The woman’s left arm came toward Tina Karuzas and Karuzas believed the woman was going to choke or hit her.
The woman, Karuzas’ downstairs neighbor, Latoya Ebron, terrified Karuzas, she testified Tuesday, because of past threats.
“I went to block her hand with my right hand, which was the hand I had the knife in, when ...” Karuzas paused, “when I went to block her, I don’t know how to describe it, the knife felt funny, like a knife feels when you go from just holding it to cutting things.”
Karuzas gave her account Tuesday to a Schenectady County Court jury, which will begin work as early as today to decide whether Karuzas is guilty of first-degree manslaughter or a lesser crime. Karuzas has been standing trial since last week, accused of trying to seriously injure the unarmed Ebron during that struggle, which resulted in Ebron’s death.
It’s a case that has highlighted how problems between neighbors can quickly escalate. As part of Karuzas’ defense, it has also highlighted the issue of defense in one’s home, something the prosecution contends is not as clear as some believe.
Karuzas, 28, contends she was defending herself, trying to get an angry woman who had entered her residence to leave. The prosecution, however, has argued Karuzas had other options than using a knife against a lone woman armed only with a cellphone.
The altercation happened during a loud party Karuzas held the night after Christmas 2011 inside her apartment at 203 Elm St. A DJ’s sound system had been going for an hour, Karuzas testified, when Ebron banged on Karuzas’ inner door and demanded the music be turned down. The two apartments have separate entrances. Karuzas’ downstairs entrance, which had a dead bolt, was unlocked for the party.
Karuzas said she was going to turn the music down, but Ebron wouldn’t let her. Instead, Ebron apparently wanted to fight, forcing her way just inside Karuzas’ inner door. Ebron had a phone with her and called two people, but not police. She was unarmed.
Soon, Karuzas took out a hunting knife she kept for self-defense, trying to scare Ebron away. Ebron attacked anyway, Karuzas testified.
“Within a few seconds, the phone was no longer at her ear and she had lunged at me and gone to grab me by the hair with her right hand,” Karuzas testified under questioning by her attorney, Mark Caruso. “I just didn’t know what she was going to do. I just wanted her to leave. I just wanted her to get out.”
Karuzas said she intended to shut down the party. In fact, she said, it wasn’t even a party she was throwing; she allowed a friend to hold the party there. But then the struggle happened, and Ebron was stabbed.
Karuzas attempted to portray her neighbor as someone who became angry at the smallest slight. She was a woman, Karuzas testified, who made threats over children making noise, running in Karuzas’ apartment.
Karuzas was scared of Ebron, she testified, even terrified.
Prosecutor William Sanderson questioned if Karuzas was so terrified of Ebron, why Karuzas threw a party with loud music, inviting a dozen people over. Earlier in her testimony, Karuzas said she didn’t think the loud music would be something Ebron would complain about.
Sanderson also attempted to show Karuzas had other options than stabbing Ebron. Sanderson highlighted that Ebron was alone and unarmed, while Karuzas had 10 to 15 people at the party behind her. Still, Karuzas pulled the knife.
“Did you ask them for help?” Sanderson asked.
Karuzas said she did not.
“But you knew they were there behind you?” Sanderson responded.
Karuzas said that she did.
Sanderson used the same approach in asking Karuzas if she saw Ebron with a weapon. Karuzas said she did not.
Sanderson then suggested that Karuzas knew Ebron would be upset with the music and party and armed herself in anticipation of a confrontation, that Karuzas essentially baited Ebron into the confrontation. Karuzas denied each assertion.
Closing arguments are expected today, with jury deliberations starting soon after. If convicted, Karuzas faces up to 25 years in prison. If the jury finds she was justified, she would be acquitted outright.
The case is being heard before acting Schenectady County Court Judge Polly Hoye.