This Case is Not About a Dog,’ Defense Attorney Says in Opening Statements at Ellsworth Colbert Trial

Jurors charged with determining guilt in a neighborhood argument that left one man dead heard opening arguments in the case today.

The defendant, Ellsworth Colbert, 57, is charged with first-degree murder, assault with intent to kill, and three weapons charges in connection with the stabbing death of 38-year-old Robert Wright.

Prosecutors told jurors the crime was a neighborhood dispute over a dog which turned deadly violent. But Colbert’s defense attorney disagreed, arguing to jurors that the man on trial was not the agressor, that he was fighting for his life when he stabbed neighbor Wright.

“This case is not about a dog,” defense attorney James Beane Jr. told jurors.

During opening statements, prosecutors argued that on the morning of March 4, 2012, Wright and a friend were walking a pit bull named Macho in the Penn Branch neighborhood of Southeast D.C. when Colbert emerged from his front door carrying a knife and a walking stick and yelled, “Whose dog is that? Is that your dog? I’m gonna kill that motherf—.”

Prosecutors say Colbert then walked to a neighbor’s house and told the neighbor that Wright was “irresponsible” for walking the dog in Colbert’s yard. Wright then said something to the friend who had accompanied him on the walk, and Colbert asked, “What did you say?”

Colbert then walked over to Wright, cut him on his neck, and turned to walk back to his house.

According to prosecutors, Wright then went into his friend’s backyard, grabbed a shovel, returned to Colbert, and proceeded to fight him. As both men swung at each other—Colbert using his walking stick and Wright using the shovel—Colbert tackled Wright.

The men tussled, but when Wright stood up he said, “You gonna stab me?” and fell face first on the sidewalk.

An autopsy later revealed cut wounds on Wright’s neck and left hand, and stab wounds to his back, abdomen and chest, one of which punctured his aorta.

Colbert’s attorney, James Beane Jr, argued that it was Wright who provoked Colbert, not the other way around.

“This case is about Robert Wright hitting Mr. Colbert in the head with a shovel,” Beane said.

Beane said Colbert was leaving his house for his morning walk when he saw Wright and a friend walking Macho. He said Colbert went to the neighbor’s house and called Wright “irresponsible,” but Wright prevented him from returning to his home. Beane argued that Wright retrieved a shovel from behind the house and hit Colbert in the head for no reason.

“Mr. Colbert fought for his life,” Beane said. “The reason we’re here is because Mr. Colbert survived. Mr. Wright did not.”

The trial will resume Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in Judge Herbert Dixon’s courtroom.

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