LARGO — Rachel Wade says she didn't mean to kill Sarah Ludemann.
But she was scared of her. The other girl had been threatening her online, calling her cell, harassing her at work, promising to hurt her if she didn't stay away from Josh Camacho.
When Ludemann attacked her, Wade testified at her murder trial Thursday, she started flailing her hands to protect herself.
In one of her hands, she held a knife.
"When I looked down, I saw blood," said Wade, her eyes red as she cried. "I didn't know she had been stabbed."
"Did you ever mean to stab her, to kill her, to murder her?" asked defense attorney Jay Hebert.
"No," Wade said. She had to defend herself, she told the jury, because she thought Ludemann was going to get her that night.
Wade's testimony was the crux of the self-defense case put on by Hebert. He invoked Florida's "stand-your-ground" law, which says someone doesn't have to retreat from an attacker and can meet force with force. Wade, 20, faces up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.
The defense's story was in stark contrast to the narrative built by the state and its witnesses, who say Wade repeatedly threatened to kill Ludemann, then finally did it on April 15, 2009. She charged her rival, the state said, and plunged a knife into her heart.
The two girls were fighting over a boy.
"You went directly to Sarah and you stabbed her," said prosecutor Lisset Hanewicz. "You didn't give anyone a chance to get to you, isn't that true? You made up your mind."
"No," Wade said, still crying.
But another woman beat up Wade right after the stabbing. Why, the prosecutor asked, didn't Wade use the knife against her?
"You said you used the knife for self-defense," Hanewicz said. "But the only one you stabbed was Sarah."
• • •
Wade was 19 then. She was a chronic runaway. She passed the GED test and got her own place. She worked at Applebee's.
Ludemann was 18, a senior at Pinellas Park High School. She was a good student with an 11 p.m. curfew.
They grew up in the same Pinellas Park neighborhood but never knew each other. But they knew Josh Camacho.
He was 19 then. He had no job. He lived at home. But he had tattoos and acted tough. He had already fathered a child with one young woman. Then he became involved with both teens.
He hasn't publicly spoken since the killing. But on Thursday, the defense called him to the stand. He wore a tie, a black vest, a shirt with French cuffs.
"How would you describe your relationship with Sarah Ludemann at the time?" Hebert asked. "Friends with benefits?"
It was a term used throughout the trial. Camacho explained it: "It's not dating. They could see who they wanted to see."
Camacho was seeing — and was intimate — with both girls at the same time. The love triangle played itself out on MySpace and Facebook and cell phones and police reports.
But Camacho, now 20, said he didn't notice the drama.
"I don't remember," he said.
Did he remember threatening Wade's life after the murder?
"Yes," Camacho said.
• • •
Camacho was important to the self-defense argument because of photos the defense obtained of him brandishing a gun.
Wade testified that Camacho once aimed the gun at her and said she could never leave him. Camacho denied it.
Wade also said Ludemann left threatening voice mails on her phone, but she didn't save any of them. The state, however, saved Wade's threatening voice mails and played them for the jury:
"Seriously I told you to watch your f------ back. I guarantee I'm going to f------ murder you. … I'm going to f------ kill you."
Hebert asked his client about them: "When you left those voice mails, tell the jury what you were thinking?"
"I was upset," Wade said. "I was getting harassing phone calls. I was retaliating."
It got worse the night of the killing, Wade said. Ludemann was with Camacho and threatening her. Wade drove to a friend's house for safety. She feared both the man she loved and her rival.
But first she put a kitchen knife in her purse.
"If they saw the knife they would be scared, they would know I was scared," Wade said.
"Did you think it would be for your protection," Hebert asked. "You didn't want to fight with the knife?"
"Yes," Wade said.
But Ludemann found her, Wade said. She sped up in her mom's minivan and jumped out with two other girls.
Wade — who stood 5-foot-4 and weighed about 115 pounds — and Ludemann — 5-foot-9, and about 160 pounds — met at the driver's side front panel. The state said Wade charged. Wade said Ludemann came at her.
"You showed her the knife, hoping it would scare her, warn her?" Hebert asked. "Yes," Wade said.
"Can you tell the jury what you were doing with the knife?"
"I began to swing my arms back in retaliation," Wade said.
"Were you defending yourself that night?"
"Did you have any idea whether she had a knife that night?"
Ludemann was unarmed.
• • •
Then it was the prosecutor's turn. "You didn't make the statement 'I'm going to stab you and your Mexican boyfriend?' " asked Hanewicz. It was a threat two witnesses said they heard Wade make over the phone that night.
"No," Wade said.
"Well you picked up a knife, you went after her with a knife," the prosecutor said. "You didn't think anything was going to happen?"
"I didn't think she was actually going to approach me," Wade said.
"You hated Sarah," Hanewicz said.
"No, I didn't hate her," Wade said. "I never intended to hurt anyone."
"Every other time you tried to avoid it," the prosecutor said. "But this time you decided to take a life and end it."
No, said Wade.
Closing arguments start today. Then the jury will decide.