The man charged with fatally shooting 47-year-old Eric Wayne Burns at the front door of Lincoln Park's Bedrock Bar in October 2016 was unequivocal when he took the witness stand in his own defense Tuesday.
"I didn't kill Mr. Burns," Aaron Demetrius Humphreys testified. "I never fired that weapon. I never shot Mr. Burns."
Waiving his right to remain silent, Humphreys opted to testify a day before a Duluth jury will decide his fate on murder, assault and firearm charges.
The 44-year-old told jurors that he saw Burns, who he believed was armed, returning to the bar minutes after a fight inside. He testified that he was attempting to intercept the victim at the front door when he saw the true gunman, known only to him by the nickname "Memphis."
"I saw Memphis and another guy standing there," Humphreys told jurors, "and Memphis had a gun and shot him."
Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Nate Stumme pounced on the credibility of Humphreys' account.
"You were the only person on the planet, in the universe, to see Memphis, and yet you took over 400 days to mention that to anyone," the prosecutor observed in a combative cross-examination of the defendant.
Humphreys was one of two witnesses called by defense attorney Kassius Benson on the fifth and final day of testimony, a day before jurors will hear closing arguments and begin deliberations.
He testified that he was drinking in the bar when he took a semi-automatic pistol from his friend, Orin Bernard Vann, who he said had been involved in a fight with his girlfriend and was acting "out of control."
Meanwhile, Humphreys testified, Vann and Burns were involved in a dispute over a small amount of methamphetamine.
"As I left the bathroom I could hear Orin and Mr. Burns arguing," he said. "As I got closer, Mr. Burns told Orin he would 'pop' him and kind of raised his shirt. I got between them and said something to him and he said, 'I'll pop you, too,' and raised his shirt again, so I just hit him twice as hard as I could."
Surveillance video also shows Humphreys kicking Burns approximately seven times, which he stated was done in an attempt to keep him from reaching from a gun. Humphreys told jurors that Burns liked to brag about carrying a firearm.
Burns left the bar but quickly returned. Humphreys said he saw the man racing toward the bar, carrying what appeared to be a gun but was later discovered to be a duct-taped remote control.
Humphreys stated that while he was still in possession of Vann's gun, he instead reached for a baton that he carried for self-defense.
"I figured I could disarm him with the baton," he testified. "I didn't want to kill him. I didn't want to shoot him."
Stumme attacked that point of testimony.
"You want this jury to believe that someone you believed to be carrying a gun was charging toward the bar after getting beat up in a fight and that you were going to take a baton to a gunfight?" the prosecutor asked.
"Yes," Humphreys replied.
The defendant stated that he saw Memphis, who he described as Vann's drug dealer, standing about 7-8 feet away along Superior Street, toward Curly's Bar. The man fired a shot, striking Burns, he testified.
Humphreys also defended his actions after the shooting, telling jurors that he was "freaked out" and "scared." He said he called the bar's owner to inquire about video, not because he was worried about being implicated but because he believed there may be outside video showing the shooting.
Asked about evidence recovered from his phone, Humphreys said he downloaded a police scanner application and accessed the Duluth Police Department website because he was looking for updates on Burns' condition and because he had heard Vann claimed responsibility for the shooting.
Of Humphreys' pre-arrest activities, Stumme contended: "You knew they were taking you into custody and it was only a matter of time before they looked at the video and saw that you shot Mr. Burns."
Humphreys denied that.
"I was freaking out, having panic attacks," he testified. "I suffer from severe depression and anxiety. I was trying to separate myself from what happened."
A jury of 11 women and four men, including three alternates, is hearing the case. Sixth Judicial District Judge David Johnson told jurors that they would be sequestered after hearing closing arguments and final instructions Wednesday morning.