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Prosecution says teen planned to kill in twisted love triangle case

LARGO — Jilica Smith cradled her dying friend as she punched 911 on her cell phone.

Sarah Ludemann, an 18-year-old Pinellas Park High School senior, had just been stabbed in the chest.

"She's coming and going," Smith told the 911 operator. "She's trying to breathe."

"Sarah! Sarah stay with us. Sarah!" she pleaded.

"Where is the person who did it?" the operator asked.

"The person who did it is standing right here," Smith said.

She was referring to Rachel Wade, who went on trial Wednesday for second-degree murder in the April 15, 2009, slaying.

Wade, 19 at the time, is accused of killing her rival over the affections of a young man. Now 20, she faces up to life in prison.

Wade shook and wiped her eyes as Smith's 911 call was played for the jury.

The defense didn't try to argue that Wade didn't do it.

Instead, defense attorney Jay Hebert worked to build a case for self-defense. Wasn't it the victim, he asked the state's witnesses, who wanted to fight the defendant?

"Didn't Sarah threaten to kick Rachel's a--?" Hebert asked one witness.

Assistant State Attorney Lisset Hanewicz was blunt in her opening statement to the jury.

"I'm going to f------ murder you," the prosecutor said. "That is what Rachel Wade told Sarah Ludemann 7½ months before she took a knife and stabbed her through the heart on the night she killed her.

"Rachel was telling her friends 'I'm going to f------ kill that b----.' On the night she killed her, she had a verbal argument with Sarah over the phone and she told her: 'I'm gonna to stab you and your Mexican boyfriend.'

"She promised her. She did it, and we are here today because Sarah is dead as a result."

The teens spent eight months in an escalating confrontation over their mutual interest in Josh Camacho, who was intimately involved with both teens and fathered a child with a third.

The love triangle grew more contentious through text messages, voice mails, social networking websites and physical confrontations. The police got involved several times.

It ended the night of April 15, 2009. Wade repeatedly threatened Ludemann's life, the state said. She drove by Camacho's house while Ludemann was visiting.

Soon, Ludemann and two friends found Wade in their Pinellas Park neighborhood. Ludemann climbed out of the driver's seat of her mother's minivan.

Wade, the state said, was already coming at her with a kitchen knife.

She stabbed Ludemann in the heart, and the victim stumbled back to the minivan, Smith testified.

Then Smith, 21, said she turned to face Wade.

"The girl was just looking at us with a smirk on her face," Smith said.

Then she yelled at Wade: "You stabbed her. You stabbed her and you're going to jail."

Courtroom 1, the largest courtroom in the building, was packed for the trial. Bailiffs divided family members and friends of the victim and defendant on opposite sides of the courtroom.

Hebert did not give an opening statement, reserving it for the start of the defense's case.

But that didn't stop him from using state witnesses to start writing the defense's narrative, which was that Wade was defending herself. Ludemann was enraged at Wade, the defense argued, she was bigger and taller; she and her friends outnumbered Wade; the two girls even fought before the stabbing, pulling each other's hair.

"You knew she was going to end the drama with Rachel Wade, didn't you?" Hebert asked Ashley Lovelady, one of the victim's friends.

"To end the drama, to talk," Lovelady said. "They never fought before."

"You knew she was going to fight," the attorney said.

"No, I didn't," Lovelady said.

Prosecutor Wesley Dicus used the same witnesses to emphasize that Ludemann never said she wanted to fight that night, and didn't have any kind of weapon.

Then Dicus raised this point: If Wade was so scared of Ludemann and her friends, if she was acting in self-defense, why didn't she wield the knife against anyone else?

Janet Camacho, 29, is Josh Camacho's older sister. She was with Ludemann that night. She beat Wade to the ground right after the stabbing, Camacho testified.

"What is (Wade) doing with that knife the whole time you're hitting her and punching her and scratching her?" asked the prosecutor.

"Nothing," Janet Camacho said.

The trial continues today.

Prosecution says teen planned to kill in twisted love triangle case 07/21/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 22, 2010 4:38pm]
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