Brooks attorney claims self-defense

John Zick
Marland D. Brooks

The attorney representing the Elmira man charged with murdering a Corning resident during a robbery last June told a jury Thursday his client killed the victim in self-defense.

Attorney David Morabito made the assertion during opening statements at Marland D. Brooks’ murder trial in Steuben County. Brooks, 39, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder and three other felonies for the June 18 stabbing death of Clark VanEtten, 26.

Morabito told the jury Brooks stabbed VanEtten once during a struggle, which he claims VanEtten started.

“This is a classic self-defense case,” Morabito said.

District Attorney Brooks Baker told the jury that Brooks was the aggressor in the struggle and stabbed VanEtten after VanEtten refused to give him money.

“That man right there stabbed him to death,” Baker said as he pointed at Brooks in the courtroom.

According to the prosecution, Brooks and his girlfriend, Samantha N. Smith, went to VanEtten’s Park Avenue apartment in the early morning hours of June 18 to get money from VanEtten, a married father of two. They needed money to repay a debt – the day prior, Smith stole money from another man and used it to buy crack cocaine, Baker said.

Knowing VanEtten had given Smith money in the past, Brooks urged Smith to contact him, Baker said. Smith called VanEtten and promised to deliver him cocaine in return for $200, according to Baker.

Smith had planned to take VanEtten’s money without delivering the drugs, but when she arrived at his residence, he refused to give her money without the drugs, Baker said.

After waiting awhile in a truck while Smith talked with VanEtten, Brooks went inside VanEtten’s apartment, where the three shared several beers, Baker said. Sometime during the conversation, Brooks went into VanEtten’s kitchen and took a knife from a butchers block, Baker said.

Soon after, Brooks walked over to VanEtten, who was on the couch, and punched him, Baker said. VanEtten attempted to fight back, at which time Brooks stabbed him twice in the heart, Baker said.

After the stabbing, Brooks stole VanEtten’s wallet and fled, Baker said.

“He got what he came for,” Baker said.

Baker said Brooks threw the knife in the street and discarded the wallet somewhere along Caton Road.

Morabito laid out a different version of what happened inside VanEtten’s apartment.

Brooks, Smith and VanEtten were living the “drug lifestyle” the morning of the killing.

“They’re drug buddies,” Morabito said. “It’s just another day of drug abuse.”

At some point, VanEtten attacked Brooks while armed with a knife, Morabito said. Brooks disarmed VanEtten and jabbed him once in the torso, Morabito said. Then, Brooks left, not thinking VanEtten’s injuries were serious, Morabito said.

“(Brooks) says, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,’” Morabito said.

Morabito told the jury the prosecution’s witnesses aren’t credible. Also, he said it was possible that Smith caused the fatal wound to VanEtten’s heart after Brooks left the apartment.

“Was she involved in the fatal stab or not?” Morabito said.

Smith reached a plea agreement to testify against Brooks. She was promised a 10-year sentence for robbery.

The trial, which could take as long as two weeks, continued Friday morning. Brooks faces a life sentence if convicted of murder.