GONZALES — The way Jacob Westbrook tells it, he and Todd "T.J." Toups stood face to face for about 8 to 10 seconds with their fists up as Westbrook held a kitchen knife in his left hand.
Westbrook, who is accused of fatally stabbing Toups that afternoon more than three years ago inside an Ascension Parish trailer home, told jurors Wednesday he dropped both hands, believing a fight wasn't going to happen.
Then, Toups, 18, punched Westbrook, then 16, in the face, he said.
Westbrook reacted with his eyes closed, he said, swinging the knife overhand and landing it in Toups' chest.
"It was just instinct," Westbrook testified, taking the stand in his own defense.
Westbrook, who said he had never been in a fight before and feared conflict, said he was scared of getting badly beaten up by Toups. Westbrook said he had gone to grab the knife from the kitchen in hopes of scaring away the older, larger high school student.
But with the swing of the knife, the blade sliced through Toups' upper chest, into his lung and the top of his heart, a forensic pathologist has testified. Despite attempts by Westbrook to render aid to Toups outside the trailer home and talk with a 911 dispatcher about Toups' severe bleeding and fading condition, he died only hours later.
Westbrook's version of Toups' last moments on Oct. 10, 2015, was part of a gripping account Westbrook gave jurors on the third day of his murder trial in which both prosecution and defense attorneys had Westbrook re-enact the fists-up showdown. After the testimony, the defense rested. Closing arguments are expected Thursday.
Westbrook is being tried as an adult and is claiming self defense. He faces a life sentence if convicted of second-degree murder.
Prosecutors had rested Tuesday after spending two days building their case and trying to portray Westbrook as inexplicably stabbing Toups inside the trailer where Westbrook had been hanging out with his girlfriend. Toups had dropped by ahead of the St. Amant High homecoming dance.
Toups was planning to give a ride to the younger, 14-year-old stepsister of Westbrook's girlfriend, according to prior testimony. Westbrook's attorneys have tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to elicit testimony supporting their claim that it was a secret date between Toups and the younger girl, Erica Whatley.
Defense attorneys have tried to portray Toups as the instigator of the incident that led to his own death, having arrived hours earlier than planned for the dance and having hinted by text to Whatley that he had something in store for Westbrook when he arrived.
On the stand, Westbrook, a still baby-faced 19-year-old, with hair far more trimmed than the locks in his booking photograph, gave a largely emotionless account for several hours but expressed his horror at Toups' death and his sorrow for his mother and family.
Westbrook, who said he was on anti-depressant medication that numbs him, told his defense attorney that he had prayed Tuesday night to talk to Toups and "to tell him I'm sorry."
During Westbrook's testimony, defense attorney Jarrett Ambeau sought to amplify Westbrook's fears of harm and his claimed lack of intent to kill or seriously hurt Toups.
Prosecutors sought to pick apart the testimony and have Westbrook explain how confronting Toups with a knife was a reasonable action. Assistant District Attorney Joni Buquoi also questioned Westbrook about text messages he shared with his older brother Juan eight days before the slaying in which Westbrook expressed his "strong craving" to "hurt someone for no reason" and to see blood.
Westbrook testified that he was venting his anger at the time and the statements weren't an expression of intention to harm anyone. Westbrook had recently transferred from St. Amant High and his parents had separated more than a year earlier after a contentious marriage.
Westbrook said he often sought advice from his brother, a person he saw as his mentor since childhood. Buquoi shot back at one point that, this time, Westbrook didn't follow his brother's advice.
Westbrook didn't disagree.
Westbrook's decision-making before the slaying also was a point of contention Wednesday.
When Toups showed up inside the trailer home, Westbrook was in a bedroom near the front door with his girlfriend preparing to watch one of the "Twilight" movies. Westbrook said Toups had come inside the trailer and called out twice, "I thought you was going to stab me."
Jurors earlier heard testimony that Westbrook's girlfriend had threatened to hurt or stab Toups days earlier if he harmed Whatley, the younger sister, at the dance. They also heard testimony from another eyewitness who also said Toups had called into the bedroom before Westbrook emerged.
Westbrook said it wasn't clear to whom Toups was referring but assumed it was to him or his girlfriend. Westbrook said he didn't initially go out.
"Why didn't you just stay lying in the bed," Buquoi asked.
Westbrook said he decided to meet the aggression from Toups outside the bedroom instead of allowing it where his girlfriend was. At the time, the couple had begun discussing the possibility that she was pregnant. She has since had their child.
Once Westbrook was out of the bedroom, Toups told him that he "had something for" him and began unbuttoning his shirt, Westbrook testified.
Westbrook said he took that as sign Toups wanted to fight him and so went to get the knife. By the time he turned around and began walking back with the knife, Toups had his fists up, Westbrook testified.
Asked about earlier testimony that Toups was sitting on the couch at that moment, Westbrook said he didn't see it and, if Toups had been, it would have only been for seconds.