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Man that defense claims is real killer testifies

A Medford man whom defense attorneys for murder defendant Luis Alberto Salas-Juarez say is the real killer of a Butte Falls man stabbed to death during a drunken brawl in 2006 testified Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Timothy Russell admitted he was drunk, terrified and wielded his knife during an early morning clash near Main and Bartlett streets involving himself, the defendant and about seven other young men on Aug. 13, 2006. At one point he, too, wondered if he had stabbed 23-year-old Mark Edwin Lunsford in the heart, Russell said.

"Somebody had been stabbed. I wondered if I could have possibly nicked someone. At first there was a bit of doubt," Russell said, adding he later came to believe that wasn't possible.

Russell, 25 at the time of the incident, testified he'd had about a dozen beers that night when he encountered a group from Butte Falls who were heading to their cars at about 2:45 a.m. after a night of bar-hopping.

Russell said he exchanged words with the group after they made racists comments. He said he also felt compelled to warn Salas-Juarez that he might be walking into a dangerous situation as the two passed each other in Theater Alley.

Russell said he turned and followed the Hispanic stranger "to make sure he was safe." And then he saw two members of the group, who were later alleged to be Jason Ricks and Joshua Taylor, attack Salas-Juarez.

(Clarification: Russell said he didn't identify the two assailants.)

"One guy smiled and charged at Salas. Salas was defending himself," Russell said.

Russell said he yelled at the men to stop, then pulled his knife for protection after others from the Butte Falls crew came after him.

"I was pretty panicked," he said. "I pulled out my knife hoping that would scare them away and waved it at (one of the men in the group.)"

Russell said waving his blade proved to be no deterrent. He was surrounded, hit with a belt, knocked down by either a rock or a fist and then kicked in the side when he fell from that blow, Russell said.

Russell said he sprang to his feet and then took off running toward his 10th Street home after someone yelled Lunsford had been stabbed.

"I was running frantically," he said. He added that he ran first to the Medford police station at City Hall, but could not gain entry or contact an officer.

Russell learned Lunsford had died of his wound a few hours later. But he said he did not notify police, even after watching news reports and suspecting he might be the "person of interest" authorities were hoping to question.

Russell said he was contacted at work on Aug. 16. But he declined to give a statement and hired an attorney. Russell said he later gave a statement to police, on Aug. 22.

Some of Lunsford's friends who were involved in the brief battle also testified Friday. None of the witnesses, including Russell, recall seeing Salas-Juarez with a knife that night.

Josh Taylor said Salas-Juarez and Russell came running out of the alley yelling and ready to fight.

"The Mexican had his belt swinging. Our group was fanning out. I peeled my belt off and started swinging at (Salas-Juarez)," Taylor said. "I thought they were crazy drunk. I figured it was time to get some."

But then someone started yelling about a knife, Taylor said.

"I looked left and right to see who has a knife," he said.

Christopher Barnett said he was celebrating his birthday with childhood friends from Butte Falls when the night ended in tragedy after Mark Lunsford, stabbed once in the heart, staggered down the street and collapsed in his arms.

"He said, 'I got stabbed, bro. He stabbed me,' " Barnett said.

Barnett said he tried to apply pressure to the rapidly spreading red stain on his friend's chest.

"He just says 'I'm going out.' And he just went limp in my arms," Barnett said.

Barnett said he and Taylor loaded Lunsford in a passing vehicle and told the driver to get Lunsford to the hospital "as soon as possible."

Earlier in the week state deputy medical examiner Dr. James Olson testified Lunsford died at Providence Medical Center hours later as a result of "a deep, slashing wound" to his heart. Surgeons attempted to save Lunsford, but the blood loss caused by the three-quarter-inch gash to his right ventricle proved fatal, Olson said.

"It was a homicidal event," he said.

This is the second time Salas-Juarez, 25, has faced murder and attempted murder charges in the 2006 murder case. His new trial was ordered by the Oregon Supreme Court after Salas-Juarez was sentenced to life in prison in February 2007 after a jury found him guilty of killing Lunsford and of the attempted murder of Lawrence Matthew Crowley in the same fight.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ray White sentenced Salas-Juarez to the maximum penalty for murder — life in prison with at least 25 years served before being eligible for parole. He also imposed a concurrent 71/2-year sentence on the attempted murder charge and ordered Salas-Juarez to pay more than $48,700 in restitution for Lunsford's medical and funeral costs.

Salas-Juarez' conviction was upheld by the Oregon Court of Appeals. But attorneys successfully argued the case before the Supreme Court in September 2010, and Salas-Juarez' case was remanded for retrial in Jackson County

The Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict after ruling that important evidence was withheld from jurors during his trial. The trial resumes Monday.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Man that defense claims is real killer testifies