A Clifton man charged with murder in the stabbing death of a former local football player told police in a statement that he stabbed the man because he was tired of being beaten up in fights, according to testimony yesterday in a Fairfax County court.

Fairfax County Officer T.J. Lyons testified during a preliminary hearing in Fairfax General District Court that Robert B. Ennis Jr., 22, told police he stabbed Jamie Friend 15 times after the two got into a fight after a traffic altercation on Popes Head Road near Clifton.

Ennis is charged with murder in the Dec. 2 stabbing death of Friend, 20, a former linebacker for Manassas Park High School.

According to testimony, the fight began about 6:30 p.m. after the car in which Friend was riding and the car in which Ennis was a passenger were heading west on Popes Head Road behind a third car that was traveling slowly.

Ennis's car passed the slow car and Friend's car, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Brett A. Kassabian said. Ennis's and Friend's cars began tailgating each other, then both pulled over. Those in both cars got out and began fighting.

Lyons said Ennis told him he was struck several times before he pulled out a folding pocket knife and began "hitting" Friend with the knife.

Lyons said he asked Ennis about bruises on his knuckles and Ennis told him that he had been involved in a fight a week before. "He told me he was just tired of getting his ass kicked," Lyons said.

Ennis's defense attorney, Jerry M. Phillips, said Ennis has denied making the statement.

Phillips said that Ennis was afraid of being beaten badly. Phillips said that when Ennis went to help his friend who was being attacked, he was punched in the face by Friend. That's when he pulled out a knife.

"This was a self-defense case," Phillips said outside the courtroom. "His car was not filled with the aggressors and he wasn't the one who started all this fighting."

Chief Judge J. Conrad Waters Jr. sent the case to a grand jury and scheduled a Feb. 20 trial date.

Ennis is being held in the Fairfax jail without bond.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Brett A. Kassabian said after the hearing that he has received a petition signed by 3,000 people in the Manassas area "who feel Ennis is a threat to the community."

Phillips said, "The defendant is no threat whatsoever to the community. He was not acting with any malice . . . other than to save his own life."