By PHILLIP BANTZ
The Keene State College student who was knifed at a fraternity party last year described the attack Wednesday during the first day of trial for the Winchester man accused in the stabbing.
Justin Ranucci took the stand in Cheshire County Superior Court and testified he is certain Gary Duquette stabbed him outside the Alpha Pi Tau fraternity house at 29 Coolidge St. the night of July 22, 2008. He pointed across the courtroom at Duquette, who wore a dark suit, and identified him as his attacker.
Duquette is charged with four counts of first-degree assault alleging he stabbed Ranucci at least twice in the back and once in the chest and leg. First-degree assault carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
The jury of nine women and five men, which includes two alternates, visited the house where the stabbing occurred before they heard opening statements from Assistant Cheshire County Attorney John S. Webb and defense attorney Nathan R. Lynch of Walpole. Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Keith W. Clouatre is also prosecuting Duquette.
While Webb told jurors that Ranucci, then 19, and Duquette, then 24, faced off head-to-head, Lynch said they were involved in a drunken brawl reminiscent of a Wild West bar fight. He suggested that someone else stabbed Ranucci during the melee.
“It should be clear by the end of the trial that the state has no idea who stabbed Justin Ranucci,” Lynch said.
The only state witness who can identify Duquette as the stabber is Ranucci, despite the number of potential witnesses who attended the party, Lynch said. He also said Ranucci was drinking heavily and smoking marijuana the night of the fight.
Partygoer Brooke L. McLain testified that the fight broke out inside the fraternity house between members of the fraternity and a group of people she’d never met. Then the fight spilled out the front door and into the street before the stabbing.
“They all rushed out the front door and started beating each other,” she said.
After seeing a fraternity brother punched in the face and laid out on a car, McLain said she decided to leave the party. She was gone during the stabbing.
Between 20 and 25 people ended up fighting in the street, Ranucci said.
He said he was jumped when he tried to help a friend who was being kicked and punched by at least four people. He said he eventually escaped that beating and was walking back toward the fraternity house when Duquette stepped in front of him and got in his face.
A man who was hanging out with Duquette earlier during the party — Ranucci said he had seen Duquette breaking beer bottles over the man’s head — yelled for Duquette to “Grab the knuckles!” and “Stab him! Stab him!” Ranucci said.
Ranucci said he turned toward the man, who was not named in court, and when he looked back toward Duquette the stabbing began.
“I’ve been punched plenty of times in the past. I know what that feels like,” he said. “When he was throwing the blows and punches it felt different. It was more internal. It felt hot. It felt like it went through me.”
Ranucci’s friend Justin Bronner, then 22, was also stabbed when he tried to help Ranucci, police said. But no one has been charged with stabbing Bronner, who suffered minor injuries and was treated and released from the hospital hours after the attack.
Ranucci spent eight days in the hospital and underwent emergency surgery after the stabbing.
“I have a giant scar down my stomach now because they had to cut me open and go through my intestines to make sure anything else wasn’t hit,” he said.
A digital photograph taken during the party and later posted on a social networking Web site helped lead police to Duquette, Webb said. In the photo, Duquette is wearing a baseball cap, backward and crooked, and the man who Ranucci said instigated the stabbing is leaning toward the camera and sticking out his tongue.
McLain testified that she e-mailed the photo to Keene police detective Donald Lundin. Ranucci also received an e-mail of the photo from a friend, and said he felt sick when he first saw it and recognized Duquette as his attacker.
“I had to put it away,” he said. “I couldn’t look at it.”
Lundin later showed Ranucci a photo lineup and Ranucci pointed out Duquette. Lynch is arguing that the lineup was tainted because Ranucci had already seen a photo of Duquette.
Lynch said Ranucci wants someone to pay for the stabbing, and he and his other college friends dislike “townies,” or locals.
“This case is really going to come down to the credibility of witnesses,” he said. “You’ll have to ask yourself if there’s any motive or bias.”
The trial, which is scheduled for three days, continues today.