HONOLULU — A struggle between a Marine and a prostitute armed with a knife ended with the prostitute dead on the floor of a Waikiki hotel room, said a defense attorney for Master Sgt. Nathaniel Cosby during the start of Cosby's court-martial at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe.
In Monday's opening arguments, defense attorney Lt. Col. Clay A. Plummer said the case is "not going to be about who, it's going to be about why." He added, "What it's going to come down to is self-defense."
Plummer said that during the early hours of May 16, Cosby, who had been drinking for 10 hours, was in his hotel room with Ivanice "Ivy" Harris.
At some point, when Cosby fell asleep on the bed, the defense counsel said, "She woke him up saying, ‘You need to pay me.'"
Cosby then told her to get out of the room, Plummer said, adding that an argument ensued during which Harris produced a lipstick with a razor-type blade on it.
"She cuts him right here, slashes across his arm," Plummer said, as Cosby was ushering her to the door of his Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel room.
"When that knife slid across his arm, he reacted," Plummer said. Harris then stabbed Cosby in the temple with the knife, the defense counsel said.
"This was a struggle from moment one," Plummer said. While Cosby was going after the knife and trying to restrain the 5-foot-3, 125-pound Harris, they ended up on the floor.
At some point when she was no longer moving, the Marine knew she was dead, Plummer said.
Cosby then decided that he needed to get her body out of the room because he didn't want to have to explain to friends and family why a dead woman was in his hotel room, Plummer said.
Cosby, 39, is charged with unpremeditated murder, murder while engaging in an inherently dangerous act, obstructing justice and attempting to patronize a prostitute.
The Marine faces the possibility of life without parole in connection with the death of Harris, 29, whose body was found May 20 in kiawe brush near Yokohama Bay on the Waianae Coast.
The self-defense claim may have come as a surprise for the government prosecution, which built its opening arguments on a detailed series of security videos, bank statements and cellphone calls trying to show Cosby met up with Harris, took her to his hotel room, killed her and later dumped her body.
The Medical Examiner's Office had said the cause of death was injury to the neck and that the manner of death was homicide.
Videotape showed a man who appeared to be Cosby meeting Harris outside Kelley O'Neil's pub at about 3:30 a.m. May 16, and holding hands and kissing her in an Aston Waikiki elevator on the last day she was seen alive.
The prosecution's theory is that Cosby, an explosive-ordnance disposal specialist in town from Iwakuni, Japan, for a mission with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command to China, dumped Harris' body after checking in and working part of the day with JPAC at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
Capt. Jesse Schweig, the prosecutor, said Harris' body was not exposed to the elements until about midnight that night.
"No one is out to get Master Sgt. Cosby," Schweig said. "(We're) just following the trail."
A jury of four officers and four enlisted personnel including two majors, a colonel and a Navy commander as well as two master sergeants, a master gunnery sergeant and a sergeant major was selected to decide Cosby's fate.
Harris' mother and father, Patricia Harris and Marion Greer, and a brother came in from Oregon for the trial, which was originally expected to last seven or eight days but now might wrap up by Friday with the self-defense claim, officials said.
A graying Cosby sat calmly at the defense table wearing a khaki service uniform with his two military lawyers.
Honolulu police Detective Dru Akagi, who is expected to testify Tuesday, said in September at an Article 32 hearing — which is similar to a civilian probable-cause hearing — that Harris had been in Honolulu for about a week with another "working girl" and their pimp.
Harris grew up in Portland, Ore. Mark Miles was named as her pimp.
When interviewed, Cosby could not recall what happened during the two hours he and Harris were together in the hotel room, Akagi said.
Initially he said that when he woke up she was not there, and he showered and went to work, Akagi said.
Cosby also said he woke up, thought he was late for work, struck his head on an entertainment center and went back to sleep, the detective said. Harris was also not there in that account.
The Alabama man was seen toting a big multicolored Dakine roller suitcase to his rented white Chevy sport utility vehicle, witnesses said at the time.
His explanation for the bag was that he needed it for gear and that he had loaded it up with about 70 pounds of clothing, Akagi said.
"It didn't make sense," Akagi said then.
On Monday, Plummer said in his opening statement that Cosby crawled into the bathroom after struggling with Harris and getting cut on the head.
"Dizzy, room spinning, he's confused," Plummer said. "He looks over (at Harris and) says, ‘Hey, get out.' No response."
He then noticed her eyes were open and "she was gone" — a look the Marine had seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, Plummer said.
In another twist to the case, Theresa Mickelwait testified at the Article 32 hearing that she had a two-week affair with Cosby in 2012 and that she asked Cosby to use a chokehold to render her unconscious, TV station KHON2 News previously reported.
A federal grand jury indicted eight Portland-area pimps, including Miles, and accused them of transporting women across the country for prostitution, the U.S. Attorney's Office District of Oregon said in January. Miles was accused of transporting Harris from Oregon to Hawaii in May 2012 and May 2013.
Cosby is being held in the brig on Ford Island, the Marine Corps said.