Robert Lucas spent more than three hours yesterday retracing the boozy night last June when he fatally stabbed Monsignor Thomas Wells, admitting in a Montgomery County courtroom that he did not claim the Germantown priest sexually attacked him until weeks after his arrest.
The 26-year-old defendant testified in sometimes great detail about what first happened when he wound up at Mother Seton Parish after an evening of typically heavy drinking at a favorite bar barely a quarter-mile away. His memory of details much later that night -- especially those about the violent struggle he and Wells had in the priest's bedroom -- was far less precise.
And under a relentless cross-examination by Principal Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree, Lucas acknowledged that his initial account to police of what provoked him to kill Wells was much different from his trial defense.
Rather than accuse the priest of taking advantage of him, Winfree noted, Lucas told police that Wells had grabbed him by the arm, which made him angry because it reminded him of his abusive father. He did not say anything about a sexual provocation to family or friends who came to see him right after his arrest. "It was not until you'd been locked up for some time that you ever told anyone that Monsignor Wells had attacked you," Winfree said.
"I was just too embarrassed," Lucas responded, maintaining that not all he had told police in a seven-hour statement was accurate -- including that he had used crack cocaine before the killing. "I was just making stuff up because I didn't want to tell them what had happened."
Wells, 56, was found dead June 8 by parishioners arriving for morning Mass. He had been stabbed nearly a dozen times and left half-naked on the floor of his ransacked bedroom, a dresser drawer dropped on his face. Lucas is charged with first-degree murder and burglary, as well as robbery because of numerous items from the rectory that police said they found in his van when they arrested him nine days later.
More than 150 people crowded into the Montgomery County Judicial Center's largest courtroom to hear Lucas give his version of the crime. The audience included several dozen of Wells's relatives as well as parishioners from the five area parishes he served during his lengthy career. During the testimony, some bowed their heads, as if in prayer. Some shook their heads in disbelief.
Lucas's mother wept silently as her son testified. He looked younger than his years and very subdued as he sat in the witness chair, and his attorney, Brian Shefferman, had to prompt him repeatedly to speak louder. Head down, Lucas also cried during his early telling of how he killed Wells, although he turned sullen with the prosecutor late in the afternoon.
Lucas said he had left the Magic Cue about 10:30 p.m. intending to sleep off his drunk at a friend's house "a stone's throw away." But on his way down Middlebrook Road, he stepped into the woods to urinate, soiled himself trying to unzip his pants and then fell asleep for some period.
When he came to, Lucas testified, "I wasn't sure exactly what side of the road I was on or where I was." A few minutes later, he reached the church and broke the rectory window. "I wanted someplace comfortable to clean up."
Before he could, he testified, Wells appeared on the rectory's back deck and shouted at him. Winfree later asked why he hadn't fled at that point. Lucas told the Circuit Court jury that he had no idea who Wells was and thought the man standing there in a T-shirt and underwear was a caretaker or maybe a janitor.
And so he stayed. He and the man had a lengthy conversation by those back steps, he testified. The man invited him onto the deck and eventually into the house. He commiserated about the hard luck Lucas had experienced in life, particularly where liquor and women were concerned, the defendant said.
By then, more than an hour had passed. Wells asked whether he had ever considered being with a man, Lucas said.
"So you are in this man's living room, and he's in his underwear and he asks if you've ever thought about having a gay relationship and you stay?" Winfree questioned Lucas during her cross-examination. "Couldn't you have left?"
"I could have," Lucas said.
Winfree repeated the question again and again regarding every aspect of Lucas's account. Lucas said he knelt down by the bed to humor the man when Wells suggested that his would-be intruder pray. Even when the man sat in front of him with legs around him, Lucas said, he didn't try to leave -- although "at that point in time I started getting uncomfortable."
Nor did he immediately leave, he said, after Wells exposed himself or pushed Lucas into performing oral sex. He remembered that when he protested, the priest urged him to calm down and rest.
"And still you did not get to your feet and leave the rectory?" Winfree said.
Lucas testified that he fell asleep on the priest's bed and awoke to find Wells standing over him with his underwear partially down. According to Lucas, his own pants had been removed. He reacted wildly, kicking the priest and trying to reach his pants and the knife he always clipped on them, he testified.
His memory grew hazier. "I don't remember slicing his throat," he testified. He was angry, excited, wound up, freaked out. "I was just raging."
Wells's bedroom was left blood-soaked. Lucas testified that he pulled off his own bloodied T-shirt and looked in drawers for something to put on, that he found money in an envelope there and took it. He said he remembers little about his visit to the church offices in the basement, where other items were taken and an obscenity was written on a marker board.
He exited by deck's sliding glass door, he said, wearing a trench coat and shirt he had found and carrying his pants. He threw his own T-shirt in a dumpster as he headed north on foot, he said. Two miles away, he caught a cab that took him to the van in which he was living in Clarksburg.
"I imagine you were pretty tired, weren't you, Mr. Lucas?" Winfree said.
"Yes, I was."
Staff writer Phuong Ly contributed to this report.