Kenan Gay will testify in his second-degree murder trial, his lawyers said Thursday. But for now, his prospects of acquittal lean heavily on his wife.
For more than three hours, Liz Wicker Gay offered testimony that weaved through sobs and indignation, vivid details and lapses of memory she couldn’t fully explain.
At one point, she lectured one of her husband’s prosecutors about priorities. At another, she insisted that she had not exaggerated the advances of Robb Kingston that had led Kenan Gay to push Kingston out of Ed’s Tavern two years ago.
Moments later, Kingston lay dead in Park Road, and there was talk on the sidewalk that the “the tall blond kid” had been involved, Wicker Gay told a packed courtroom. Gay, the 6-foot-4 former UNC Chapel Hill walk-on football player, was nowhere to be found. Hours later, a police detective would tell her that he had been charged with murder.
At that moment, Wicker Gay said in tears, she almost collapsed.
Prosecutors – and a series of witnesses in the trial – say Gay bull-rushed Kingston into Park Road. There, the 30-year-old was fatally struck by a passing car. On Thursday, they also challenged Wicker Gay’s testimony that Gay had interceded to keep a dangerous drunk at bay.
Gay’s defense team of Sonya Pfeiffer and David Rudolf say Gay had only pushed Kingston out of the bar and onto the sidewalk. From there, they say, a drunken Kingston had stumbled into the car’s path.
Liz Wicker, who said she has known Gay since childhood, became engaged to him two months after his arrest. She married him a year later. Thursday, a month after the couple’s first anniversary, she was the opening witness in her husband’s defense.
Blonde like her husband but a foot shorter, Wicker Gay broke down repeatedly while being led through her testimony by Pfeiffer.
She described how a Saturday night with friends at Ed’s Tavern had soured on March 3, 2012, with what she described as the persistent and unwanted attention of Kingston; how Kingston had finally grabbed her bottom and tried to kiss her on his way out the bar; and how Gay, then her boyfriend had rushed Kingston out the door.
But when the prosecution took over, and Mecklenburg Assistant District Attorney Anna Greene began pounding away at the notion that Wicker Gay had been the target of a sexual predator that her husband had rushed in to repel, her tears disappeared.
Over almost two hours of cross-examination, Greene challenged everything from Wicker Gay’s crying to whether she would lie to save her mate.
If Kingston had so unnerved her, Greene asked, why did Wicker Gay not say something to the bar’s owners or bouncers? Why, in fact, did she not ask her boyfriend – your “knight in shining armor” as Greene derisively described him – to step in?
And whether Kingston had indeed put both hands on her bottom in the final seconds of his life, why did two security videos from the bar not prove it?
“You didn’t see it because it didn’t happen,” Greene said after she and Wicker Gay watched the grainy footage.
That’s not true, Wicker Gay replied.
The tone of the back-and-forth turned when Greene bore in on what Wicker Gay wore to court. Did she have help picking out her white blouse and dark skirt? Had she been coached to wear flats instead of heels to make her look smaller, more vulnerable to the jury?
Wicker-Gay’s voice trembled, this time seemingly from anger.
“Ma’am, somebody died here,” she told Greene.
“Yes, somebody did die,” Greene responded.
Wicker Gay pressed on. For more than two years, she told the prosecutor, she has felt heartache for the Kingston family, who were sitting directly in front of her on the prosecutor’s side of the room.
Yes, she said, she is “incredibly worried” about her husband. But someone has lost their life, and that was more important than what she had worn to court or why she had worn it, she said.
Under Pfeiffer’s further questioning, Wicker Gay said she stayed in the same part of the bar where Kingston had been drinking because “that was where my friends were.”
She had not said anything to the bouncers because while Kingston “creeped her out … I didn’t think he would harm me.”
She said she should have stayed at the bar until police arrived. But she told the jury she had seen a body in the street, her boyfriend was nowhere to be found, and when a friend offered her ride, “I heard the word ‘home.’ I wanted to go home.”
The day opened with Superior Court Judge Forrest Bridges denying a defense motion to stop the trial because Greene and co-prosecutor Jay Ashendorf had not proved their case.
It ended with a law school friend of Gay’s describing the eerie aftermath at the bar on the night Kingston died. Angela Berland had watched the UNC-Duke basketball game at Ed’s Tavern that night with a group of friends from Charlotte School of Law, Gay among them. She said she had picked up on Kingston’s behavior, and the discomfort of Gay’s girlfriend.
After Kingston’s death and Gay’s eventual arrest, she said she had driven some friends home and returned to the bar to pick up some others.
Ed’s Tavern was still packed. Inside, the band played on. Outside, Kingston’s body was still in Park Road. Hannah Jeffrey and Claire Williams contributed.