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Only eyewitness describes argument before fatal stabbing

Brendan Rex Stansell is standing trial in Jackson County Circuit Court this week in the September 2020 homicide of 23-year-old Matthew James Joseph Stephens near Wimer. [Jackson County Sheriff’s Office booking photo]
Benden Rex Stansell, 20, is being held in the Jackson County Jail on accusations he fatally stabbed 23-year-old Matthew James Joseph Stephens near Wimer. JCSO booking photo.

The only eyewitness to a fatal stabbing testified Wednesday that the 2020 confrontation outside of Wimer started with an argument over a missing gold pendant.

The second day in the Jackson County Circuit Court of the second-degree murder trial against Brenden Rax Stansell included testimony from Natasha Carson, the only person at the scene of the stabbing, as well as more Jackson County Sheriff’s Office personnel who participated in the investigation.

Stansell, 21, fatally stabbed Matthew James Joseph Stephens, 23, on Sept. 18, 2020, with a 26-inch-long Steampunk Gun Blade Sword that had been in the truck, according to various trial accounts.

Carson, now 25, said she regretted the trip to find an abandoned trailer near Elderberry Flats because of the tragic outcome during questioning from Deputy District Attorney Lucy Durst, who is prosecuting the case.

Carson also bemoaned how the pendant being missing was considered “a big deal.”

She testified that she didn’t ask Stephens to try to make Stansell produce her gold pendant that had been missing for a few days.

Stansell told sheriff’s deputies that Stephens threatened to leave him at the remote location.

Stansell accused Stephens of getting his dog to attack him, according to testimony from sheriff’s deputies, before threatening him with a hypodermic needle containing a lethal amount of methamphetamine.

Carson said Stephens had been “picking on” Stansell “a little bit.”

“I think [Stephens] was taking it upon himself” to persuade Stansell to admit to stealing the piece of jewelry, Carson said.

Stansell has continually denied that he took it, according to Carson.

Carson said she didn’t know Stephens’s dog had bitten Stansell until after the stabbing. She described the dog taking a “lunge” at Stansell.

Carson also explained that she didn’t see the stabbing because she was searching around in the truck for the pendant but did see Stephens fall to the ground. After that, Stansell grabbed a different knife and ordered Carson to move from the driver’s seat to the passenger side.

He drove the truck down toward the main road, according to her testimony. They stopped at two residences to find a working phone to dial 9-1-1 because their mobiles didn’t have good reception. Phone service wasn’t working at those locations, either.

Carson also admitted that she previously used methamphetamine daily, but not any longer.

Carson was unable to answer many questions during cross-examination by Peter Carini, Stansell’s defense attorney. She often said she couldn’t recall certain things — as well as which law enforcement officials she spoke with — and referred to herself as being “scatterbrained” and having “mental issues.”

Jackson County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Lorenzo Mejia repeatedly admonished her for going off topic and continuing to speak when asked questions.

When Carini obtained a copy of a transcript of her responses to questions and handed it to her in an effort to refresh her memory, she said, “I don’t know how to read.”

Sheriff’s deputies testified about video showing their interviews with Stansell after the homicide.

Stansell said he got into the bed of his truck after he and Carson gained possession of the keys and were preparing to drive away. Carson said earlier that Stansell gave her the keys; Stansell said they were taken from him.

Carson drove fast and recklessly, according to Stansell’s account in the video, and he was afraid that he would fall out of the truck bed.

Carson denied this and had also testified that she didn’t threaten to leave Stansell there.

Sheriff’s Office interview video also shows that Stansell told deputies that during an argument over the pendant, Carson grabbed him by the neck and “tried to choke him out.”

An investigator took photographs of Stansell's injuries, including dog bites on his torso and leg as well as what appeared to be marks on his neck that could have been caused by choking hands.

Carini asked one of the investigators who questioned Stansell whether Carson might have committed felonies if she choked Stansell and drove off with his truck. He also asked whether Stephens committed a felony by ordering his dog to bite Stansell.

The investigator said those types of acts could be felonies.

Stansell also told Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Det. Lucas Tobias that he was afraid they would leave him up there and that he was also in fear for his life. He also said Stephens told him that “You’re not coming down” from the mountain.

Another investigator on video, Det. Sgt. Scott Walden, said to Stansell that his and Carson’s stories didn’t match up and that it posed a problem. He also said to Stansell that he hadn’t provided enough evidence to justify his stabbing of Stephens because he had most often said that he was worried they would leave him behind — which is not a viable legal argument for killing someone.

Carson is scheduled to be recalled Thursday. Also expected to testify is James Olson, MD, the Deputy State Medical Examiner based in Central Point who conducted the autopsy on Stephens.