A defense attorney told a Criminal Court jury on Tuesday that a woman who was killed at an apartment building in Highland Park pulled a knife on the man who is charged with her murder.
Attorney Andrew Childress said Ashley Cates was holding a knife at the top of the stairs when Tyrone Murphy came up them on the night of June 4, 2017. He said there was a struggle, then Murphy took the knife and stabbed her.
Prosecutor Cameron Williams, who is asking the jury in the courtroom of Judge Barry Steelman to find Murphy guilty of first-degree murder, said the victim was stabbed over 15 times. He told the panel, "He drove one blow in with such force that the top of the knife broke off in her head."
The prosecutor said Ms. Cates was a "sweet and kind" 30-year-old woman who was timid and was living on her own for the first time.
She had moved into the second floor of an apartment house at 1512 Bailey Ave. just a short time before. Prosecutor Williams said, "She had been told it was a safe place."
He said her mother, Janice, had stayed with her until about midnight on June 4 and had left at that time because Ashley seemed to be doing okay.
The family became worried when Ms. Cates did not show up for an appointment to take care of a friend's pets and when she did not answer phone calls or texts. The mother went to check on her along with her husband, Tim Mosteller, Ashley's step-father.
Prosecutor Williams said they became more concerned when they saw her car outside the apartment building. They had trouble getting into the house, then spent a long time getting inside the door to her unit. There was no response to their knocking and shouts.
He said when the door was finally pried open they could see her dead body in the floor.
Prosecutor Williams said police found Murphy in his room nearby. They had to force their way in and found him in his bed with the covers over him and his eyes closed.
It was found that he had a cut hand and went to the hospital to get it tended to on the day the body was found.
The prosecutor said a bag of clothes was found in a basement laundry room. It contained bloody towels and mats along with Ms. Cates' purse, wallet and driver's license. He said blood found on the license carried the DNA of Murphy.
Tim Mosteller said Ms. Cates had lived in his residence on Hillcrest Road for about two years. He said she was a lovely girl who was sometimes sweet, but could be contrary. He said, "Ashley wanted to do what Ashley wanted to do when she wanted to do it."
He said she moved out at one point to live with a boyfriend in Red Bank, but she said he was abusive. He said she moved back in with them, then he had to tell her to leave when she would not quit smoking in her room.
The witness said he felt the Highland Park apartment was a safe location, noting that mostly UTC students were living in that section.
He told of going with his wife to find out why Ashley could not be contacted. He said they tried several tools to get the door pried open and finally succeeded. He said Ashley's body could be seen from outside the door.
He said his wife, who had been banging on the door and shouting for her daughter to respond, began screaming when she saw the body. She then ran down the stairs.
He said, "I went down and held her. I didn't know what else to do or say."
A UTC student who was one of the four second-floor residents told of hearing the banging on the door and the shouting. He said he came out and began trying to help get the door open.
He said the previous early morning - around 3 or 4 a.m. - he was half asleep when he heard a "blood-curdling, high-pitched scream." He said it was a woman's voice. He said by the time he got up to turn off some music, the screaming was over and he did not venture out.
Donna "DJ" Weaver, another second-story resident, said she saw Murphy coming from the laundry room area about 8 a.m. on the day the body was found. She said he was "the same old happy-go-lucky Tyrone."
She said she noticed that his left hand had a blue bandage or towel. She said she asked about it and he said he cut his hand at work.
A little while later, she said Murphy offered her some cigarettes, but she declined.
She said she also came out when there was a commotion about getting in Ms. Cates' room. She said the mother "kept calling over and over for her to open the door." She said when the body was spied "she screamed and ran down the stairs. I ran after her and just held onto her."
DJ said she did not know that Murphy was in his room when all the uproar was going on. She said, "He had a second job and I thought he was there."
Officer George Romero, who was nearby when the "unknown trouble" call went out, said he went upstairs and noticed a spot of blood on the hall floor. He said he then noticed a bloody smudge on the door of Murphy's apartment.