After nearly two years of proclaiming his innocence, Jeffrey S. Knoble Jr. took the witness stand Monday in his Easton capital murder trial and admitted he was a killer, saying he shot his victim through a pillow after ordering him onto a hotel room bed.
To the jury on the final day of testimony, Knoble acknowledged it was “murder,” even as he insisted he had awoken from a drug-induced stupor early that morning to find Andrew “Beep” White naked with his hands down Knoble’s pants, kissing him on the neck.
“He tried to sexually assault me and that’s why I killed him,” the 27-year-old Riegelsville man told jurors on a day in which he repeatedly swore on the witness stand, and repeatedly clashed with the prosecutor.
The admission came as defense lawyer Gavin Holihan argued to the panel that Knoble shouldn’t be convicted of premeditated murder, but rather of a lesser charge such as third-degree murder or manslaughter.
The defense acknowledged what the prosecution spent seven days of testimony showing: that Knoble shot White inside the former Quality Inn on South Third Street on March 11, 2015, then recorded cellphone video in which he gloated over the corpse.
A courtroom erupted into pandemonium Thursday, minutes after a jury in Jeffrey S. Knoble Jr.’s death penalty trial saw two videos he recorded in which he gloated over the body of an Easton man he is accused of killing.
That Knoble finally conceded he killed, while casting blame toward, White, was mocked by Northampton County First Deputy District Attorney Terence Houck during a lengthy and withering cross-examination that Holihan characterized as “unprofessional.”
Houck accused Knoble of making up a story, after lying to everyone around him since his arrest by claiming he was innocent.
“This is the best you can do?” Houck shouted at Knoble. “This is the very best you can do? To insult and indignify this man? This is the best you can do?”
Knoble maintained he was telling the truth, but said it took him time to come clean about killing someone he considered a friend.
“I was very embarrassed. I hid it for 22 months. I didn’t even want to do this,” he said of his testimony. “I had pride. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want nothing to do with that murder.”
Authorities call White, 32, of Easton, a good Samaritan who had rented a hotel room for Knoble because he had no place to stay, then was killed for the kindness.
Prosecutors say there is no evidence to suggest that White, who was openly gay, made sexual advances toward Knoble. They charge Knoble acted in cold blood, stripping White naked and tying him up before shooting him in the back of the head.
On Monday, the animosity between Knoble and Houck was apparent, with the defendant giving the prosecutor the middle finger during testimony. The moment came as Houck pressed Knoble to produce evidence that the victim had made romantic passes at him at any point in their friendship.
“Hold on, let me get my phone,” Knoble said sarcastically, pantomiming reaching into his pocket. When he brought his hand up again, he was flipping Houck off.
“I guess all of your witnesses are telling the truth,” Knoble complained at one point to Houck, “and I’m a compulsive liar, ain’t I?”
By Knoble’s own account, before the killing, he grabbed a stolen handgun he had brought with him, pointed it at White and ordered him to get on the bed. Knoble said he picked up a pillow, placed it over White’s head and shot him, all without the other man speaking.
Houck asked whether Knoble used the pillow because he wanted to muffle the sound.
“Maybe I seen too many movies. I don’t know,” Knoble said. “Like I said, I was on autopilot.”
Before the shooting, Knoble said, he had been awake for four days doing methamphetamine. He had smoked synthetic marijuana and drunk alcohol, and had passed out, he said.
Holihan, who had deferred addressing jurors until Monday, told them that Knoble, “not a homosexual man, reacted horribly” to White. But “in his world, in his brain, in his life, that’s a threat as he perceives it,” Holihan said.
During his testimony, Knoble occasionally leaned into the microphone, punctuating his words as he spoke them. He twirled his goatee. Once, to demonstrate how he was reposed in the hotel room, he placed his shackled feet on top of the witness stand.
When Houck pushed him to describe what White was doing to him during the alleged sex assault, Knoble pointed to the case’s lead investigator, Easton Inspector Daniel Reagan, and spoke crudely.
“I don’t know, why don’t you demonstrate with this guy?” Knoble said.
On Tuesday, the jury will begin deliberations after closing arguments and instructions on the law. Prosecutors will be asking for a first-degree murder conviction, and are seeking a sentence of death.
Knoble insisted he did not act with premeditation, saying that if not for the drug use and White’s “disloyalty,” he would not have shot him. Knoble also denied robbing White, as prosecutors allege.
“If you want to kill someone, you don’t do it in a [expletive] hotel room,” Knoble said.
Knoble acknowledged photographing and video-recording White’s body afterward, but said he regrets it. At the time, Knoble said, he intended to send the images to others who had been threatening him, as a warning of what could happen.
“If you keep [messing] with me, this is what I’m going to do,” Knoble said in describing his thoughts.
Before Knoble testified, deputy sheriffs prepared the courtroom, removing a glass panel from the witness box where the defendant soon sat. Houck huddled in the audience with White’s family, preparing them for what was to come.
Knoble was seated before jurors were brought in. He wore a gray collared shirt, black pants and a yellow tie. He spoke with indignation about the justice system, saying he has been “locked up” since he was 12 years old, and bristled when Houck suggested he was only a wannabee gangster.
“Can I take my shirt off and show all my gang tattoos?” Knoble asked.
“Oh, if you have tattoos, it must be true,” Houck taunted.
Knoble has long been an active and disruptive court participant. In the months leading up to his trial, his outbursts included mocking White’s family and swearing at Judge Emil Giordano.
But before Monday, Knoble’s theatrics had largely played out away from the jury.
Several times, Holihan objected to Houck’s questions to his client, saying the prosecutor was inappropriately editorializing. Holihan unsuccessfully sought a mistrial, arguing Houck was ignoring Giordano’s instructions.
Throughout the case, Giordano has tried to keep rein on the contentious proceedings. But as the two sides discussed Holihan’s motion with the jury out of the room, the usually affable Giordano finally lost his temper.
“You are a liar,” Knoble had just told Houck. “You are a piece of [expletive.]”
“Be quiet,” Giordano said in a raised voice, before calling for a recess. “Be quiet.”
When Giordano returned, Knoble’s tone hadn’t changed. He called the trial “ridiculous” and a “circus show” and labeled Houck “a little baby hamster.”
On one point during Knoble’s testimony, the antagonists did finally wind up on the same page. Houck was highlighting that White, according to witnesses, didn’t like guns and didn’t want anything to do with them.
A “gun causes trouble,” Knoble said in summarizing White’s thoughts.
“Yeah, it sure does,” Houck agreed.