‘I’m going to die here, I have to protect myself,’ Stephen Jonas Tells Jury

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DES MOINES, Iowa - Stephen Jonas continued his testimony to the jury in his murder trial Wednesday morning. In it, he told jurors he thought he was going to die the night he stabbed Zachary Paulsen 35 times.

Jonas, 50, is charged with first degree murder in the death of 21-year-old Zachary Paulsen last August. According to Jonas' testimony Tuesday afternoon, the two were acquaintances at Tapz Pub in Clive, and shared a "mutual embrace" one evening a week prior to their struggle at an after party at Paulsen's family shop. While witnesses last week told prosecutors Paulsen had told them about this "embrace," referring to it as an "unwanted sexual advance" made on him by Jonas, Jonas testified it was not rejected.

One week later, after Jonas told jurors he had tried to follow up with Paulsen with no luck, the two got into a struggle at Paulsen's business after bar close. Jonas is claiming self-defense in stabbing Paulsen 35 times, telling the jury Paulsen made the first move by attacking him with a hammer.

"I was shocked, I was stunned," he said. "He started coming at me again, and while I'm down (on the ground), I started sliding the knife out of my pocket."

Jonas claims he put his knife in his pocket while he was out at his truck grabbing a cigarette. He told the jury he only did it because moments prior, when he and Paulsen were casually hanging out, he noticed Paulsen slide a hammer from his tool kit into his pocket. Jonas told the jury he and Paulsen were heading out back to drink beers and hang out. He says he showed up uninvited, but wanted to discuss the encounter between the two the week before. He told the jury Paulsen never told him to leave when he showed up.

"He continued to swing the hammer, and tried to grab my shirt and my arm," Jonas said. "So I kept swinging the knife...it was a struggle."

When asked by the defense what his reaction was to the scene, Jonas said he believed his life was in danger.

"I'm going to die here tonight," Jonas said of his thoughts during the struggle with Paulsen.

When asked by the defense why Jonas didn't initially confess to DCI agents in his first interview, he said it was due to shock and fear.

"I was almost in disbelief. It was almost, 'This couldn't happen,'" he said. "I didn't know at the time, but (a DCI agent) helped me understand later, that I had gone into self-preservation mode. And I realized that was what was happening."

The prosecution then began its cross-examination of Jonas, and its questions focused on why Jonas even showed up to Paulsen's the night in question in the first place.

"And you aren't invited there, are you," the prosecution asked.

"I'm not personally invited, no," Jonas said.

"No, you went down there on your own accord without any invitation from him.  And that's after he's ignored you for that whole week," the prosecution then asked.

"Ignored? I don't know, but yes," Jonas said.

The prosecution argues Jonas could have avoided the entire situation if he had never shown up uninvited. It also told the jury that Jonas had a chance to leave Paulsen's property when he allegedly saw Paulsen slip a hammer into his pocket, but instead chose to get a knife out of his truck and go on a walk with Paulsen.

"Yes, that phone call (from jail), you were talking to your sister, saying you were talking to your lawyer about self-defense...And you told her about self-defense, and you said I had an opportunity to leave, and you didn't leave," the prosecution said.

The defense rested its case in the afternoon Wednesday. Thursday morning, the prosecution and defense will deliver their closing arguments to the court. The case will likely go to the jury that same day.