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INDEPENDENCE — Grayson Circuit Court Judge Brett Geisler ruled on several motions Friday relating to the jury trial for Rafiel Bautista-Perez, who is charged in the fatal stabbing of Jason Smith on Oct. 1, 2007, after an argument erupted amongst a group of friends.
Around 3 p.m. on Oct. 1, police officers were dispatched to a reported argument at 104 Greenville Road in West Galax. While en route, a second 911 call reported that someone at the house had been stabbed.
During a preliminary hearing earlier this year, Galax Police Officer John Reavis testified that he arrived at the scene within two minutes of being dispatched, where he found Smith in the driveway, lying on the driver's side of a vehicle. He had a stab wound to the chest.
Medical help arrived quickly, and Smith was taken to Twin County Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Hearing witnesses Pamela Blankenship and Jason Lee Hill — along with Marty Smith and an unidentified female witness, who didn’t testify — were standing outside in the driveway when the officer arrived.
Smith's friends said that during the heated argument, Bautista-Perez came out of the house with a knife, walked over to Smith near a vehicle in the driveway and stabbed him.
Although the defendant claimed that he was asleep during the time of the incident. According to police, he later admitted to stabbing Smith.
However, during the hearing, Galax Police Detective J.B. Greer testified that Bautista-Perez told police he thought he had just "scraped” Smith with the knife.
Detective Aaron Criner of the Galax Police Department investigated the crime scene, finding the used weapon stashed under the kitchen sink.
The defendant's attorney, Nathan H. Lyons, noted on Friday that he replaced Bautista-Perez's former lawyer, who left private practice to become an employee of the commonwealth.
A defense motion asked for the judge to allow Bautista-Perez to appear in court wearing street clothes, including a suit and tie, rather than prison clothing. However, Geisler said he would need further consideration to decide if he could grant Lyons’ request that the defendant not be shackled.
Geisler said he would discuss the options with the sheriff's department and make a decision closer to the date of the trial.
"He has been charged with a very serious crime, which is the reason for his detention," said Commonwealth’s Attorney Doug Vaught. "I have no opposition as long as security can be maintained and won't jeopardize the safety of others."
Lyons requested that the jury be allowed to visit the crime scene to get an accurate view at the relationship between the driveway, porch steps, entryway, the house and the road. The reason, Lyons said, is because it took him "a while to understand the relationship [of the scene] by looking at the pictures."
"I oppose this for several reasons," argued Vaught. "The house without the car, body and bloodstains, without other explanation, will not add anything to the jury's understanding."
Vaught also said that, because the defendant will accompany the jury to the scene, this approach becomes a security issue.
The judge didn't rule on the motion, but said he wouldn't rule out the option.
Geisler set a separate motion hearing for Aug. 21 to rule on the suppression of statements the defendant made subsequent to his arrest. Lyons asked that these statements not be used as evidence.
Because Bautista-Perez does not speak English, Lyons requested that an interpreter be available at the counsel table so Lyons and his client can have confidential conversations. Otherwise, Lyons will not have any way of speaking to his client.
The judge said he plans to authorize an interpreter if allowed to do so.
Lyons raised questions about how to maintain confidentiality between him, his client and the interpreter during the trial. The microphone may pick up information translated between the three.
The judge said he would resolve that issue.
In a motion on exculpatory and favorable evidence, Lyons noted that people working on the case have been forthcoming in providing evidence and pictures.
The trial is set for Oct. 1 at 9 a.m. in Grayson County Circuit Court.
Bautista-Perez is an undocumented alien. If convicted, deportation procedures would begin after he has served his sentence.
Bautista-Perez remains in jail without bond.