LARGO — The man trying to get John Michael Hill put to death and the man trying to save his life agree on this: five years ago, Hill stabbed his longtime partner more than 50 times, eventually plunging the 13-inch butcher knife so deeply into the man that the blade wasn't found until autopsy.
Prosecutor Michael Marr called it first-degree murder.
Defense attorney Daniel Hernandez called it "an accidental and an unfortunate tragedy."
On Wednesday morning, each presented his opening statement to the jury as Hill, 48, watched intently from a table. Face pale and eyes sunken, he wore a gray shirt buttoned to the neck. His hair was parted down the middle and unevenly shaved along the sides, looking as if he had done it himself. He fidgeted during the proceedings, frequently jotting down notes on a yellow pad.
Marr told the 12 people who will decide Hill's fate that two days before the killing in May 2009, Hill and his partner, Charles Longboat, had been in a fight. Hill wanted the two of them to take their stock of gold coins and bars — worth well into six figures — and move to Utah. Longboat, a state employee, was near retirement and didn't want to go. The argument, which happened at the home of Longboat's mother, became so intense that she called law enforcement.
No one was arrested.
Then, on May 28, 2009, a dispatcher called the house the two men shared at 750 65th St. S in South Pasadena. Hill picked up. She said someone there had dialed 911.
She asked his name, Marr said, and Hill told her he was the son of the Holy Ghost and that his partner was Lucifer. He told her he was in danger. In the background, Marr said, the dispatcher could hear Longboat telling Hill to calm down and give him the phone.
Eventually, the call ended.
When deputies arrived, Marr said, they found Hill covered in blood and crouched on the ground with his back against the wall of the house. Longboat was sprawled across the ground.
"I had to do it," Marr said Hill told the deputies. "Just shoot me. Just kill me."
Longboat pleaded for help.
Hill, Marr said, charged at the deputies so they Tasered him. He struck his head on the ground before he was handcuffed and taken to the hospital.
Hernandez, however, told jurors that Longboat had attacked Hill and that he sustained the head injury during the struggle.
He offered no hints as to how he'll convince jurors of that, but insisted they would find reasonable doubt during the trial.
"This," he said, "was an excusable, accidental homicide under Florida law."