In the initial confusion that followed Antonio Marico Brown’s fatally stabbing Pedro Juan “P.J.” Carmoega on Independence Day 2017 on Columbus’ Big Creek Drive, police decided Brown was the victim and Carmoega and his family the aggressors.
But now Brown, 42, is on trial for murder, and misdemeanor assault charges police filed against the Carmoegas have been dismissed, and a jury will have to decide whether Brown stabbed Carmoega in self-defense.
It’s a complicated story that started with Brown driving a three-wheeled motorcycle past a Big Creek Court home where the Carmoegas had gathered to celebrate the holiday.
Believing Brown was driving too fast with his 7-year-old son on the bike, and neither wearing a helmet, Michael Carmoega Sr. yelled “Slow the f—k down!” as the bike passed. Brown then turned around in the cul de sac and came back, slowing down and yelling “F—k you!” at the Carmoegas before riding on.
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Deciding to get the bike’s tag number, Michael Carmoega Sr. got in his Cadillac and drove off to find Brown. Pedro Carmoega and Michael Carmoega Jr. then tried to follow in the nephew’s Toyota Tacoma pickup.
But the car and truck went in different directions, and the two men in the truck found Brown first.
That’s according to Michael Carmoega Jr., the first witness to testify Tuesday in Brown’s trial. He said he and his uncle were on Big Creek Drive when Brown came at them head-on, blocking their lane, then got off his bike and marched toward the truck yelling, “Come on, b---h!”
The uncle got out of the passenger’s side and walked to the driver’s side of the pickup to block Brown’s approach, the nephew said. Brown stabbed him in the chest and cut his throat, the witness said.
Pedro Carmoega grabbed at his throat as Brown got back on the bike to leave, and the wounded man began to fall and grabbed the passing bike to balance himself, the nephew said. Slashing backhand with the knife, Brown left a gash on Pedro Carmoega’s arm and dragged him 10 to 15 feet, the witness said.
He said his father drove up in Cadillac, and used a T-shirt to try to stop the bleeding from his uncle’s neck. Pedro Carmoego died in the hospital a few days later.
The night he was stabbed, a patrol officer responding to the call asked for a detective to take the case , but none was dispatched. The officer charged the Carmoegas with simple assault and aggressive driving.
But that changed after the Carmoegas consulted an attorney, and Detective Joe Bridges got involved. Authorities dropped the charges against the Carmoegas in July 2018. On Nov. 20, 2018, a Muscogee County grand jury indicted Brown on charges of murder and aggravated assault.
Now his attorney, Stacey Jackson, is claiming his client acted in self-defense.
Jackson said all three of the men attacked Brown first, beating him until Brown pulled the knife to defend himself and escape.
This is the second time this year that Jackson has used Georgia’s “stand your ground” law to support a self-defense claim in a murder trial.
The other was the February trial of Roger Thomas, accused of fatally shooting his half-brother Demetrius Williams in December 2015. Thomas claimed Williams shot at him first, so he fired back to defend himself. The jury found him not guilty.
Georgia’s 2006 “stand your ground” reads in part, “a person is justified in using force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or herself or a third person or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
The law further states a person in those circumstances “has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and use force … including deadly force.”
In court Tuesday, Jackson told jurors Brown had a “reasonable belief” that he could be the victim of a “forcible felony” when the Carmoegas confronted him, and under the law he had “no duty to retreat.”
Prosecutor Mark Anthony noted the law also states the self-defense claim is invalid if the person using deadly force is the primary aggressor.
Michael Carmoega Jr. said he, his father and uncle had no weapons, and they had consumed no alcohol that night. “My family doesn’t drink,” he said.
Under Jackson’s questioning, he admitted no one in his family had noted the bike’s tag number the first or second time Brown passed by, though it was no more than four or five feet away, and no one called 911 to report Brown was being reckless with a child on board.
Asked why his father chose to follow Brown, the son said: “He just wanted the tag number. He was worried for the child.”
Both the son and father estimated Brown was going 45-50 mph when he first passed them about 9:45 p.m.
Jackson said Brown’s wife called 911 to report her husband had been attacked, and Brown afterward cooperated with police, showing them the blood on his motorcycle and surrendering the knife.
The trial resumes Wednesday in Superior Court Judge William Rumer’s Government Center courtroom.