TAMPA — As Matthew Terry moves toward trial on charges that he stabbed his girlfriend to death outside her Lithia home, prosecutors want to tell a jury about how he once nearly killed another woman in Michigan.
On Thursday, they brought the surviving victim before a Tampa judge.
Michelle Rogers wept at times as she recounted the violent struggle with her former boyfriend at their Lansing home.
She remembered fleeing out a garage door after escaping his grasp. She remembered being stabbed, punched and bitten. She remembered struggling to grab a knife as she lay in the snow-covered front yard.
“I’m going to die here,” she remembered thinking.
Terry served three years in prison for the 2017 attack. Prosecutors say it was similar to the May 28 slaying of Kay Baker, a 3rd-grade math and science teacher at Cypress Creek Elementary in Ruskin who was found with her throat cut in her neighbor’s yard in Lithia.
They want to be able to use Rogers’ story to bolster their case against claims Terry’s defense might make. The defense counters that the 2017 attack is irrelevant to Terry’s current charges.
Rogers’ testimony came shortly after the lawyers emerged from a different courtroom, where they argued over whether Hillsborough State Attorney Susan Lopez should have to testify about her decision to seek the death penalty against Terry.
Lopez was appointed Aug. 4 to replace Andrew Warren, who was suspended from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The next day, Lopez reversed Warren’s decision not to seek capital punishment in Terry’s case.
Terry’s public defenders have suggested the reversal was politically motivated and asked a judge to strike the state’s death notice. They issued subpoenas to Lopez and one of the prosecutors handling the case. Prosecutors have asked that a judge strike the subpoenas, arguing that the information the defense seeks is privileged. The matter is set for further arguments Friday.
On the witness stand, Rogers described how she met Terry through a dating app in 2015.
In late 2016, they moved into a home Terry purchased in Lansing, Mich. On St. Patrick’s Day 2017, they’d gone with friends to several bars. When it started to get dark, she waited to go home with Terry. She found him heavily intoxicated, unable to speak. She went home without him.
Later that evening, she was on a couch watching TV when she heard a knock at their rear sliding door. She found Terry there, asking to be let inside. After she let him in, he started to make food in their kitchen.
“I don’t remember what started it all,” she said. She described Terry charging forward to tackle her, pushing her into a door before pinning her to the floor.
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“He kept trying to put me into wrestling moves,” she said. “I kept somehow managing to get out of them. ... He kept punching me.”
She remembered falling on her belly. She remembered her hands slipping in blood as she tried to push herself up. She remembered blacking out as Terry pushed her head against the floor.
Terry retrieved a knife from a kitchen butcher block. Rogers said he began stabbing her from behind. She pointed to a scar on her neck, where she said he’d cut her.
She managed to rise and run to the garage. She opened the garage door and made it outside. Terry followed and continued to attack her, she said. They tussled on the driveway. She yelled, she said, “to the point that my lungs just burned.”
He continued to stab and punch her.
“I remember thinking ‘if you don’t get this knife from him, he’s going to kill you.’”
When he moved to strike her again, she reached for the blade. It fell from his grasp. She tried to cover it with her body. He continued to reach for the knife. He began to bite her face and arms.
She heard someone yell for Terry to get off her. She heard sirens. He moved and ran back into the house.
Terry’s trial in Baker’s killing is set to begin Oct. 31.