Murder suspect Blayson Fife returned to his alleged victim’s home in Walker at least four times over the course of a month both leading up and following the burglary-turned-homicide for which he’s standing trial, according to testimony Thursday before a jury in Livingston Parish.

A series of witnesses and alleged accomplices — most of whom were under the age of 20 at the time of the July 2017 slaying of 61-year-old Rick McBride  –  testified about a story crosses two parishes, involves drugs, money, guns and an attempted cross-country flee that ended near the Mexico border when Fife and three others were arrested with several of McBride’s guns in their vehicle.

Fife, 20, is being tried on first-degree murder; however, the prosecution will not be seeking the death penalty due to Fife's age at the time of the attack, lack of significant violent criminal history, and the difficulty in sustaining a death sentence through the appeals process.

Joe Baluch, 22, took the stand Thursday as the only other assailant authorities believe was present with Fife at McBride’s Pine Park Road home the night of July 21, 2017. Baluch testified that he had known Fife, 20, through mutual friends only for a few months by that July, but the two had done multiple drugs including marijuana and Xanax together at parties during that time.

Baluch said that on July 21, he and Fife were at a mutual friend’s house when Fife convinced him to borrow a car and drive him to McBride’s house for the burglary. Baluch later gave police various stories about his participation, ranging from dropping Fife off at the address and leaving, to staying outside in the car while Fife went in, to going into the house but returning to the car before McBride was shot.

In court Thursday, Baluch stuck with the latter description. He said Fife broke through a laundry room window with a gun and crawled into the home, then opened a door enabling Baluch to get in. McBride was asleep in the home at the time, but the two took some guns and cash and walked out. Baluch said he stayed in the car but Fife went back in determined to find more of the guns and cash he’d heard McBride had in his home.

Baluch said he heard multiple shots ring out.

Baluch is facing charges of principal to first-degree murder and aggravated battery, but in testifying against Fife, Assistant District Attorney Zachary Daniels agreed to drop the principal charge.

Another witness, Alexis Shar, 20, said about three weeks prior to the slaying she'd driven Fife to an address in Walker, later determined by authorities to be McBride's house.

Shar was at the house where Baluch and Fife had left from the night of July 21, but she arrived after they’d left for the burglary. She didn’t know about the burglary, she said, but later in the night she drove Fife to a gas station in Ascension Parish believing Fife needed to get to a hospital to visit a sick family member. She was not charged in the case.

Two other witnesses — Jace Chiquelin and a juvenile — were the ones to then pick Fife up from that gas station. Under Fife’s directions, they too believed they were driving him to a hospital, but he took them back to McBride’s house, both said.

Chiquelin, the driver, stayed in the car while Fife and the juvenile went inside. The juvenile said Fife told him it was his grandfather’s house, and told him to wait outside with a flashlight. The boy, 14 at the time, did so for about 20 minutes before going inside through an open utility room door.

The juvenile testified that he walked into the dark home to see Fife sitting on a couch rummaging through a duffel bag. The juvenile said he saw the lower half of a human body lying on the hallway floor, and knew something was wrong.

Fife allegedly told the juvenile to take the heavy duffel bag out to the car, and not knowing what was inside he said he didn’t want anything to do with what was going on and ran back to Chiquelin’s car. Still, the two stayed and waited on Fife despite both saying they knew something was wrong.

The juvenile said Fife returned to the car with guns in a duffel bag. The juvenile added that he largely avoided speaking to Fife during the drive back to Ascension Parish.

“I didn’t want to make eye contact with someone who could do something like that,” the juvenile said in court Thursday, a statement public defender Allen Harvey unsuccessfully tried to strike from the record.

The juvenile also was charged with an offense relating to his involvement in the incident, and was under a six-month house arrest but his case is now complete. He did not receive any benefit for testifying.

The fourth accomplice testimony Thursday came from Kerstin Avery, 19, whose accessory after the fact to first-degree murder case is still ongoing.

Avery got a call from Fife in the early hours the morning after the slaying, July 22, when the suspect said he needed a ride. She said she took him from a trailer in Dutchtown to a home in Walker, McBride’s home, between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.

Avery said she didn’t know where they were going or why, and was not forthcoming in response to most of Daniels’ questions about the events, urging the prosecutor to call a recess so she could re-listen to her 42-minute police statement from after the slaying.

When she returned to the stand, she said Fife went into the Walker home and came back with at least 20 guns he carried in multiple trips back and forth from the car to the house. She said they then went to a skate park in Baton Rouge where she assumes Fife sold at least one gun, and she drove to each of their respective houses to get clothes.

They picked up two others, Kameron Jones and Trevor Lockett, and began fleeing to California, Avery said. She claimed not to know why they were driving to California, but said they stopped at least once in Dallas and another time when Fife instructed her to pull over so he could shoot one of the guns in his arsenal outside.

She said they stayed several days in California before heading back to Louisiana, but Border Patrol agents stopped them early July 26 at a checkpoint near El Paso, Texas. An agent identified Fife and an active warrant for him, then arrested all four occupants, who would later be returned to Livingston Parish.

Avery did not receive anything for her testimony.

The trial is expected to resume Friday at 9 a.m. and to continue through to next week.

Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.