June 12-- A friend of accused murderer Steven Cozzie testified during day three of the Courtney Wilkes murder trial in DeFuniak Springs, Florida.
Our courtroom correspondent Tom McLaughlin filed this report.
"Michael Spencer, who spent summers in Seagrove Beach with his aunt, was best friends with Steven Cozzie during the summer of 2011.
But two years earlier Spencer had lied to Cozzie when, in a burst of bravado, he told him he had once fought 20 men and killed two of them using martial arts his special forces father had taught him.
On June 16, 2011, only a couple hours after authorities say he raped and brutally murdered 15-year-old Courtney Wilkes, Cozzie arrived at the Spencer’s aunt’s house and asked his friend, then 18, to confirm “if I had killed two people like I said I had?”
Spencer testified in court Wednesday that he repeated his lie, and when he did Cozzie stunned him with a revelation of his own.
“He said, ‘I just killed this chick,’ ” Spencer told prosecuting attorney Bobby Elmore.
Cozzie, 23, of Seagrove Beach, is facing charges of first degree murder, kidnapping, rape and child abuse and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Elmore, an assistant state attorney, said in an opening statement Tuesday that Cozzie had lured Wilkes away from her vacationing family’s South Walton condominium complex to a nearby nature trail. There, Elmore said, he used his shirt, then hers, to strangle her nearly to death. Finally, he dragged her off into a dry swamp bed, raped her and beat her at least 10 times over the head with a piece of lumber to kill her.
Spencer’s testimony could prove particularly valuable for the prosecution because, according to his story, after making his “I just killed this chick” pronouncement Cozzie insisted on taking Spencer to show him Wilkes’ body.
Spencer told the jury Wednesday things that Cozzie told him as they traveled the mile or so from his aunt’s house to the crime scene. How he said “I wrestled with her for like 20 minutes” and “he had taken off his shirt and strangled her with it and took off her shirt and strangled her with it.”
And then he presented to his friend the badly beaten, nude body of his victim, Spencer testified.
“I got close enough where if I had wanted to I could have reached out and touched her dead body,” Spencer told the court.
At the body, Spencer testified, Cozzie removed his bloodied shirt from over Wilkes’ head, muttered, “Oops, I need this, and stepped to the side and threw it into the bushes.” He then told Spencer he had debated how he wanted to club her to death “do I want to use the flat end or side, flat end or side, then I said (expletive) it and hit her like 10 times with the side.”
Elmore told jurors in opening statements that medical examiner testimony would prove a cause of death of both strangulation and blunt force trauma. He has already shown jurors photos that he says indicate a fierce struggle at the site of the attack and indicated a bloodied shirt belonging to Cozzie will at some point be introduced into evidence.
The law enforcement officers and the emergency personnel who participated in the missing person search for Courtney Wilkes that became a homicide investigation also testified for the prosecution Wednesday. They confirmed seeing Cozzie and Spencer together on the day Wilkes’ disappeared and that Spencer had indeed led them to the teen’s body.
Cozzie’s half brother, Jeffery Pedersen, worked in a beach services capacity and met the Wilkes family, including Courtney, during their vacation in 2011. He, in fact, gave authorities the name of the man, his brother, Courtney was last seen with.
Pedersen also testified that he had noticed his sibling’s apparent attraction to girls of or about Courtney Wilkes’ age, and “four or five times talked to him about pursuing young girls.”
Pedersen testified that a trespass order had been issued against Steven Cozzie at a neighboring condominium complex where Cozzie’s advances on young girls had been noticed.
Spencer admittedly wasn’t forthcoming to everyone he talked to on June 16, 2011 as he and Cozzie increasingly drew attention during the search for Wilkes.
Defense attorney Spiro Kypreos keyed in cross examination on Spencer’s omissions and questioned why a martial arts expert would have anything to fear from his client, particularly while in the company of an armed police officer.
Spencer testified he was afraid to say anything about what he’d seen on the Cassine Gardens Nature Trail with Cozzie nearby. He said he was scared of what Cozzie might do to him if he turned him in right away, so he didn’t tell an officer that gave him a ride home what he had seen earlier in the day.
“I wanted to get back to my aunt’s house so I could go to the police,” he told the defense attorney.
McLaughlin says he expects day four of the trial Thursday to include testimony from the medical examiner and include DNA evidence.