Hanging out on a hot July evening in 2018 included alcohol, music, singing and watching a movie but ended in “complete bedlam,” an attorney said Monday as the trial began into the beating death of a Florida teenager.
Amber Robinson was found dead in a pool of blood inside a two-story Elizabethtown home and another person covered in blood when some of the party-goers reportedly returned from a drug run to Louisville.
The opening day of a murder trial for Joseph Capstraw, 22, a homeless street performer, outlined a picture of how Robinson and Capstraw went from hitchhiking along Dixie Highway, near Valley Station, toward Elizabethtown and ended up at a residence on Joan Avenue.
Robinson, who had a love for art and music and planned to attend college, was found beaten to death inside the home and Capstraw has been charged in her death. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Jacob Barnes, who had lived at the residence for about four years, said on July 6 he and another man were in Louisville when they saw Capstraw and Robinson walking, heading south.
“I stopped and asked if they needed a ride,” Barnes testified Monday afternoon.
The pair got in the backseat of Barnes’ van and he drove south on Dixie.
“It was getting close to dark and I was going to drop them off in Muldraugh,” Barnes said. “I told them they could stay with me and get a shower.”
He said he planned for them to stay just one night and he intended to drive them to Interstate 65 “to get where they were going.”
According to police, the pair arrived in Kentucky from a Rainbow Family of the Living Light festival inside the Chattahoochee National Forest near Dahlonega, Georgia, where they met. Both reportedly were Florida residents and had hitchhiked together from Georgia to Louisville.
Barnes said five people ended up at his home the evening. He briefly left to purchase whiskey and said the atmosphere inside the house was, “Fine. Everything was OK.”
At one point, he said Robinson and Capstraw were singing together and playing a ukulele.
“Joseph and Amber were singing and playing songs,” Barnes said on the witness stand. “We basically were having fun.”
One of the other people at the home wanted to know if Barnes would drive them to Louisville to pick up heroin. They left, leaving Capstraw and Robinson alone in the home.
Under cross examination from Mark Rice, one of Capstraw’s two attorneys, Barnes said there was nothing concerning during his time with Capstraw and Robinson — in the van or at his home.
“There was nothing that gave you cause?” Rice asked.
“No, or I wouldn’t have picked them up,” Barnes said. He later testified he felt comfortable with them staying at his home while he was gone.
At some point before he left, he said Capstraw was laying in Robinson’s lap.
Barnes said the group left and when they returned about two hours later, there were people outside of his home and he was greeted by a frantic Capstraw, who “was covered in blood,” he said.
“He (Capstraw) was saying, ‘Don’t go in; don’t go in,’” Barnes said. “When she gets like this most of the time I can calm her down. I’m not sure but I think she’s dead.”
Barnes said he went into his home and saw Robinson to his left “in a pool of blood.”
“I called 911,” he said. “ ... I sat at the end of the driveway the rest of the night.”
Capstraw was arrested July 7, 2018, by Elizabethtown police and since has been in custody.
“This is not a whodunit mystery,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Carr said in his opening statement to a jury of nine women and five men.
“The evidence I will present to you is overwhelming ... she was a fun-loving teenager from Florida,” he said.
Carr said Robinson left home with a ukulele, artwork and dreams to travel by hitchhiking around the country before starting college.
“They traveled to her death here in Hardin County,” he said.
He said jurors will hear claims Robinson came at Capstraw with a knife and that prompted his reaction. He described Capstraw’s left arm having about a dozen horizontal cuts and scratches from that night.
“They were shallow, some just scratches,” he said. “It’s a lie.”
He showed the jury how the cuts appeared, one cut after another in the same motion, indicating the cuts were self-inflicted and not made by Robinson.
Brad Gordon, a defense attorney, said there is no disputing “Mr. Capstraw caused Miss Robinson’s death.” He called her death “tragic.”
He said instead of fleeing, Capstraw went to neighbors seeking help.
“He did not run, he did not flee,” Gordon told jurors. “He did seek help.”
Andrew Tyson, a grandfather of Robinson, briefly testified, smiling at a photograph of Robinson and her sister, Kayla, that was displayed in court.
The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Hardin Circuit Court.