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Jurors hear opening statements, testimony from first two witnesses in Wimer murder trial

Benden Rex Stansell

Attorneys gave opening statements and two witnesses — both Jackson County sheriff’s deputies who responded to the call and captured video at different points and locations — testified Tuesday in the second-degree murder trial of Brendan Rex Stansell.

It’s known that Stansell, 21, killed Matthew James Joseph Stephens, 23, on Sept. 18, 2020, at a remote location within Elderberry Flats near Wimer and the Rogue River.

Jurors are being asked to determine why Stansell killed Stephens.

Jackson County District Court Presiding Judge Lorenzo Mejia is presiding over the case. Jury selection went into the beginning of the afternoon, which allowed more than two hours of trial time.

Deputy District Attorney Lucy Durst said Stansell had been inconsistent about what happened and that over time his statements changed to “what he thinks they should be.”

Durst advised jurors to “listen closely to what he says and what supports that.”

Stansell said he was offered $20 to drive Stephens and Natasha Carson, 24, to the site so Carson could see a trailer there. Stephens brought his dog with him as well as what was described as a sword.

The lengthy blade turned out to be what Stansell used to stab Stephens through his heart and lung, Durst said.

She told jurors they would hear about arguments between those involved but that their focus should be on what Stansell tells law enforcement.

Tensions rose between him and the two others over a necklace Carson alleged that Stansell had taken, which Stansell has repeatedly denied, said Peter Carini, Stansell’s defense attorney.

“How did we get here?” Carini asked the jury rhetorically.

Stansell spent most of his life in Butte Falls and his parents, who eventually separated, were of highly modest means. He completed 10th grade. He worked as an auto mechanic, did day jobs and also worked for his father sometimes but didn’t have a place of his own to live so he has “stayed here or there.”

Carnini then explained that Stansell has known Carson since he was 7 years old. She is a few years older than him and that they had sex together three times — that last time only days before Stephens’ killing.

He stated that his client smoked marijuana and methamphetamine but described Carson as a hardcore meth user, that she’s “deep in the life” and that she and Stephens were physically intimidating his client — including siccing the dog on Stansell — to get him to admit to stealing the necklace and to the point in which he felt he must save himself.

Carson is among those witnesses scheduled to testify Wednesday.

Durst asked the judge to limit Carini’s remarks that explain what defense will be presenting. Carini used his time to explain what his client did: defend himself against Carson and Stephens, who tried to steal his vehicle and leave him abandoned — perhaps also kill him, he said.

After the attorneys gave their opening remarks, two deputies testified and answered questions about the body cam video each shot as they responded to the incident.

Jackson County sheriff’s deputy Cynthia Mallaki was with Stansell and Carson along the road. Stansell said he had been attacked by Stephens’ dog, feared for his life and didn’t want to attack Stephens.

The other deputy’s testimony centered on the crime scene and the body.

Deputy James Vial and other deputies were directed by Carson to where Stephens had been stabbed and his video showed efforts to separate the dog from its deceased owner.

Jurors will return Wednesday morning to hear more testimony. The trial has been scheduled for four days total in the District Court.