By Sarah Abfalter
A preliminary hearing began Wednesday in the case of Jeffrey Lemus. Lemus, 55, is being charged with murder in the December stabbing death of a man at Kenny’s Bar & Grill on East Street in Woodland.
According to police testimony, around 8:45 pm on December 5, 2015, Lemus fatally stabbed the victim, identified by the county coroner as Kelly Mason Choate, in the chest during a physical altercation next to the front entrance of Kenny’s. The altercation appears to be the result of a long-standing feud between the two men and the defense will be arguing that Lemus acted in self-defense.
According to witness testimony obtained by police, Lemus was sitting in the bar’s outdoor patio area with a friend when Choate arrived. Several other bar patrons who were also seated on the patio later told police they overheard Lemus using expletives and repeatedly saying he hated the victim.
The investigating officer, Detective Greg Ford, testified that one witness told police that, after repeatedly stating that he hated the victim, Lemus eventually “popped up” and walked into the bar “like he was on a mission.”
Security footage obtained by police shows Lemus entering the bar from the patio area and heading toward the restroom. Detective Ford testified that, at this time, witnesses claim that Choate began yelling expletives at Lemus from across the bar before Lemus entered the restroom.
Another bar patron came into contact with Lemus when he was in the restroom and told police that Lemus had exhibited a very large knife while in the restroom. The knife was later obtained by the police and is estimated to be about 18 inches long in the open position.
Detective Ford testified that this witness also told police that, while in the restroom, he overheard Lemus state, “I’m sick of that [expletive] and I have already beat him up like five times,” to another man who had entered the restroom, a mutual friend of both Choate and the defendant. The witness also overheard Lemus state, “I’ve got something for him,” apparently referring to the knife.
Despite the mutual friend attempting to calm Lemus, it was at this time that the defendant exited the restroom and, according to witnesses, yelled at Choate from across the barroom, “It’s your turn, I’m gonna get you, [expletive].” In the security footage, one sees Lemus point in the victim’s direction and make a gesture like he is calling him over, and then the defendant heads toward the front entrance to the bar, with the victim following.
The security footage shows both men walking toward the bar counter and then the altercation begins, only lasting a few seconds before Lemus removes the knife from his pocket and stabs Choate in the chest, causing the victim to stumble backwards holding his chest. After the stabbing, the defendant is seen calmly exiting the bar.
When police later arrived at the scene, the defendant approached an officer and said, “I think you are looking for me,” and was taken into custody without incident.
The mutual friend of the two men told police that the two men had a long-standing feud stemming from the victim allegedly stealing the defendant’s bike. When questioned regarding their personal history, Lemus told police that Choate would repeatedly “come at him” when he was walking to a local market, but did not elaborate further.
The defense questioned the detective throughout the preliminary hearing regarding a fishing knife that Choate had, which was attached to his belt, but police had not obtained any evidence that it was used in a threatening manner the night of the incident. The victim was known by other locals and police as a commercial fisherman by trade and just used the knife for his job. One sees, in the security footage, Choate remove the knife from its sheath, but only after he has clearly been stabbed in the chest and the defendant has already exited the bar.
The preliminary hearing will resume Thursday at 1:30 pm in Department 8.