Jury Trial Begins for Teen Accused in Stabbing Death
The victim's father recounted the last day of son's life while friends described the altercation that led to the West Bloomfield teen's death. Respondent Leonard White, 16, is expected to be called to testify this week.
PONTIAC — The jury trial for Leonard White, the Walled Lake 16-year-old accused in the stabbing death of 17-year-old Johnathan Rickman of West Bloomfield on June 4, began Monday with jury selection and witness testimony.
The victim’s father, Roderick Rickman, well-known in the community as a businessman, broke down in tears while on the stand in front of Judge Wendy Potts at Oakland County Circuit Court.
Rickman testified that on June 4, he and his son had made plans to attend a ceremony at the Renaissance Center in Detroit to deliver high school scholarships through a charitable organization in which Rickman was involved. They were to meet at the boy's grandmother's house in Detroit to drive to the event together.
However, Roderick testified, the next time he saw his son, he was on a gurney at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.
White faces an open charge of murder and a charge of felonious assault with a dangerous weapon. He is being held without bail or bond at Children’s Village in Pontiac.
Friends testify about incident
The friend at whose home the stabbing incident occurred also testified Monday.
Alan Green, 17, lived in West Bloomfield at the time of the incident and went to Walled Lake Western High School with Rickman. He has since moved out of state.
Green testified there was a small gathering of friends at his house June 4, a Saturday evening, before Rickman and "five to six" other boys arrived. Rickman and White were never close friends, Green explained. He said a playful altercation between another friend of Rickman's and White quickly became a serious altercation between Rickman and White, which is when the violence escalated.
Green, who said he was a mutual friend of Rickman and White, testified that Rickman "sometimes" had the reputation of a bully. As Rickman stood 6 feet 3 inches and weighed 330 pounds, and White is approximately 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 130 pounds, the difference in size — and the issue of bullying — was a key aspect of the defense.
'I didn't think he was going to kill him'
Rickman's best friend, Ronald Foster, 17, testified that Rickman had punched White three or four times before relenting in an attempt to end the altercation. White responded by grabbing a kitchen knife and chasing Rickman through the kitchen, Foster said.
"Johnathan was yelling, 'Somebody grab him!' so I did," Foster testified. "I didn't think he was going to put the knife to me."
Foster said he grabbed White by his arms but let him go "after about 10 seconds," although White did not try to stab him. However, after White was let go, White chased Rickman outside, where the stabbing occurred.
Watching White chase his best friend outside, Foster was not immediately disturbed, he said. "I didn't think he was going to stab him ... I didn't think he was going to kill him," Foster told the court.
Foster testified that White walked past him on his way back in to the house. "I told him not to f--- with me," Foster heard White tell him.
White expected to take the stand
White nodded along to various points of witness testimony involving the fight, and he watched as Rickman's father testified. White was joined by approximately 20 members of extended family seated behind him, to whom he would carefully nod as he was released from handcuffs before being seated.
Potts told the 13-person jury of six women and seven men, including one alternate, that the trial will likely last into next week.
Southfield-based defense attorney Rowland Short said in his opening statement that he expects to call White to the stand this week.
"(White) wants to tell you that he was scared and trying to defend himself," Short said in opening statements.
"Regardless of what happens, there are no winners in this case," Short said afterward.