BATTLE CREEK, MICH. - Stephen Getter told a jury he shot his best friend in self-defense.
“He was coming at me with a knife,” Getter testified Thursday in his Calhoun County Circuit Court murder trial. “I thought my life was in danger.”
But he said he didn’t realize until a pathologist testified earlier that all five gunshot wounds were in the back of Robert Barroso.
“I thought he was facing me,” Getter, 30, of Battle Creek, told Prosecutor David Gilbert during cross examination. “I didn’t know I hit him when he was turning and falling.”
Getter is charged with the Dec. 27 death of Barroso, 28, of Battle Creek, who was found Jan. 6 in a wooded area in Lee Township after Getter took police to his frozen body.
Getter's testimony came on the last day of his trial on charges of open murder and felony firearm in the death of Barroso. Following closing arguments and legal instructions from Judge John Hallacy, the jury of eight women and four men deliberated about 45 minutes before leaving the courthouse without a verdict. They will resume their deliberations Friday morning.
Barroso died not from the five gunshots, Dr. Joseph Prahlow, a pathologist, said, but from about seven stab wounds to his face, head and neck including one that penetrated his skull and brain.
During his 90 minutes on the witness stand, Getter told his attorney, Brandon Hultink, his actions were because of his emotions.
“I had just shot my best friend who I thought had tried to kill me. It was a new emotion.”
He kneeled over Barroso who said, "Thank you. Just finish it," Getter said.
“Something in me snapped,” Getter said. “Rage is an understatement. It was the most intense anger I have ever felt. I was in an adrenaline-fueled panic.”
He told the jury he remembers stabbing Barroso only once, not multiple times as the pathologist described. And he said he had not planned the killing, but only to fight with his friend.
“It was not a fight to the death but just roll around for a minute and get up and it would be over.”
Jurors listened as Getter described the conflict between him and Barroso, his friend since fourth grade, because they both loved the same woman, Getter’s fiancé Roxie Bruce. She spent much of the day sitting in the front row of the gallery quietly crying.
Both men had lived with her during the year prior to the shooting but Getter was back with her and said he believed the conflict was over, although none of the three knew which man fathered Bruce’s third child.
Getter said he and Bruce had been engaged three years and had two children together when in April of 2015 he learned Bruce and Barroso were having an affair.
He said he and Barroso fought but seemed to settle their differences and Getter stayed with Bruce.
But in October, he finally moved out of the house, thinking that Bruce and Barroso had resumed their relationship. Barroso moved in with Bruce but Getter replaced him on Dec. 20, seven days before he received an early morning text message from Barroso challenging him to fight.
“I thought all conflict between he and I was all done,” Getter said. “We had talked it out and it felt like we were at peace with it.”
They met in front of Barroso’s home on Kingman Avenue about 4:30 a.m. and raced in separate cars to 20-Mile Road, near the home of Getter’s brother and a rural area both Steven Getter and Barroso knew, Getter said.
Driving there, Getter said he reread some messages from Barroso and said he became concerned.
So he loaded a .17 caliber rifle, which he had in the back seat of his car.
When they arrived, he said, Barroso reached for something in the backseat of his car and then started walking toward Getter.
Getter said neither of the men had said anything before Getter told Barroso, whom he claimed was holding a knife with an eight-inch blade, to stop.
“I yelled at him to stop and I chambered a bullet and fired four times into some trees. I was kind of in a panic,” Getter said. “It wasn’t (like) Rob to keep walking at me when I fired the gun.”
Getter then fired at Barroso, saying he was trying to hit his shoulder.
Barroso was struck twice in the lower back and three times in the back of his arms. The shots broke both arms and one of the shots in his back would have paralyzed, but not killed him, Prahlow said.
It was then that Getter said he kneeled over Barroso and then stabbed him.
Gilbert argued in his closing to the jury that Getter planned the killing and that Getter could have simply retreated or stepped back into his car rather than shoot Barroso.
“He had a lot of options for self-defense,” Gilbert said. “This was not a murder; it was an assassination.”
But Hultink told the jury that the men were best friends whose relationship suffered because they both loved the same woman.
“They want to be best friends and they don’t know how to,” he said.
Hultink asked jurors to forget Getter’s calm demeanor on the witness stand.
“He acted that day outside of himself,” Hultink said. “He acted in a rage. He committed an act out of passion and out of rage.”
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