Almost a year and a half ago, a Penn State student was stabbed in the heart at a popular State College nightclub. Today, the man who stands accused of his murder will face trial.
Josephy A. Ventura, 28, charged with first- and third-degree murder, is not contesting that he stabbed Michael Donahue at Club Love in February 2005, defense attorney Joseph Amendola said. Instead, the State College man's case rests on his intentions that night. The stabbing was defensive, Amendola said, the result of an alcohol-fueled disagreement that Ventura claimed threatened his unborn child.
Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira, however, is burdened with showing that the 28-year-old willfully and unjustifiably murdered Donahue. Madeira has subpoenaed a slew of witnesses -- including several friends of Donahue's, a Club Love bouncer and the arresting police officer -- to prove it.
Donahue, a Penn State senior, died at Mount Nittany Medical Center two days after the incident at Club Love, now Lulu's Nightspot, 129 1/2 S. Pugh St.
From what police have been able to piece together, the series of events that ended in Donahue's death began with a misunderstanding between him and Ventura's friend, Robert Walsh, regarding a woman in the club.
That's when Ventura entered the fray, witnesses said. According to testimony from Giovanni Ortiz, a friend of Donahue's who was present prior to the stabbing, Ventura came up to the arguing pair to "check up on his boy." This is where Amendola's case begins: Donahue, he said, was the aggressor, and his 6-foot-8-inch frame frightened the 5-foot-8-inch Ventura into taking actions he normally wouldn't.
"The jury will realize that [Ventura] did not intend to kill Donahue," Amendola said. "It was an overreaction and doesn't warrant a conviction for first- or third-degree murder."
Ventura's arrival seemed to encourage Walsh, Ortiz testified. Walsh "got in my face" and started cursing, Ortiz said. Then, Ortiz said someone put a hand over his face, which he repeatedly slapped away. He realized that his antagonist was Kristen Fisher, Ventura's girlfriend at the time.
Ortiz testified that he then got "sucker-punched" in his face by an unknown assailant, later verified as Walsh. He bounced back, ready to retaliate, but his roommate, Joseph Checchi, held him back, warning that Ventura was armed.
Donahue's roommate, Brandon Lawson, testified that he saw Ventura holding a knife after the incident and, upon Ventura's arrest, police found a bloody knife in the lining of his jacket, according to police reports.
"There is no question that Ventura stabbed Donahue," Amendola said. However, he said Ventura does not normally carry a weapon and Fisher brought the knife into the club.
Fisher may play a pivotal role in Ventura's case, since Amendola plans to call her as a defense witness. Ventura told Club Love bartender Jeffrey Jennings shortly after the stabbing took place that Donahue had punched Fisher, who was pregnant at the time, in the abdomen; however, Madeira's witnesses do not corroborate this statement. All they saw, testimony indicates, was Ventura making a stabbing motion toward Donahue.
Both the prosecution and defense agree that alcohol is a major factor in the case.
Jennings testified that the nightclub was running an open bar special the night of the stabbing, a practice prohibited by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
"I believe Donahue was a nice young man, and I suspect [he] would not have mouthed off to Ventura had he not been drinking," Amendola said. Donahue's blood-alcohol content was almost twice the legal limit of .08, Madeira has said.
Amendola said Ventura had also consumed a lot of alcohol, fueling his aggression.
Today, a jury of eight women and four men is set to hear opening arguments from both sides and testimony from witnesses. To return a verdict of first-degree murder, the commonwealth must prove that the stabbing of Michael Donahue was an intentional and premeditated act, while Amendola said he will set out to convince the jury it was simply an overreaction to a heated moment in a bar brawl. Ventura's trial begins today at 8:30 a.m. in the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.
This article incorrectly states the year Penn State student Michael Donahue was fatally stabbed. He was stabbed in February 2006.