Arguments begin in Daniely case
Lawyers suggest self-defense theory

LAWRENCEVILLE - Who was Michael Black?

To hear prosecutors tell it, Black was a valiant young man who came to the aide of a woman snagged in a domestic dispute, a choice that cost him his life.

Conversely, a defense attorney argued Monday that Black butted in to the situation, pummeled the man involved and didn't know when to let up.

This much they agreed on: Black, 19, died April 1 last year when Larry Daniely stabbed him once in the chest, his final step a stumble on a balcony at the Norcross Extended Stay hotel.

Jurors, who heard opening arguments in Daniely's murder trial Monday in Gwinnett Superior Court, are tasked with deciding whether Black was killed in cold blood, or if Daniely was protecting himself.

"This case is not a whodunit," defense attorney Scott Estes told jurors. "The question you have to answer is why did it happen."

Daniely, 28, known to friends as "Ace," is charged with murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony. He fled Norcross after the incident and was arrested by a fugitive squad two days later in DeKalb County.

John Setzer, assistant district attorney, said the victim stepped in between Daniely and his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie "Cuba" Martinez, in a breezeway of the hotel as the two argued over $70 she kept in her shirt. As the fight escalated, Daniely produced a knife, he said.

"Just a few short minutes after the defendant stabbed him, (Black) was dead on the balcony," Setzer said.

Estes, the defense attorney, argued that Black attacked Daniely from behind, picked him up and slammed him, while Black's girlfriend struck him with a beer bottle. Estes said his case will focus on injuries his client suffered.

"Mr. Daniely was in a bad way," Estes said. "He was being attacked. He did what he had to do to protect himself."

Black's girlfriend later testified she swung a beer bottle at Daniely, but only after he was "overpowering" Black. At the time, the couple were living together at the hotel, she said.

Estes said he plans to call up to 10 witnesses, with closing arguments predicted as early as Thursday.

One witness called Monday by the prosecution appeared to strengthen Estes' self-defense theory.

Keshayla Walker, 15, was waiting at her school bus stop April 1 when she saw the altercation on the hotel's second floor, a few dozen yards away, she said.

Walker later told investigators that Daniely tried to run away from Black, but the eventual victim kept fighting him.

"They was going in circles, really," Walker testified.

Outside the courtroom, Terrence Wilson, the victim's stepfather, recalled Black as a spry teen with aspirations of joining the U.S. Army.

Black had dropped out of Norcross High School but obtained his GED, Wilson said. Months before his death, Black had cut a rap CD - under the group name "NTP" - with friends and his younger brother, Dante, said Wilson.

So shaken by the killing was Black's younger sister, a middle school student, she shied from candle-light vigils held in her brother's honor, Wilson said.

"We just want closure," Wilson said. "That's all."