell to the ground. He was transported to an area hospital and pronounced dead later that morning. It was later revealed in pre-trial testimony that Poth had tested positive for artificial marijuana, also known as ''spice,'' at the time of his arrest.