"I'd like to speak my piece," murder defendant Antonio Thelen told a Ramsey County judge before taking the witness stand and telling the jury that a man who'd been riding with him shot and killed Sean Gibbs last summer.
Thelen said that after an unknown dark sedan drove slowly past a house on Forbes Avenue where he, passenger Joshua Hanes and others were partying, Thelen caught up with Gibbs near the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul.
"I just was going to see who was in the vehicle," Thelen testified. "That's what my intentions were."
Gibbs got out of his vehicle; Thelen and Hanes did, too. Gibbs "swung at me," Thelen said. "That's when Josh shot him," he said. "I covered my face. I thought I was going to get shot. I felt something fly by me."
Gibbs, 21, of New Brighton, was shot early on Aug. 18.
Thelen, 32, was arrested four days after the shooting and is on trial on second-degree murder charges. Prosecutors and defense attorneys rested their cases Friday. The jury will begin its deliberations Monday after closing arguments.
Hanes, 19, testified last week that he was asleep in the passenger seat when Thelen shook him and told him to "watch my back." He was still trying to get his bearings when he heard three shots and saw Thelen with a gun, Hanes said.
District Judge J. Thomas Mott made certain that Thelen understood before he took the stand that he was under no obligation to testify. .
Under cross-examination Friday from prosecutor Jill Gerber, Thelen admitted that he'd told St. Paul police Sgt. Tom Bergren that he was "just chilling out at home" the night of Aug. 17, and when questioned about the shooting said he had nothing to do with it.
In contrast to the street slang and coarse language Thelen used in a recorded jailhouse phone call and in the interview with Bergren, in testimony he used phrases like "I made the decision to depart" and "I assumed someone wanted to conversate."
Jurors were not allowed to hear about Thelen's gang affiliation after Mott ruled that it was too prejudicial. Cmdr. Ron Ryan, head of the Metro Gang Strike Force, said Thelen is a member of the Latin Kings, "an organized, ruthless gang."
Hanes, who is not a "listed" gang member, Ryan said, pleaded guilty last month to aiding an offender and agreed to testify against Thelen in exchange for a conditional release pending his May 15 sentencing.
The teenager has reason to be concerned for his safety, Ryan said. "I can't see how he can stay in this area," he said. "They'll kill him."
Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551